Gaining experience quickly is must for Catamounts in 2016

Matt Jeffery
Matt Jeffery is one of the experienced players that return for Potomac State in 2016.  The Catamounts open their season on Saturday. Photo by Raymond Burner

Catamounts open season Saturday at Pepsi Invitational in South Carolina

By Roy Harper

Keyser, WV- Ask any coach, in any sport and they’ll tell you that you can’t put a price on experience.  A veteran player knows what it takes to be successful and how to deal with the ups and downs over the course of a season.

Potomac State College Head Baseball Coach Doug Little knows that each season his team is going to have a different pulse and reflect a new personality.  So, one year after going 37-10, winning the Region XX Championship for the 12th time in 16 years and finishing one game away from reaching the Junior College World Series, Little has a lot of experience to replace.

In the last two seasons Potomac State Baseball has sent nine players onto NCAA Division I programs, so Little know that experience may be in short form as the Catamounts open his 19th season at the helm.

“It is the nature of Junior College Baseball; some years we have a lot of players returning and when we do we certainly lean on that, said Little.  “You cannot put a price of ‘having been there before’.  But sometimes, you just have to run some good young players out there and see what they can do.”

Does Potomac State have good young players?  Little hopes so, especially the pitching staff. He has added four freshmen that will pitch at the top of the rotation.  Connor Christner, (Garrett, PA), Cameron Fritz, (Ashland, KY), Brandon Gochenour, (Crimora, VA) and Colson Kirchner (Middletown, MD) will headline a staff that returns just 45 2/3 inning pitched from last season.

“We will be young on the mound; so we are going to have to find a way to gain some experience,” said Little.  We will most certainly get tested the first two weekends of the season.

On back-to-back weekends to open the season PSC will travel to Florence, SC for the Pepsi Invitational hosted by Florence Darlington Tech.  The combined records of Catamounts opponents in the first eight games was 268-106 last year.

“Into the fire,” says Little.  “But to pitch well at this level takes a while to figure it out.  Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury to wait until these guys are sophomores.”

Little just needs to look at last year to show how much difference a year can make in a young pitcher.  The jump that current Liberty University right-hander Evan Mitchell took in one year was remarkable.  As a freshman, Mitchell was good, going 6-0 with an ERA of 5.40 in 41 1/3 innings pitched.  But as a sophomore he was dominate, going 12-1 in 85 innings pitched and an ERA of 1.16.  His second season was good enough to be named the NJCAA Division I National Pitcher of the Year.

“Evan is a perfect example of figuring it out.  I honestly think we have guys that have that same potential- I just hope it is sooner than later.”

Little can also turn to are a trio of sophomores that gathered limited mound-time last season.  Ryan Kelchner, (Mt. Airy, MD), Chris Schleuss, (Martinsburg, WV) and Kris Van Camp, (Huntington, WV) return in 2016. 

“These guys will provide leadership and eat up a ton of innings,” said Little.  “They are all improved from last year and I have high expectations for them.”

Van Camp may have made the biggest jump of any pitcher on the staff.

"We really did not get the chance to use Kris much last year,"said Little.  "But I think he will push to become one of our four starters.  He knows how to pitch, can be very effective down in the strike zone and is really mature."

Other newcomers that Little will hand the ball to this season will be Andrue Hughart,(Coal City, WV), Evan Plante, (Albany, NY) and Jared Rowley, (Dover, DE).

Offensively, the Catamounts lack of experience continues as just two starters return from last season, centerfielder Russell Schwertfeger, (Bethany, WV) and third-baseman Matt Jeffery, (Morgantown, WV).

Russell Schwertfeger
Russell Schwertfeger

Schwertfeger hit .305 and played in every game last season.  The sophomore drove in 20 runs, with five doubles and three triples, led PSC with eight stolen bases and will patrol centerfield again this year for the Catamounts.

Jeffery, who will start at third-base, hit .291 in 42 games, with ten doubles, two home runs and 26 runs batted in.

“Matt and Russell are both quality players and will be counted on heavily to shoulder the load offensively,” said Little.

Sophomore Seth Roadcap, (Elkview, WV) returns to handle the pitching staff from behind the plate.   He hit .231 last year with a home run and six runs batted in.

On days Roadcap is not catching Little will turn to freshman Texas Cobb, (Charles Town, WV) and sophomore Jake Marshall, (Arlington, VA).

Five other sophomores will go from role-players last season to being asked to be major contributors to the Catamounts success this season.

At first-base, Tyler Skidmore, (Bridgeport, WV) will get the nod, while Justin Palmer, (Charleston, WV) will handle the duties at shortstop.

“When you talk about those two guys, you are talking about two of the most mature young men you can have in your program,” said Little.  “This is another example of the difference a year can make- these guys have worked very hard and I expect them to have a great season.”

The trio of DeJhard Kimbrough, (Atlanta, GA), Jarin Jenkins, (Martinsburg, WV) and Jack Ricker, (Monrovia, MD) will battle it out for both corner outfield positions next to Schwertfeger.

“Those guys all bring something to the table and will be a big part of our success,” said Little.  “Our lineup may take a while to figure out, but we feel like we have some options and can put nine solid hitters out there that will compete.”

Providing depth in the outfield will be Marcel Barrett, (Woodbridge, VA), Drew DeBerry, (Uniontown, PA) and Adam Ruppenthal, (Hedgesville, WV).

Barrett will be the Catamounts lone two-way player for the Catamounts and Little thinks he can add some value to the Catamounts success in both roles.

“Marcel is one of our better athletes,” said Little.  “We will use him in multiple ways and think he can be successful as a relief pitcher as well as an outfielder.”

At second-base freshman Joe LaRocca, (Bridgeport, WV) will get the nod, with fellow freshmen Brock Bonadio, (Connellsville, PA) and Jake Allen, (Ashburn, VA) adding depth in the infield.

Kris Van Camp
Kris Van Camp

Freshman David Delawder, (Paw Paw, WV) is another infielder that the Catamounts are high on for the 2016 season and beyond.

“We have quite a bit of talent in our freshman class,” said Little. “The young guys will push the older guys and all of that competition will hopefully equal success.”

That success Little is referring to is quite impressive.  In the last 16 years, Potomac State has claimed the Region XX Division I Baseball Championship 12 times including four Eastern District Championships and four trips to the Junior College (JUCO) World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Can the Catamounts make another World Series run in 2016? 

“I don’t know.  But I really do like our guys,” said Little.  “We are by no means the most talented team, but we are a hardworking, blue-collar group, and they are focused on improving each day.  They do what we ask and thus-far they have gone about their business the right way.”

“I am convinced that we can have as much success as we want as long as we play together, continue to improve and come to play to play each day.”

“We certainly have our work cut out for us this year,” said Little.  “We play in one of the toughest Regions and Districts in the country.  And I have to believe this is one of the toughest schedules we have ever put together- especially the first three weeks.”

Potomac State will hope for an early home opener with a single game at Golden Park on March 2 with Garrett College.  Then after a four-game series at Patrick Henry Community College, the Catamounts return home for 18 straight games.

"We are looking forward to getting started.  Our guys have been working hard since August and they know that we will only be successful if we continue to keep up that effort throughout the season," said Little.  College baseball is a grind, but this is the part of the year that we look forward to the most."

For entire 2016 Potomac State Baseball schedule, click here.