Roster size shapes baseball season

Andy Jobanek

Calvin Davis, '09, was one of six seniors honored before the first game Sunday, May 3 at Whitman's home series against the University of Puget Sound. Credit: Les Kitamura
Calvin Davis, '09, was one of six seniors honored before the first game Sunday, May 3 at Whitman's home series against the University of Puget Sound. Credit: Les Kitamura

With only three regular starting pitchers, two of which were newcomers, and only one true relief pitcher returning to a team of only 17 players: eight players below the minimum for Major League teams: the Whitman baseball team started their season with two strikes against them.

At the surface, the season appeared similar to last year’s (4-36, 2-30 in NWC) campaign, but while the records were similar (3-34, 2-29 in NWC), Whitman made significant strides and set the base for future growth.

“It was night and day going to practice,” said head coach Casey Powell. “If you took the two teams on paper before the season started, you would have taken last year’s team, but with the personality and attitude at practice this year, I would’ve taken this team every day.”

“It was a great group, they worked hard and everyday of practice was fun. I enjoyed going to practice this year as much as I’ve ever had.”

Several team members echoed their coach’s sentiment.

“We were a little bit more competitive than we were last year in terms of our mind-set as well,” said sophomore Erik Korsmo. “If you look at our hitting we were leagues ahead of last year.”

As a team, Whitman hit .269 compared to last year’s .226 average. In addition, this year’s on-base plus slugging (OPS) rose a full hundred points from .603 last season to .706.

Powell again attributed the team’s improvement to their willingness to buy into the system.

“Right after the first series of games our emphasis was hitting ground balls and line drives and trying to keep the ball out of the air as much as possible,” said Powell. “This team just knew who they were and didn’t try to do more than that.”

Hindering the team’s progress in hitting though, was the lack of depth in the pitching staff as well as the entire team. With four conference games scheduled each weekend, Whitman had tostretch to get a fourth starter and didn’t have the luxury of a deep bullpen when a starter would get into trouble.

“A lot of guys had to step up this year and put in some time on the mound even though it wasn’t their primary position. Also we had to demand more out of our starters to go deep into games because we couldn’t afford to throw a few arms in one game,” said senior no. 1 starting pitcher Pete Stadmeyer.

“There were probably some guys with inflated ERAs that shouldn’t have been,” said Powell.

On April 5 against Willamette University, Whitman showed their lack of depth when the team relinquished nine runs in the top of the sixth, bringing a 9-0 lead to a 9-9 tie. Stadmeyer started the game throwing a no-hitter through four and one-third innings, but it all unraveled in the sixth. However, having used five pitchers the day before, Powell had nowhere else to turn and kept Stadmeyer on the mound. Eventually, Powell brought in first-year starter Peter Olson, the scheduled starter for the day’s second game, to relieve Stadmeyer. By the time Olson retired the final Willamette batter in the sixth, the game was tied. Willamette finished their comeback with two runs in the top of the eighth to win 11-9.

For the second game, Olson was forced to pitch again, but only lasted two and two-thirds innings before Korsmo: who hadn’t pitched since middle school: was brought in to pitch the final four and one-third innings of the game

For next year, six players depart from the team, but Powell anticipates at least six new recruits coming in to replace them with the possibility of two or three more joining the incoming class later. Of the six guaranteed, four have pitched in high school, helping to fill the vacancy of three-year ace Stadmeyer. The conference will also transition back to three games over a weekend from four games the last two years, benefiting shorter pitching staffs like Whitman.