FNM correspondent: Joshua Lucero ENMU seniors Mitch Wolfe, foreground, and Alex Schultz warm up during Greyhounds baseball practice on Thursday afternoon at Greyhound Field. The Hounds, under first-year coach Chris Terry, open the season on Thursday in a three-day tournament at Odessa, Texas, hosted by Texas-Permian Basin.
PORTALES — Chris Terry realizes building a consistently competitive baseball program at Eastern New Mexico University will be a work in progress.
Terry is about to venture into his first season with the Greyhounds after replacing the venerable Phil Clabaugh, who resurrected the program in 1992 and guided it for the past 20 years.
A native of northern California, Terry spent the last four seasons leading a successful program at Culver-Stockton, an NAIA school in Canton, Mo. He said the Hounds (16-28, 11-22 Lone Star Conference South last season) have a mix of returning veterans and players he’s brought in.
“We’ve had kind of a daunting task of seeing who could help us (among the returnees) and then filling in gaps and holes,” Terry said. “I think we have some great senior leadership. We’ve had a lot of ‘buy-in’ from the returning guys.
“We’re working hard on trying to be more successful and getting people to want to come watch us play.”
The Hounds open the season on Friday at Odessa, Texas, facing host Texas-Permian Basin at 9 a.m. and LSC rival Incarnate Word at 1 p.m. on the first day of the Falcons’ two-day tournament. Their home opener isn’t until a 2 p.m. game on Feb. 28 against New Mexico Highlands.
One of the returnees, senior designated hitter Mitch Wolfe, is making the transition from first base. He said he’s enjoying the changes.
“It’s different,” said Wolfe, who batted a team-leading .383 last season with seven homers and 41 RBIs. “I learned a lot from coach Clabaugh and I grew a lot because of him.
“But it’s exciting; I love this coaching staff and the passion. It makes it fun to come to the ballpark every day.”
As always, pitching is the key at the Division II level. It’s something the Hounds have struggled with over the years.
“In this conference, you’re going to win if you can pitch,” Terry said. “I think everybody’s going to hit. We were able to bring back a lot of arms this year.”
Senior right-hander Andrew Martin (1-8, 7.59 ERA in 2011) has “No. 1 (starter) kind of stuff,” Terry said, and will compete for one of the four weekend starting spots along with sophomore righties Chris Bataska, David Johnson, Brett Humphries and Gabe Hemmer, and junior left-hander Daniel Sterling. Several others are expected to contribute, some in relief roles.
“I feel like we have a pretty good base right now to build on over the next couple of years,” Terry said of his mound corps.
Senior Dillon Downs (.347 in 33 games last year) and junior transfer Peter Creamer will likely share time at catcher, and both are middle-of-the-order type of hitters, Terry said.
Sophomore Joe Huwer (.376, 23 RBIs) moves from catcher to first base along with senior Matt Nilo, who missed the 2011 season with Tommy John surgery. Senior returnee Alex Schultz (.330, 3 HRs, 31 RBIs) is expected to start at short, while newcomers Sam Hedrick, Jordan Vina and Dillon Nault candidates at second base or in utility roles.
Newcomer Danny Binz is at third base, backed up by Hedrick and returnee Mike Medina (.241 in 24 games). The outfield is likely to consist of junior Luis Quinones (.304 last season) in left — he played mainly center field last year — and transfers Brooke Brooks in center and Derek Crenshaw in right.
Wolfe may still see occasional duty at first base, but likes the idea of being a DH.
“I really love to hit,” said Wolfe, a fifth-year senior from the Phoenix area. “That’s why I’m here — I’m here to drive in runs.”
Wolfe, who served as DH for a handful of games last season, said the makeup of the team appears to be good.
“The chemistry right now is better than any team I’ve been a part of,” he said, adding that life’s pretty good for him at the moment. “I’m 22 years old, I’m engaged and I get to come to the ballpark and play baseball every day.”
ENMU was picked for last place in the revamped eight-team LSC. Terry just rolls with the punches.
“I’m not concerned about the poll; we have to earn our respect,” he said. “I know the conference is going to be good. Day-in and day-out, there’s not a lot of slouches in the conference.
“Our thing is we want to play faster than anyone else. We’re going to be a team that grinds and doesn’t go away.”
ENMU AT A GLANCE
10-11 — at Texas-Permian Basin tournament (10 vs. Texas-Permian Basin, 9:30 a.m., and Incarnate Word, 1 p.m.; 11 vs. New Mexico Highlands, 9:30 a.m., and Tarleton State, 1:15 p.m.); 17 — vs. New Mexico Highlands at Hobbs, 11 a.m.; 18 — at University of the Southwest, 11 a.m.; 24 — at Southeastern Oklahoma (2), 11 a.m.; 25 — at Southeastern Oklahoma, 11 a.m.; 28 — New Mexico Highlands, 2 p.m.
2-4 — at Abilene Christian tournament (2 vs. Abilene Christian, 5:05 p.m.; 3 — vs. Tarleton State, 12:05 p.m.; 4 — vs. Cameron, 12:05 p.m.); 6 — Wayland Baptist, 2 p.m.; 13 — at University of the Southwest, 1 p.m.; 16 — Tarleton State, 3 p.m.-x; 17 — Tarleton State (2), 2 p.m.-x; 18 — Tarleton State, 1 p.m.-x; 20 — at New Mexico Highlands, 2 p.m.; 23 — at Cameron, 2 p.m.-x; 24 — at Cameron (2), noon-x; 25 — at Cameron, 11 a.m.-x; 30 — Abilene Christian, 5 p.m.-x; 31 — Abilene Christian (2), 1 p.m.-x.
1 — Abilene Christian, 1 p.m.-x; 5 — at Angelo State, 5:30 p.m.-x; 6 — at Angelo State (2), 3 p.m.-x; 7 — at Angelo State, noon-x; 13 — Incarnate Word, 6 p.m.-x; 14 — Incarnate Word (2), 2 p.m.-x; 15 — Incarnate Word, 1 p.m.-x; 17 — University of the Southwest; 20 — at Texas A&M-Kingsville, 5 p.m.-x; 21 — at Texas A&M-Kingsville (2), noon; 22 — at Texas A&M-Kingsville, noon-x; 27 — at West Texas A&M, 6 p.m.-x; 28 — at West Texas A&M (2), 3 p.m.-x; 29 — at West Texas A&M, noon-x.
All times Mountain. x-Denotes Lone Star Conference games.
1 Luis Quinones, Jr., OF, Las Cruces; 2 Sam Hedrick, Jr., IF, Fairfield, Calif.; 3. Joe Jones, Sr., RHP, Lenoore, Calif.; 4. Daniel Sterling, Jr., LHP, Rosemond, Calif.; 5. Dylan Nault, Fr., IF, Anaheim, Calif.; 6 David Johnson, So., RHP, Temecula, Calif.; 7 Jordan Vina, Jr., IF, Elk Grove, Calif.; 8 Matt Nilo, Sr., UT, Aledo, Texas; 9 Je Huwer, Sr., IF, Boise, Idaho; 10 Brooke Brooks, Jr., OF, Elk Grove, Calif.; 11 Daniel Binz, Jr., IF, Santa Rosa, Calif.; 14 Timothy Ballard, Fr., RHP, North Pole, Alaska.
15 Peter Creamer, Jr., C, Boston; 16 Moto Asai, Jr., RHP, Lake Oswego, Ore.; 17 Lane Drake, Jr., RHP, Clovis; 18 Mike Medina, Sr., IF, Las Cruces; 19 Derek Crenshaw, Jr., OF, Pinole Valley, Calif.; 20 Rawley Gomez, So., IF, Amarillo; 21 Ryan Pruitt, Sr., RHP, Glendale, Ariz.; 22 Chuck Graves, So., IF, Fritch, Texas; Aaron Anderson, So., LHP, 29 Palms, Calif.; 24 Scott Hughes, So., RHP/IF, Albuquerque; 25 Marcus Boyd, Fr., RHP, Roswell; 26 Russell Hartshorn, Sr., IF, Tijeras, N.M.
27 Ryan Boydston, Fr., RHP, La Quinta, Calif.; 28 Blake Thomsen, Sr., OF/RHP, Alamogordo; 30 Dillon Downs, Sr., C, Gilbert, Ariz.; 31 Sean Gahan, So., IF, Albuquerque; 32 Alex Schultz, Sr., IF, Tempe, Ariz.; 33 Mitch Wolfe, Sr., DH/IF, Litchfield Park, Ariz.; 34 Brandon Devries, Sr., OF, Colorado Springs; 35 Jas Shergill, Sr., RHP, Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada; 37 Brett Humphries, So., RHP, St. Louis; 44 Gabriel Hemmer, So., RHP, Yuma, Ariz.; 49 Andrew Martin, Sr., RHP, Moses Lake, Wash.; 51 Chris Bataska, Jr., RHP, Walnut Creek, Calif.
Coach: Chris Terry (1st season, 0-0). Assistants: D.J. Simonette, Dustin Woodward.