Baseball team eyes ODAC crown

Head baseball coach Gene Baker ()

Head baseball coach Gene Baker ()

Head baseball coach Gene Baker believes his squad has enough talent to contend for the ODAC title this spring.
It’s not an easy task with national powerhouse Virginia- Wesleyan and conference rival Bridgewater in the way.
“Virginia- Wesleyan will be the team to beat in the conference; they were loaded last year and all their pitching is back,” Baker said. “They were probably the best team in the region a year ago, and Bridgewater is always tough, too.”
The Quakers do have some experienced players ready to step in, though they lost many from last year’s 27-14 team.
“I think we can contend for the ODAC title. I think the rest of the conference is underestimating us because we lost a lot of offense,” Baker said. “When you start guys for four years, you don’t expect to fill those holes right away.”
The offense is the team’s strength, according to Baker. It starts at the top with senior centerfielder and leadoff man A.J. McCauley (.420, 53 runs, 11 doubles, 20//27 SB’s). He played summer ball in the exclusive invite-only Cape Cod League, and looks to rebound from an injury that kept him out all fall.
All-South selection Brian Slate (.420, 11 doubles, 44 RBI) is back at second base and catcher Jeff Roberts (.299, 2 HR, 23 RBI) will be calling pitches from behind the plate. Junior Josh Miller (.267, 2 HR, 26 RBI) will take over full-time in right field after platooning most of last season.
Sophomore Rob Bittner (.261, 2 HR) takes over at first base, and power hitting leftfielder Chuck Overman (.396, 6 HR, 22 RBI) will be healthy and should put up impressive numbers. Sophomore Jake Lubel gets the nod at shortstop after backing up Zach Morgan a year ago.
First-years that could start for the Quakers include DH Mike Chelenza, infielder Travis Clodfelter, and third basemen Seth Barwick.
“Our strength continues to be our offense. We’re a little more diverse than in years past. We have more power with Overman and Bittner but less speed,” Baker said.
“The offense is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Josh Miller.
As much offense and firepower as the Quaker bats have, it will mean nothing if the inexperienced pitchers struggle to get outs.
“Our season depends on how effective our young pitchers are going to be,” Baker said. “I think we only need three starters, a long reliever and a closer.”
Junior Dave Shaffer will most likely start the season as the Quakers’ ace. He was 6-6 a year ago. Senior hurler Michael Idol was perfect in nine save chances and will again be counted on to close games for Guilford. Junior southpaw Adam Comstock looks to add innings in long relief.
Freshman Oliver Beale will contribute to the staff, as will 6’7 righty Logan Collier.
“Because our staff is so young I know I have to lead by example,” Shaffer said. “If I get hit hard I will be upset, but I can’t let it show. If the younger pitchers see the older guys shake it off, hopefully they’ll do the same.”
Comstock knows he has a bench full of heavy bats behind him, saying, “I just want to get on the mound and get innings in,” he said. “I know I have a great lineup behind me, so I just have to throw strikes and not get behind [in the count]. I know we can win the ODAC, and get to the regionals for once. We were almost there once (2001), and it tasted good.”
The Quakers start their season in Savannah, Ga., February 7 against Savannah College of Art and Design. Their home schedule opens Feb. 10 against Methodist at 2:00.
“I am looking forward to getting started,” Baker said. “We have reached a nice plateau in the program, 25-30 wins. With a few breaks we can win 32-34.