By Dave Wagner
Eastern New Mexico University baseball coach Phil Clabaugh is happy to have senior shortstop Josh Kuchta on the team.
In fact, he says he’d take a whole team like him.
“Josh Kuchta is good people,” Clabaugh said Thursday as the Greyhounds (13-16) prepared for a four-game Lone Star Conference South Division-opening series against Texas A&M-Kingsville (21-10) this weekend at Greyhound Field. “He’s been in our program for four years, and he’s a ‘company’ man.
“He’s got a terrible back, but he never talks about it. He understands our philosophy — just catch the ones you can catch.”
Kuchta, who had three hits Wednesday in the Hounds’ 17-7 win at Oklahoma Panhandle State, has been a steadying influence on the team.
The Clovis High grad came to ENMU in four years ago as a walk-on pitcher, and spent most of his first two seasons riding the bench. Since last year, though, he’s been the team’s regular shortstop, batting .348 from mostly the No. 2 slot this spring after hitting .360 a year ago.
“Yesterday we played good,” he said of Wednesday’s victory. “We finally started hitting the ball, and that was a big step for us.
“If we can get past this weekend, I think it’ll be a real morale boost.”
Kuchta hopes to eventually be a coach, and has coached first base this season on the rare occasions when he isn’t playing.
“The times I’ve gotten to coach first, Clabaugh has given me pointers of where to set up and stuff like that,” he said. “I never realized there was so much to it.”
He said he hurt his back while playing soccer in high school. It bothers him when he plays, but he’s opted to try to play through it.
“I saw several back specialists in high school, and they recommended surgery,” Kuchta said. “But I’ve just dealt with it every day.”
He’s made three relief appearances this spring, and expects to see more mound duty in South play with each doubleheader including one nine-inning game and one seven-inning contest instead of two sevens.
“I’m sure with the 9/7 (format), I’ll probably pitch once a weekend if we get in trouble,” he said. “If that’s how they’re going to use me, that’s fine.”
The Hounds, who play three of their remaining four South series on the road after this weekend, know they probably need a good weekend to make a run in the division.
“There’s no two ways about — it’s a big weekend for us if we’re actually going to try to win the South,” Clabaugh said. “We need to win the series, although whether we can or not remains to be seen.”
Six Hounds combined on the mound in Wednesday’s game. Clabaugh said senior right-hander Trevor Davis (6-3) and junior left-hander David Swinconos (2-1) will start in today’s twin bill, while Saturday’s starters are uncertain.
“We’re just going to have to do the best we can with it,” he said. “If we’re going to be successful, not only against Kingsville but against anybody in the South, we’re going to have to play smart and aggressive and hard.”
Meantime, ENMU’s softball team is at home this weekend for the first time since March 5 when the Zias (14-19, 1-7 South) host Abilene Christian (21-14, 5-3) in noon doubleheaders today and Saturday at Zia Softball Field.
The Zias have gone 2-10 since sweeping College of the Southwest in their last home twin bill, including 10-1 and 19-1 setbacks at Division I Texas Tech on Wednesday.
ENMU acting coach Amber Daniel said her team is almost in a position where it can’t lose any more if it hopes to make the LSC’s postseason tournament in late April. Two of their three remaining South twin bills are at home.
“They’re up and down like most of the teams in (the South),” Daniel said of ACU (21-14, 5-3). “We’ve already faced the top two teams, but we pretty much have to win most of the rest of them.
“I just want to get us mentally prepared to play. I’ve just got to fix the mental part of our game for us to improve.”