L-C eager to rebuild a championBy JIM BROWITT
of the Tribune
This is the last in a three-part series previewing Lewis-Clark State College baseball for the 2005 season.
Anyone familiar with the way the Warriors outline a season will notice a couple of peculiarities about this year's schedule. Not only does it have the program's latest opening date in seven years, it is noticeably light on doubleheaders, featuring only three of the conventional kind.
While the first discrepancy can be attributed to a prospective opponent's about-face, the second is by design.
"We've been trying to get away from doubleheaders; sometimes you've got no choice if you want to get in games, but it's not ideal when you're trying to develop a team," L-C coach Ed Cheff says. "It's hard to keep a guy's attention over that many hours and innings in a day."
Development is a three-month process for the Warriors, and it has habitually led to a most cherished prize. Thirteen times in the past 22 years L-C has captured an NAIA national championship, and it has posted two runner-up finishes over that same span.
But the Warriors placed neither first nor second last season. They, in fact, didn't place at all. Their elimination after three games in the NAIA World Series left them without a trophy-recognized (top-four) finish.
In their 23 Series appearances, that has happened only twice. And for a tournament held in Lewiston -- there have been 13 of those -- it was an unprecedented flop.
So it's not surprising to see that Cheff has altered a thing or two for his 29th season at L-C, which begins this afternoon. But closer scrutiny will show he has changed far more in terms of personnel than he has in his approach.
At least five new faces will be in the lineup today when L-C faces Concordia at 3 p.m. as part of the four-team, three-day Les Schwab Tournament at Harris Field. And should Concordia, which also played in the Series last spring, trot out a left-handed pitcher, Cheff vows that he won't use a Warrior who hits from the left side of the plate.
The left-on-left circumstance was L-C's chief liability in '04, although a thinner-than-expected pitching staff likewise proved assailable. Both issues were aggressively addressed during the recruiting process, and Cheff took on the ambitious task of developing two of his best offensive sources, Justin Fuller and Allen Balmer (both lefties), into switch-hitters.
"Top to bottom (in the batting order), we're going to be better," says Cheff, who will be without Fuller, a preseason All-America selection at shortstop, until mid-March because of a broken hand. "I'd say our strength is we won't have any weaknesses."
He expresses similar sentiments about his pitchers, although the health of three key components -- Aaron Mills, Brad Davis and Jon McCaslin -- raises concern. Only Mills will pitch this weekend.
Today begins a relatively standard 56-game schedule, discounting the aforementioned variations and the presence of only three early-season tournaments, which will take place over the next three weekends. It is populated with the usual rivals -- Albertson, Washington State and British Columbia to name a few -- and includes two brief but distant road swings -- five games in as many days in Southern California and a quick trip for games at BYU and Utah Valley State.
And it, of course, will culminate with an appearance in the 49th annual NAIA World Series, starting May 27 at Harris Field.
"We like our guys, and we think things are going to come together very well," Cheff says. "You start every season with high expectations; now we'll see if we can live up to them."
LEWIS-CLARK STATE ROSTER
Pitchers -- Sal Aguilar, sr.; Nick Colborn, jr.; Brad Davis, sr.; Carlos Fisher, sr.; Brian Foreman, soph.; Jason Garcia, jr.; Jesse Houseman, fr.; Chris Kissock, fr.; Nate Kuhns, sr.; Derrick Landavazo, sr.; Jon McCaslin, jr.; Aaron Mills, sr.; Ben Newton, sr.; Pedro Parra, jr.; Kyle Reichert, jr. Austin Weilep, soph., Kyle Wright, jr.;
Catchers -- Gavin Concepcion, jr.; Doug Craig, jr.; Paul Keck, jr.; Dan Morrow, jr.; Eugene Olson, soph.
Infielders -- Allen Balmer, jr.; Jose Castenon, jr.; Josh Celigoy, sr.; Nick Currin, jr.; Justin Fuller, jr.; Kyle Greene, fr.; Derek Jennings, soph.; D.J. Andy Kifer, fr.; Kooken, jr.; Brandon Morris,sr.; Kyle Peterson, jr.; Isaac Simmons, fr.; Matt Vogel, jr.
Outfielders -- Nicholas Benton, soph.; Joey Briggs, soph.; Joey Dyche, jr.; Tiff Meyers, fr.; Rhett Parker, jr.; Antoine McLeod, jr.; Adam Ramirez, jr.; Brandon Ramsey, jr.; Toshi Sasa, jr.; Ryan Stevenson, sr.; Bryson Tajiri, fr.; Colin Weymer, fr.
Browitt may be contacted at email@example.com