New coaching staff leads baseball team into the 2017 season
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Returning to the diamond after a summer of coaching changes and a busy offseason, the Golden Grizzlies start their season in Nashville, Tennessee, on Feb. 17. Both Jacke Healey and Colin Kaline begin their first season as Oakland baseball’s co-head coaches, with Hayden Fox and Torre Aguirre in their first season as assistant coaches.
“Sometimes when you go through a leadership change, things can be a little difficult at first, and it wasn’t that way with us,” Kaline said. “The guys really responded well, and the effort was incredible.”
Despite the changes in leadership, the Black and Gold got to work early in the offseason with a heavy focus on getting back to the basics and improving overall strength.
“The fundamentals were something we struggled with in the past,” Healey said. “I think the preparation we put into that is really going to help us out in the long run.”
The coaching changes had a major effect on the team’s pitching. Former head coach John Musachio was the main pitching coach in the past. This year, however, the team’s co-head coaches both lack the expertise necessary in that area.
With this being the case, Fox stepped up to the plate to become the main pitching coach. He is an Oakland baseball alumnus, and his leadership gives the team a lot of faith in the guys on the mound.
“This season, I feel that pitching is going to be our strongest unit,” Healey said. “We have a lot of pitchers that have been extremely valuable in the past and guys that have a lot of potential for us. For our conference, we have as good as a middle of a lineup that you can get.”
With any team, injuries are a big concern, especially with pitchers throwing every day. This winter, Oakland saw something nearly impossible: none of their pitchers faced an arm injury.
“The biggest accomplishment for us in the fall through the winter has been that we’ve gone the entire time without a single pitcher’s arm getting injured,” Fox said. “This is the first time that this has a occurred in a very long time. I think our hard work ethic during our throwing program, our dedication to our pre-throwing routines, and then aggressively attacking our conditioning is going to be able to lead to great overall health this year.”
The pitching staff has come up with a plan to effectively save the arms of their men while giving them the most playing time they can. It is critical to have a variety of pitchers available when playing two- and three-game sets all season.
“For our starters, we want each of them to go at least seven innings every start, and then be able to pass the ball off to our closer,” Fox said. “For our bullpen, we’re looking for them to be able to compete in as many games as they possibly can in a week. We are continuing to look to minimize the amount of guys we walk and try to maximize the amount of guys we strike out. Our ultimate goal as a pitching staff is we don’t want to face more than four batters an inning, to keep our pitch count down.”
The projected starters for this weekend’s series, according to Kaline, are redshirt junior Jake Lee on Friday, senior Tyler Palm on Saturday and sophomore Nick Parr on Sunday.
Lee and Palm are returning weekend starters for the Golden Grizzlies. They finished the 2016 season with ERAs of 4.29 and 5.31, respectively. Parr returns for Oakland after making 13 appearances on the mound with two starts last season. He posted a 3.57 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched.
Offensively, the Golden Grizzlies will have to recover from the loss of some of the biggest contributors to last year’s team, such as Mike Brosseau and Ian Yetsko. Oakland will rely on the continued success of returners like redshirt junior Ben Hart and seniors Zach Sterry and Tyler Pagano to keep its offensive success going.
“It is never easy to lose key pieces in your offense like Ian Yetsko and Mike Brosseau, but we have a ton of confidence in our guys moving forward this year,” Kaline said. “The strength to our lineup is through the middle of the order, led by Zach Sterry who is coming off a summer in which he hit .350 with 13 homeruns and was named MVP of the Valley League. We feel that we have the versatility to score in a number of different ways and are looking forward to seeing some breakout years from our guys.”
Sterry, one of Oakland’s biggest offensive weapons during his career, returns for his final season with the Golden Grizzlies. He is coming off of a very successful summer playing for the Waynesboro Generals. He was named a 2016 Perfect Game/Rawlings Summer Collegiate All-American Honorable Mention for his performance with the team.
Hart, along with sophomore Ryan Fitzgerald, return this season after earning All-Horizon League honors last year.
Hart was named to the All-Horizon League Second Team after finishing second on Oakland’s team with a .323 batting average in league play.
Fitzgerald was selected for last year’s Horizon League All-Freshman Team. He finished league play hitting .232 with 23 runs scored and 12 RBIs.
Working their way through the season, the Golden Grizzlies are going to put an emphasis on moving forward after games and onto the next, keeping their eyes on winning their division.
“Some of the goals we have for the team are, of course, to win the Horizon League, first and foremost, but we want to secure a spot as a top-ranking seed in the Horizon League Tournament,” Kaline said.
Before they get there, however, the team will have to make it through a tough preseason schedule. The team’s nonconference schedule is highlighted with a three-game series at top-ranked Florida State University. The team will also make stops at East Tennessee State University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Indiana State University, among others.
“This year, I feel as if the team’s attitude and intensity they have been putting forward has been a lot better than what it has been in years past,” Healey said. “There’s a different kind of vibe about this year’s team.”
The Golden Grizzlies take on Wright State for their home opener on Friday, Mar. 31.