FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) – The future looks bright for the Marian University baseball team as it returns 27 letterwinners in 2013, including five starters, while adding 26 newcomers, which should make for a fresh and invigorating mix and, not to mention, a roster deep at every position.
The Sabres lost just three position starters in 2012, which will allow for others to step up and contribute. On the mound, Marian said goodbye to three starting pitchers, but looks to fill the void with up and coming talent and depth that will be key to success for Head Coach Jason Bartelt and company.
"Our biggest quality is team depth," said Bartelt, who enters his 12th season at the helm. "We're three-deep at every position and more athletic. Our team speed has improved dramatically and, although we are relatively young, we have seniors in crucial spots on the field."
Seniors Will Martin (Villa Park, Ill./Willowbrook) and Ryan Seifert (Germantown, Wis./Germantown) will provide leadership in the infield, while Jeff Thomas (Green Bay, Wis./East) will be a big contributor and senior leader on the mound.
Meanwhile, junior Garrett Dorn (Kaukauna, Wis./Kaukauna) – the returning team MVP from a year ago – is sure to provide some leadership in the outfield. Junior Sam Forkert (Sister Bay, Wis./Gibraltar), the team's ace on the mound, will also rise into a leadership role after another year of experience.
"I think they will all be able to step up and be valuable leaders for us," Bartelt said.
The program adds a host of newcomers, most notably sophomore transfers Ty Gellinger (New Lenox,Ill./Lincoln Way Central) and Chase Eagan (Appleton, Wis./North) – both coming from North Park University – along with freshman Cole Miklavcic (Tarpon Springs, Fla./Tarpon Springs), who will be looked upon to provide an immediate impact.
"It's a very talented incoming class so far," Bartelt said. "Those three, along with several others, add much-needed depth for our team and will solidify the direction this program is heading."
The aforementioned Martin will be a rare four-year starter at shortstop. The Villa Park, Ill. native hit right around .300 with a team-high 19 runs batted in a season ago.
Junior Chad Langley (Racine, Wis./Horlick) will be the projected starter at first and hopes to get back to his 2010 form when he registered a .320 batting average with eight doubles and 20 RBIs as a freshman. Sophomore Casey Schreiner (Manitowoc, Wis./Manitowoc) will provide power to the lineup as he'll get an opportunity at third base. The Manitowoc native led the Sabres with two home runs and a .318 batting average in limited time a year ago.
The newcomer, Eagan, along with sophomore Tony Grannis (Madison, Wis./LaFollette) will share time at second base. Both players have shown the ability to play good defensively, according to Bartelt. Eagan's versatility will allow him to move around the infield when needed as well. Freshmen Tyler Oren (Edgerton, Wis./Edgerton) and Earl Vorpagel (Green Bay, Wis./Ashwaubenon) have emerged as two of the Sabres' top backup infielders and will certainly get an opportunity.
Bartelt is excited about what the outfield position will bring for the Sabres in 2013.
"We have a very strong group defensively," Bartelt said. "Offensively, they will be able to hold their own as well and give us a decent threat on the bases with their speed."
Dorn, Gellinger and Miklavcic have a beat on the starting three positions, but will also be utilized in the designated hitter spot as well, with junior Matt Bromley (Cedarburg, Wis./Cedarburg) and sophomore Ryan Blise (Green Bay, Wis./Ashwaubenon) doubling as outfielders in addition to their primary catching duties.
With the departure of one of Marian's most consistent and productive catchers, Anthony Porcaro, Bartelt has a luxury with Bromley and Blise, who have accumulated experience along the way and shown to be productive in key spots already in their careers.
"Catcher is probably the deepest position on this team," Bartelt said. "Matt and Ryan have both shown to be good leaders, while being able to handle the pitching staff well. Their athleticism will allow us to keep them in the lineup, playing the outfield when they need a day off behind the plate."
The pitching staff lost three seniors last year and has provided competition so far to see who might emerge as this year's weekend starters and key relievers out of the bullpen.
Bartelt's staff will rely heavily on the arms of its upperclassmen, namely Forkert. The Sister Bay native showed he could compete with some of the best talent in the country last summer when he turned a 10-day contract into a full summer of experience with the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League.
Forkert went 2-3 with a 4.64 ERA over 21 appearances against quality Division I players, which are bound to include many future MLB draft picks. The Mallards liked him so much that they already signed him to a full season for this upcoming summer.
"I think his arm strength, skill set and experience has improved dramatically since he's joined the program and will allow him to compete against some of the best pitchers in the NAC this season," Bartelt said.
Thomas, who has pitched in several big spots for the Sabres throughout his career, will once again provide a backbone to the rotation. He went 2-0 a year ago with a 4.05 ERA in 11 appearances, many of those in long relief.
Sophomore Bryce Taylor (Melbourne, Australia/Scotch College) has made big strides and will see an expanded role as he makes the jump to being one of the team's top starters.
Others in the mix will also be junior Jake Schaffhauser (Milwaukee, Wis./Brookfield East), sophomores Brett Barger (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett), Trevor Nicholson (Wisconsin Rapids, Wis./Lincoln) and Sam Memenga (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bishop McNamara), as well as, freshmen Adam Ryan (New Lisbon, Wis./Mauston), Austin Hansen (Antioch, Ill./Antioch), Alex Dobbins (Endeavor, Wis./Portage) and Vorpagel.
Junior Brandon Winfield (Ripon, Wis./Ripon), who is tied for the school-record in saves, will have a chance to break that mark this year.
The Sabres expect to make the six-team Northern Athletics Conference tournament come May and the team has a new motto this year, "Always Be Closing."
"We are placing an emphasis on winning close games and playing consistent baseball throughout the year," Bartelt said. "The motto reflects our goals in the short term of winning the close ones, while also achieving our long term goals of getting to the conference tournament and beyond."
Last year, the Sabres were 6-11 in games decided by two runs or less and 13-1 when leading after six innings. An "Always Be Closing" approach could be just what this team needs to get over the hump of a 16-22 record in 2012.
The schedule works to their favor in the early going, taking on the likes of Northland, St. Mary's, Cornell, Wesleyan (Conn.) and Bethany Lutheran during the team's annual spring trip to Arizona, March 8-15. All are similar programs to Marian that play in competitive conferences.
Marian will then return home to take on Northwestern (Minn.) at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, March 20. Road trips to Ripon (March 24) and UW-Oshkosh (March 27) will follow before a March 30, home opener against NAC foe, Wisconsin Lutheran.
The Warriors will mark the first of six home series throughout the year, five against conference opponents, including Rockford (April 7), Edgewood (April 13), Benedictine (April 20) and MSOE (April 27). Finlandia will mark the lone non-conference home date, April 4.
The remaining series will take place on the road against Lakeland (April 1), Dominican (April 6), Maranatha (April 12), Concordia Chicago (April 21) and Aurora (April 28). The final non-conference doubleheader will pit the Sabres at Lawrence, April 30, followed by the NAC regular season finale against Concordia Wisconsin, May 4.
"Every conference game is important and consistent play is key," Bartelt said. "In order to get to the tournament, we are going to have to win in Illinois."
Three challenging weekends stand out with a home doubleheader preceding or following a road trip to an Illinois school (Dominican, Concordia Chi., Aurora) the next day.
"We have to mentally tough," Bartelt said. "The young kids might struggle, but we need to have a short memory. We're hoping to utilize our depth to be successful on those difficult road trips in order to reach our goal of making it to the conference tournament."