The college baseball season is here, and as always the Weatherford College Coyotes expect to be among the more competitive programs in the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference.
So what else is new?
"We expect to be in the mix to win the conference and show well in the regional," said Coyotes Head Coach Jeff Lightfoot. "We will have to be hot and healthy at the right time."
Assuming the second part of that statement is true, the Coyotes return enough talent to challenge. They return six starting hitters/fielders and three pitchers who saw significant time last season on a 31-24 team that finished 16-16 in the NTJCAC.
This includes middle-of-the-order hitters Colton Turner (.376 average, 39 runs batted in), Quentin Rohrbaugh (.355 average, 34 RBI), Zac Michener (.302 average) and Daniel Williams (.296 average, 4 home runs). Also, Lightfoot has said left-handed pitcher Andrew Hendel could be among the best in the conference.
Hendel's earned run average of 2.67 was third in the conference last season. He posted a 6-4 record with 52 strikeouts and 22 walks in 64 innings.
"We have five hitters that were in our everyday lineup in 2014," Lightfoot said. "That experience will be a key for our team. We expect to be solid in all areas. Our pitching staff will have a new identity under Coach Massengale. You can expect to see strike throwers that compete on every pitch.”
When Lightfoot speaks of competing, he knows what he's talking about. In 16 years as a head coach, he has 509 victories and a National Junior College Athletic Association Division III championship during his four seasons at Eastfield. In a dozen at Weatherford, his teams have won 366 games and have been consistent contenders in the conference and region.
Mixed in with the returning talent are some recruits who have garnered attention, including catcher/outfielder Chase Sarchet from Lubbock, left-handed pitcher Cole Herrean from Mansfield, and right-handed pitcher/shortstop Joe Heineman from Southlake.
"We expect Cole to be in our rotation. Chase will hit three hole and catch and play left field. Joe will play a big role in our bullpen and also be a valuable position player as well," said Lightfoot.
The Coyotes also added several Parker County players to the roster for 2015 including Weatherford High School’s Andy Rogers (OF/RHP), Alex Adair (RHP) and Will Young (RHP/OF); along with Tyson Mauser (INF/OF) and Matt Walker (RHP) from Aledo High.
Lightfoot said he was impressed with the progress the newcomers made in the fall, as well as the advancement of returning players.
"I thought we had a good fall. Our team seemed to get a grasp on what is expected of them," he said. "Aggressive style of play, up-tempo and attention to detail are things that we try to instill in the team during the fall. I felt like we made significant strides in those areas."
As always, the NTJCAC is arguably the best junior college baseball conference in the nation. Also, NJCAA Region 5 is considered by most the toughest from which to advance for the World Series.
From the conference, Grayson is ranked 13th in the nation. Also from the region, Midland is No. 15 and New Mexico 19th. Midland advanced to the NJCAA Division I World Series last season, being eliminated by eventual national champion Iowa Western.
"Grayson will be the team to beat," said Lightfoot of the conference. "NCTC (North Central Texas College) returns a good pitching staff and Cisco looked solid in the fall. Our conference is very good from top to bottom. Midland looks to be the favorite in the West, along with New Mexico and Howard.
"I would encourage the community to come out to the ballpark and watch some great baseball. If you are a baseball fan, you need to be a Coyote fan."