With 14 national
championships and more than 1,500 wins under his belt, it would seem it
would take quite a bit to excite Lewis-Clark State College baseball coach Ed
Cheff about his 31st season with the Warriors.
discussing the season outlook for the 2007 squad, it is easy to see why the
NAIA Hall of Fame coach perks up.
“This is the best
balance of speed and power we’ve had in a long time,” Cheff says. “I’m
optimistic this will be one of our better offensive teams.”
That statement alone
should send shivers through the rest of the NAIA. Although the Warriors have
had some great offensive teams in the past, LCSC consistently has had one of
the top pitching staffs in the NAIA, which has helped the Warriors claim at
least 10 more Series titles than any other program in the history of the
NAIA. Only two other schools have won more than two Series titles.
With a strong nucleus
returning, along with some key transfers, the Warriors, under Cheff, will be
aiming for their 15th title in the last 24 seasons. The path,
however, to get to the Avista NAIA World Series, which will be held at
Lewiston’s Harris Field on May 25-June 1, will be a bit different this
For the first time in
more than a decade, the Warriors will play a Region I league schedule and
will also take part in the postseason regional tournaments, even though they
still have an automatic berth into the Series. Rule changes in the NAIA
force both the league play and postseason play upon the Warriors.
That means LCSC will
play 30 league contests this season against the five remaining Region I
teams. LCSC will meet each squad in three-game home and away series. The
league schedule composes a majority of LCSC’s 53-game schedule, but there
are also usual contests against the likes of Gonzaga and Washington State,
both NCAA Division I schools.
Another change for the
Warriors this season is with the coaching staff. Former pitching coach Gary
Picone is now the college’s athletic director, and long-time assistant Gus
Knickrehm, who has been associated with the college for 16 years, takes over
as the top assistant and pitching coach. Tyler Best will be the other
assistant, and Mike Madrid and Aaron Mills will serve as graduate
assistants. Like Knickrehm, the other three assistants all played for Cheff
Here’s a preview
breakdown by position for the 2007 Warriors:
Middle infielders Matt
Vogel and Justin Fuller were the foundation for the Warriors’ strong defense
the past two seasons, but are now gone along with third-baseman Allen Balmer.
But not to worry. As the cliché goes, great teams don’t rebuild, they
Division I transfers Beau Mills and Donnie Ecker will fill key roles and
last year’s starting center fielder Mark Thompson is being moved to the
infield, which should give the Warriors another solid infield.
Mills will likely
handle third base duties. He played at Fresno State a year ago and started
all but one game. He finished with a .355 batting average, 20 home runs and
58 RBI in just 52 games. Cheff says Mills may be the most complete player to
put on a Warrior uniform and some professional baseball scouts speculate he
could go as high as the second round in this year’s Major League draft in
Ecker, a second baseman
who could also see time at short or third, played at Long Beach State as a
freshman, and then at Santa Clara last season. Along with Mills, the two
give the Warriors some power from the left side of the plate.
Thompson had a stellar
year last year when he hit .361 and earned All-Region I honors in center
field. He has good range and hands for a shortstop, and can play a variety
of positions both in the infield and outfield.
That versatility is a
mark throughout the infield. Zach Evangelho and Kyle Melton can play second,
short or third as can Jovanny Bramasco, the MVP of Long Beach City College
team last year that won the California State Championship. Utility players
Issac Simmons and Brian Bollwitt also will be in the mix.
At first base, former
Lewiston High product Kyle Greene, who spent the last two seasons at Walla
Walla Community College, had a strong fall and will be challenged for the
starting job by returnee Ikaika Lester.
“We’re always looking
for offensive power but guys have to play defense,” Cheff says about what he
looks for with infielders. “When we were recruiting this team, we recruited
more physical kids.”
Thompson’s move from
center field created an opening for Brent Wyatt, a transfer from Wenatchee
Valley Community College. Like Thompson, Wyatt can also play shortstop and
could wind up at one of the other outfield positions as well.
Returnees Paul Martin
(.330 average last year) and Jesse Roehl (.244) return. Martin had a strong
year as a true freshman a year ago, while Roehl went 5-for-17 (.294) during
the World Series.
“Both (Martin and
Roehl) are physically stronger,” Cheff says. “They improved their skills and
they are bigger and stronger.”
Nic Benton, a part-time
starter his first three years, and transfer Eric Epperson give the Warriors
good depth. Several others are expected to see playing time as well.
All Region I selection
Jessie Mier, a senior, leads a strong group behind the plate. Mier hit .349
last season and was batting cleanup at the end of the year. He was second on
the team in RBI (42) and tied for second in home runs (six).
“Jessie is one of the
better catchers around,” Cheff says. “He has the combination of being able
to hit, catch and throw, which is everything you want in a catcher.”
The Warriors have a
slew of backups who will be battling for playing time this year. Of the
group, Dick Knutz and Travis Georgius, a freshman, both had strong fall
seasons. Georgius, who played at Coeur d’Alene High last year, could end up
being a special recruit, Cheff says. Lucas Shaw and Tyler Carlson, a
freshman from Lewiston, also will be in the mix.
LCSC had eight pitchers
appear in 10 or more games last season, but only one returns healthy,
meaning some newcomers and other returnees will have to step up and fill
some key roles.
The returnee is junior
right-hander Chris Kissock, who has gone 15-3 during his first two seasons
with a 2.20 ERA. He threw 169 pitches in a game last year that put LCSC in
the World Series championship contest.
others were expected to make major contributions this season, but all have
been sidelined with injuries. Mike Miller (3-1, 2.05 ERA) has been battling
injury issues since he arrived at LCSC but could see action at some point
this spring after having surgery in the fall. The other two are out for the
season. Max Hibbs (5-2 last year) underwent Tommy John surgery in the fall,
while Dustin Willis (4-0 and a team-leading 1.55 ERA), had shoulder surgery.
The Warriors, however,
brought in some recruits with some impressive credentials and also are
expecting big things from returnees Jared Joaquin and Jon McCaslin, who last
pitched for the team in 2005. Joaquin has enjoyed a strong offseason, while
McCaslin also is a member of the LCSC golf team and will participate in both
sports this spring, marking the first athlete at LCSC to compete in those
two sports during the spring.
Cheff says McCaslin is
sort of the wild card. He says McCaslin is a great closer, but the team will
likely try him out as a starter to begin the season to see how he handles
The Warriors have that
luxury after signing two of the top-rated closers in the state of California
last year in Brian Bird and Shane Minor. Bird posted 11 saves last year.
Of the newcomers, Brad
Schwarzenbach and Chris Schwinden bring impressive credentials from their
respective junior colleges, while Matt Duryea gives LCSC a quality
left-handed starter the team hasn’t had, Cheff says.
“This pitching staff
has a chance to be one of the better staffs we have had in the last
five years,” Knickrehm says.