CNJ staff: Tony Bullocks Senior first baseman Mitch Wolfe hit .360 with a team-leading six home runs and 41 RBIs for ENMU in the 2010 season.
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University’s baseball team has battled to the final weekend in each of the last three seasons trying to make the Lone Star Conference postseason tournament.
In 2009, the Greyhounds qualified with a top-six finish; the other two years, they came up short.
With Incarnate Word becoming the 13th baseball-playing member of the LSC this season, veteran ENMU coach Phil Clabaugh knows making the LSC meet becomes a little tougher this year.
The league has gone to a 36-game conference schedule this spring, with 12 three-game series, as opposed to 44 games (11 four-game sets) in previous years. Abilene Christian will host the LSC get-together May 7-10.
“I don’t think it’s going to make a lot of difference who we’re playing,” said Clabaugh, entering his 20th season at ENMU. “I think it’s going to take 20 wins to make the tournament. The only goal we’ve talked about all year is to make it to Abilene.”
ENMU (22-29, 20-24 LSC last year) will have to do it with a relatively new team. Four regular position players return in sophomore center fielder Luis Quinones, senior second baseman Chris Eaton, junior first baseman Mitch Wolfe and senior shortstop Kevin Thompson.
The team’s pitching staff, which struggled to a 9.93 earned run average in 2010, has been overhauled even more. Senior right-hander Anthony Smith, who went 4-2 with eight saves as the closer last year, is expected to move into the starting rotation while the only other returnee is sophomore left-hander Tyler Vance.
The catching position is wide open between freshman Brandt Guyer of Amarillo and junior college transfers Dillon Downs and Joe Huwer.
“So far none of the three have stood out,” Clabaugh said. “They’re all adequate throwers and pretty similar with the bat.”
Wolfe, who hit .360 with a team-leading six homers and 41 RBIs last season, will be at first base with Eaton (.261) at second and Thompson (.313) at short.
“It’s the same thing every year,” said Wolfe, who is from the Pnoenix area. “You need good pitching and you need quality defense. We try to keep the double play in order and turn at least one a game; if we can do that, we should be OK.”
Jose Campos, another juco transfer, is solid defensively at third base and should hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup, Clabaugh said. Juniors Russell Hartshorn and Alex Schultz could see time at first base and in the middle infield positions, respectively.
“Defense shouldn’t be a big issue,” Clabaugh said of the infield. “We’ve shown the ability that if we can get to the baseball, we can catch it.”
Quinones (.383) is likely to start in center, with five others challenging for playing time in the outfield.
“We’ve got some pieces to the puzzle,” Clabaugh said, “but we’ve got a lot to figure out.”
Others contending with Smith in the starting rotation include junior right-handers Andrew Martin, Corey Cole and Jaspret Shergill, sophomore right-hander Ryan Pruitt and junior left-hander Marcus Drake. Clabaugh said Drake, who has a good changeup, could turn into a setup man.
Wolfe said the three-game series format should be helpful because it won’t require teams like ENMU to have to go quite as deep on the pitching staff.
“We’ve got a lot of depth on the mound, if everyone stays healthy,” he said. “And I think this is one of the fastest outfields we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
The Hounds open the season with a conference series at Central Oklahoma on Friday and Saturday. The following weekend they’ll play in a tournament event at Texas-Permian Basin before kicking off their home slate with a three-game LSC set Feb. 18-19 against rival West Texas A&M.
4 — at Central Oklahoma, noon-x; 5 — at Central Oklahoma (2), noon-x; 11-12 — at Texas-Permian Basin tournament, TBA; 18 — West Texas A&M, 3 p.m.-x; 19 — West Texas A&M (2), 1 p.m.-x; 25 — at Cameron, noon-x; 26 — at Cameron (2), noon-x.
4 — Southwestern Oklahoma, 3 p.m.-x; 5 — Southwestern Oklahoma (2), 1 p.m.-x; 8 — Wayland Baptist, 2 p.m.; 11 — at Incarnate Word, noon-x; 12 — at Incarnate Word (2), noon-x; 15 — New Mexico Highlands, 2 p.m.; 18 — Texas A&M-Kingsville, 3 p.m.-x; 19 — Texas A&M-Kingsville (2), 1 p.m.-x; 22 — at New Mexico Highlands, 2 p.m.; 25 — at East Central, noon-x; 26 — at East Central (2), noon-x; 29 — at University of the Southwest, 1 p.m.
1 — Southeastern Oklahoma, 6 p.m.-x; 2 — Southeastern Oklahoma (2), 1 p.m.-x; 8 — at Abilene Christian, 5 p.m.-x; 9 — at Abilene Christian (2), noon-x; 12 — at Wayland Baptist, 11 a.m.; 15 — Angelo State, 6 p.m.-x; 16 — Angelo State (2), 1 p.m.-x; 19 — University of the Southwest, 6 p.m.; 22 — at Tarleton State, 5 p.m.-x; 23 — at Tarleton State (2), noon-x; 29 — Northeastern State, 6 p.m.-x; 30 — Northeastern State (2), 1 p.m.-x.
All times Mountain. x-Denotes Lone Star Conference games.
1 Luis Quinones, OF, So., Las Cruces; 2 Jaspret Shergill, RHP, Jr., Woodbridge, Ontario; 3 Joe Jones, Util, Jr., Lenoore, Calif.; 4 Daniel Patching, OF/SS, Jr., Dawesville, Australia; 5 Jose Campos, IF, Jr., Santa Monica, Calif.; 6 Chris Eaton, IF, Sr., Albuquerque; 8 Matt Nilo, Util, Sr., Aledo, Texas; 9 Joe Huwer, C, Jr., Boise, Idaho; 12 Tyler Vance, LHP, So., Amarillo.
15 Kevin Thompson, IF, Sr., La Canada, Calif.; 16 Chris Martinez, OF/LHP, So., Bayard; 17 Lane Drake, RHP, So., Clovis; 18 Mike Medina, IF, Jr., Las Cruces; 20 Rawley Gomez, IF, Fr., Amarillo; 21 Ryan Pruitt, RHP, Jr., Glendale, Ariz.; 22 Chuck Graves, IF, Fr., Fritch, Texas; 23 Aaron Anderson, LHP, Fr., 29 Palms, Calif.; 24 Brandt Guyer, C, Fr., Amarillo; 26 Russell Hartshorn, IF, Jr., Tijeras.
27 Marcus Drake, LHP, Jr., Lufkin, Texas; 28 Blake Thomsen, OF/RHP, Jr., Alamogordo; 30 Dillon Downs, C, Jr., Gilbert, Ariz.; 31 Sean Gahan, IF, Fr., Albuquerque; 32 Alex Schultz, IF, Jr., Tempe, Ariz.; 33 Mitch Wolfe, IF, Jr., Litchfield Park, Ariz.; 34 Brandon Devries, OF, Jr., Colorado Springs. 36 John O’Brian, LHP, Fr., Friona; 41 Anthony Smith, RHP, Sr., 29 Palms, Calif.; 49 Andrew Martin, RHP, Jr., Moses Lake, Wash.; 51 Corey Cole, RHP, Jr., Glendale, Ariz.
Coach: Phil Clabaugh (20th season, 461-577-2). Assistant: Daniel Martinez. Graduate assistant: Ethan Wagner.