Titans baseball preview -The diamond awaits LCC's seasoned team
Last year, LCC's baseball squad had 19 freshman and relatively low expectations. This season, with 17 sophomores, the Titans have their eyes set on an NWAACC Southern region championship.
But success in the always-competitive Southern region won't come easy. Last season's Southern region champion Mt. Hood Community College and runner-up Linn-Benton Community College will pose a huge challenge for LCC's postseason aspirations.
Head Coach Rob Strickland is aware of the expectations that come with having an experienced team. "We're expected to produce this year. There's no question about it. Not a rebuilding year by any means."
That said, Strickland suggested the rest of the NWAACC may be surprised when LCC finally takes the field on Friday, Feb. 27, against Concordia College's JV. "I think we're flying under the radar a little bit. Most people around the Northwest don't know how good of a talent base we have here."
The Titans deep and proven pitching staff will provide the foundation for the team. With five legitimate starting pitchers, that foundation appears to be solid. Leading the Titans' pitching staff is Sheldon High School alumus and Mt. Hood Community College transfer student, Chris Vitus.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim drafted Vitus in 2007 and in 2008, but he's putting his professional career on hold for now. "We're very fortunate to get him to come back home," Strickland said.
But, like with any baseball team - professional or peewee - LCC's middle relief is still something of a question mark. However, the Titans will have no shortage of available arms. Strickland believes that in addition to his pitching staff the team has as many as seven position players who can step and throw strikes when needed.
Behind the plate, Strickland will likely rely on two catchers, Jake Van Cleave and Kyle Hanson, to guide his pitching staff. "Defensively, we have two sophomore catchers who both are proven, both played last year, and they're going to be the key to our defense."
He also added that with the emphasis on bunting that pervades the wooden bat NWAACC, the team's third baseman, Kevin Sheppard, will be absolutely critical to the teams defense. "He's done a fine job so far," Strickland said.
As good as the rest of the Titan defense appears to be, LCC's outfield stands out.
"By far the strong point of this team is the outfield. I've got six outfielders, five of them are sophomores, with speed, arm strength and the ability to read balls coming off the bat - by far my most solid spot on the diamond."
On the offensive side, the team can put runs on the board in a variety of fashions. Strickland expects the team's batting average to improve from last year, as well their power. But even when things aren't clicking at the plate, the Titans can rely on solid base running and good team speed to manufacture runs and give their pitching staff much-needed support.
The stars are aligning for the Titans in 2009; even Mother Nature appears to be on their side.
"[The weather has been] highly unusual. Not only has the weather been great, after 10 years we finally got a tarp for the field. Those two things have allowed us to get on the field about 25 times already. Which is highly unusual. We normally get between 10 and 15 good [practice] days, so this team has been prepared to play a preseason game for about 10 days."
Before the Titans begin their conference schedule against Chemeketa Community College on Thursday, March 26, the team will have 20 preseason games to establish an identity. But Strickland understands what this team is capable of already: "17 sophomores, all of them with experience from playing last year - what it boils down to is if we do our job as coaches they'll produce."
By: Tyler Pell
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