By Dave Wagner, Freedom New Mexico
Eastern New Mexico University baseball coach Phil Clabaugh figures if the top five hitters in his batting order are successful, a lot of things could fall into place for the Greyhounds.
ENMU opens its 2008 season Friday and Saturday with four games in the UT-Permian Basin Classic. The Hounds (20-34, 5-13 Lone Star Conference South last season) play their first 12 games on the road.
Left fielder Clayton Young (.392, seven triples in 2007), second baseman Tyler Hayes (.335) and third baseman Derrick Kennedy (.311, 42 RBIs) have all earned some form of Lone Star Conference South Division honors in recent years. Meantime, senior outfielder Jonathon Marbury (.333) is coming off a solid season while junior catcher Freddy Carmona, a junior college transfer, should add some punch.
“If we can those five guys going, we have a chance to score some runs,” said Clabaugh, beginning his 17th season at ENMU.
“I’ve got to realize as a ‘skip’ that they’re going to have good days and bad days. But if those five guys aren’t good enough, then I guess we’re just not good enough.”
Clabaugh said he likes the makeup of his squad.
“This team is not a rah-rah bunch,” he said. “They’re very workmanlike in their attitude and approach.”
Marbury, who often batted down in the order last season, is likely to lead off this season, followed by Young, Hayes, Kennedy and Carmona.
Senior right-hander Keith Balderez, who has ENMU’s saves record for a season (nine in 2006) and a career (15), thinks the offense could go even deeper.
“I feel good about our team,” he said. “It pretty much comes down to hitting in the right situations, and execution.
“I could care less if I save many games. I want us to get 40 wins and see coach Clabaugh get to that (conference) tournament. As for me, it’d be nice to go out with a bang.”
Sophomore Paden Vendrely (.354) will share catching duties with Carmona, who is also likely to see time as the designated hitter. Clovis sophomore Sean Cruce (.304) is competing with freshman Kevin Thompson at shortstop, with Seth Clabaugh — the coach’s son — sharing time at first base with freshmen Chris Eaton and Mitch Wolf.
Leading the pitching staff are Seth Clabaugh (4-5, 5.68 ERA), Tyler Doughty (1.0, 3.12 in mostly relief duty) and transfer Thomas Green.
The next two spots are expected to be filled by right-hander Evan Orsak (3-4, 7.11) and juco transfer Ismael Solis.
Balderaz (1-4, 5.06, six saves in 2007) leads what the Hounds think will be a deeper bullpen.
“Those guys are going to give us a chance,” Balderez said of the starters. “And we’ve got some good guys to come out in the seventh (inning on).”
The LSC did away with division play in baseball this season. The 12 teams play a 44-game league schedule — a four-game series against each opponent — with the top six advancing to the conference tournament in early May.
“I think it’s going to help us,” Clabaugh said.