Something old, something new.
The UAFS baseball team will have a vastly different look this spring with a lot of new faces on the roster, but mixed in among those newcomers is a wealth of experience from the junior college ranks and even the NCAA Division I level.
UAFS will begin its fifth season of NCAA Division II competition on Saturday with a two-day, three-game series against the Henderson State Reddies in Arkadelphia. The two in-state rivals will play a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday and finish the series with one nine-inning game at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
While it will be the season opener for UAFS, Henderson State will already have played four games. The Reddies went 0-4 during the Houston Winter Invitational last weekend at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. They lost to Winona State (3-2), the University of Central Missouri (13-0), Arkansas Tech (5-4) and the University of Arkansas-Monticello (6-3).
It will be veteran Diamond Lions coach Dale Harpenau’s 16th season at UAFS and his 27th season overall as a college coach. The Diamond Lions finished the season 29-20 overall last season, qualifying for their second consecutive Heartland Conference Tournament.
UAFS was picked to finish third in the conference this season in the preseason poll. The Diamond Lions have finished fourth and third, respectively, in the regular season the past two seasons – their first two seasons as active NCAA Division II members eligible to compete for the conference title and qualify for postseason play.
Only two starters return on the infield from last year’s team – senior second baseman Ryan Gros from Dallas, Texas, and sophomore shortstop Ozzie Hurt from Bryant.
Gros started 38 of the 40 games he played last spring and batted 0.287 with 10 doubles and 13 RBI. He compiled a 0.956 fielding percentage with just seven errors and had five stolen bases.
Hurt was named to the All-Heartland Conference Gold Glove Team last season. He started all 48 games he played last season and batted 0.237 with two doubles and 13 RBI. He compiled a 0.949 fielding percentage with 10 errors and had three stolen bases.
They will be joined by junior catcher Justin Shealy from Midlothian, Texas, a transfer from Clarendon College; junior first baseman Brennan Rogers of Greenwood; junior shortstop Mitch Huckabay from Mansfield, Texas, a transfer from Northwestern State University; and junior third baseman Ryan Justus from Houston, Texas, a transfer from Independence Community College.
Two starters return in the outfield – junior center fielder Curtis Clark from Harrison, Ark., and senior left fielder Koby Chadick from Shawnee Mission, Kan.
Clark started 26 of the 39 games he played last season and batted 0.207 with one double and seven RBI. He compiled a 0.975 fielding percentage with two errors and had three stolen bases.
Chadick started 28 of the 30 games he played last season and batted 0.300 – second highest average on the team – with three doubles, two triples and two home runs with 18 RBI. He compiled a 0.959 fielding percentage with three errors and had five stolen bases.
Junior Tyler Lein from Jenks, Okla., a transfer from Independence Community College, and sophomore Kasey Cooper from Pea Ridge, Ark., are expected to compete for the starting spot in left field.
Freshman JC Baxley from Wichita, Kan., is expected to start at designated hitter.
Eight pitchers, including two redshirts, return from last year’s staff that compiled a 4.07 ERA with 244 strikeouts and 149 walks over 387 1/3 innings.
The Diamond Lions, however, will be without their top returning starter in junior right-hander Hasten Freeman from Scranton, Ark., who suffered a knee injury in the offseason and will likely miss the entire season.
Freeman compiled a 4.11 ERA with a team-high 61 strikeouts and only 24 walks over 72 1/3 innings. He posted a 5-3 record with a team-high four saves in 18 appearances that included nine starts. He was named Heartland Conference Pitcher of the Week and Second Team All-Heartland Conference.
Chadick, a right-hander, compiled a 5-3 record with one save in 13 appearances that included 10 starts. He compiled a 4.45 ERA, struck out 45 and walked 31 over 58 2/3 innings. Sophomore left-hander Austin Duerr from Alma, compiled 3-2 record in 11 appearances that included five starts. He compiled a 3.98 ERA, struck out eight and walked 10 over 31 2/3 innings.
Junior right-hander Jordan Hammer of Midwest City, Okla., posted a 2-3 record with two saves in 19 relief appearances. He compiled a 2.83 ERA with 21 strikeouts and six walks over 28 2/3 innings. Junior left-hander Darrin Pittman from Fayetteville, compiled a 4.50 ERA with no decisions in seven relief appearances. He struck out six and walked 11 in six innings.
Senior right-hander Eric Tiefenthaler from Troy, Mo., compiled a 10.38 ERA with no decisions and one save in five relief appearances. He struck out five and walked three over 8 2/3 innings. Junior right-hander Chris Howard from Dallas, Texas, compiled an 18.00 ERA with no decisions in two relief appearances. He struck out one and walked two over one inning.
Senior right-hander Tyler Davis from Charleston received a redshirt last season, missing the entire year rehabilitating an injury. He will be seeing his first action since the 2011 season, when he compiled a 3.97 ERA with four strikeouts and four walks in six appearances, including two starts. He posted a 1-1 record.
Freshman right-hander Andrew Dickinson from San Antonio, Texas, redshirted last season.
They’ll be joined by a host of newcomers.
Junior right-hander Jordan Cordray from Houston, Texas, a transfer from Labette Community College, is the projected starter for the season opener against the Reddies. Cordray compiled an 8.10 ERA and posted a 3-3 record with one complete game last season at Labette. He struck out 18 and walked 16 in 10 appearances that included eight starts.
Other newcomers include: freshman right-hander Hayden Harvey from Greenwood, a transfer from Crowder College; freshman right-hander Ethan Higgins from Pea Ridge; junior right-hander Wayde Roth from St. Genevieve, Mo., a transfer from Mineral Area Community College; junior right-hander Devin Hampton from Potosi, Mo., a transfer from Mineral Area Community College; freshman right-hander Gatlin Watson from Springdale; freshman right-hander Collin Ogilvie from Alma; freshman right-hander Dylan Reese from Van Buren; and junior left-hander Kellen Smith from Tulsa, a transfer from Labette Community College.