College baseball: Etta Express opens up Saturday

No. 15 Marietta College isn’t quite sure what to expect this weekend.

The Etta Express will visit Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley, W. Va., where it will open the 2014 season against Denison and Case Western Reserve on Saturday. Then on Sunday the Pioneers will play Case in a double header.

Saturday’s games will be the first time Marietta has been on a baseball field this season.

“That’s not very common for us,” said 11th-year MC head coach Brian Brewer. “There’s a lot of curiosity floating around, not just with our fans but inside our program. We’re excited to get out there.”

One thing Brewer knows for sure is that his club has big shoes to fill. Over the past two seasons Marietta has graduated 15 talented seniors, including five starting position players and the ace of the pitching staff from last season. This opens the door for some new faces to step into larger roles.

“We’re an inexperienced club,” Brewer said. “We’ve got a lot of youth.

Despite this, “Our goals are still the same,” Brewer continued. “We want to compete for an OAC championship, a regional championship and a national championship. We’ve been doing it with different people and different names for over 50 years. Our history speaks for itself. We feel we have plenty of talent to compete.”

When Brewer goes head-to-head with his old assistant Mike Deegan and the Denison Big Reds at 1:45 p.m. Saturday, the Marietta skipper will be handing the ball to sophomore lefty Jason Byers.

Last year, Byers complied an 8-2 record with a 2.37 earned run average while striking out 77 batters in 98.2 innings pitched. The southpaw out of East Granby, Conn. is expected to be the team’s No. 1 hurler this spring.

Two other sophomores, righty Christian Herstine and lefty Mike Finlan, will likely toe the rubber the first two games against Case Western. The starter for the final game on Sunday is yet to be determined.

Around the diamond, Marietta’s probable starters are Chris Winpigler at catcher, Mitch Geers at first base. Christian Demko at second, Ryan Hanahan at shortstop, Clint Roche at third, Zak Bukiewicz in left field, Dylan Gracia in center, Tim McCoy in right and Josh Ungerbuehler at designated hitter.

“We’re feeling good about the guys we’re running out there this spring,” Brewer said.

Geers and Winpigler will likely be Marietta’s middle-of-the-order hitters. Geers hit .351 and drove in 31 runs last season for Marietta, while Winpigler came on towards the end of season to hit .461 with 29 RBI in 26 games.

The other infield spots will be key. Demko and Hanahan hit .253 and .226, respectively, in attempt to replace the production of Tim Saunders and Kirby Becker last season. Roche hit .182 as Bryan Gregorich’s backup at third in 2013. These players, along with Tyler Packanik and Doug Bennett, will be counted on to continue improving this year.

After winning 32 games last year and bowing out in the regional tournament, Brewer is anxious to see his club get started.

“We’re not putting too much emphasis on this weekend, but we’re hoping to play well,” he said.

“When all is said and done, we’re confident we’ll be playing good baseball by the end of the year.”

LOCAL BOYS: Marietta’s roster features three freshmen players from schools in The Marietta Times circulation area.

Austin Campbell, a Morgan High graduate, is listed as an outfielder and second basemen. Pitchers Kordell Antill (Monroe Central) and James Luyster (Shenandoah) will also don the navy blue pinstripes this spring.

NOTES: The Pioneers were originally scheduled to play two games apiece against Anderson and DePauw this weekend in Xenia. Those games were canceled due to impending weather issues, according to the Marietta College Athletics website.