Younger team looks to maintain U of L’s winning ways

By on February 17, 2014

By Lilly Trunnell

Out of the eight regular positions on the field, only three positions will see returning players. The catchers will be a mix of seniors Shane Crane and Kyle Gibson. Senior Cole Sturgeon will be returning to right-field, a player that Coach McDonnell calls “the best right-fielder” in collegiate baseball. Junior Sutton Whiting is slated to be the regular shortstop, however, at the time this article was written Whiting had suffered an injury and the timeline for his return was unknown.

Because of this, the Cardinals will be developing a new lineup. The first six slots of the lineup will look as follows: shortstop Sutton Whiting, right-fielder Cole Sturgeon, designated hitter Grant Kay, left-fielder Jeff Gardner, first baseman Danny Rosenbaum, second baseman Zach Lucas.

The final three slots, which will be held by third base Alex Chittenden, center-field Mike White, and either Shane Crane or Kyle Gibson depending on who catches, will be evaluated on a game-to-game basis to better be able to get the lineup back to the leadoff.

Regardless of what happens at leadoff, the Cardinals will be relying on senior right-fielder Cole Sturgeon to set an example for the younger, fresher team. Sturgeon appeared in 61 of 65 total games last year with a .339 batting average. In 221 at-bats he struck out only 18 times, and knocked in 33. His batting average ranked first on the team in 2013, and his on base percentage second only to drafted outfielder Coco Johnson.

The anticipated lineup shows again the turnover from the 2013 team, who made it to the College World Series. However, with the leadership of senior captains Jeff Gardner and Cole Sturgeon and junior captains Zach Lucas and Sutton Whiting, the young team has a strong backing to prove themselves this year.

“I always say this program’s about two constants, and that’s player development and team success,” Head Coach Dan McDonnell said. The coaching staff of McDonnell, Chris Lemonis, and Roger Williams work with a unique harmony and unparalleled commitment to their players. On this year’s squad, McDonnel says, “I hope there’s a chip on their shoulder.” He’s right — the 2014 team, as a young and mostly unseen group of players, will not initially get the respect they likely deserve.

Once again after this season, the Cards will be looking at yet another big turn around. Luckily, the temperature is just right for recruitment. The current freshmen make up a big percentage of this team, and it’s expected that next year’s freshmen will do the same thing.

“As I challenge the seniors and the older players, it’s very important for the young freshmen and the young position players to understand what the standard is right now. They need to get acclimated to the culture that we have, because it seems like an eternity but before they know it they’ll be sitting behind this desk (at the press conference) next year and there’ll be a lot of young kids running out next spring,” McDonnell said.

The coaching staff isn’t alone in making these young players into capable players, and the support they’ll receive from the influence of the older players will definitely make an impact on the young players that will take over next year.

With their focus on helping players develop and hopefully get them to their dream role in the big leagues, McDonnell, Lemonis and Rogers are making their young players into high-quality everyday men to fill the shoes of those before them year after year. Look forward this season to seeing a piece of that commitment out on the field, fighting for a chance to go back to every college team’s dream: The College World Series, 2014.

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