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Tigers look for comeback, utilize veteran leaders

Published: Thursday, February 23, 2012

Updated: Friday, February 24, 2012 01:02

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emily green / the depauw

Freshman Derek Asuras, pitcher and outfielder, bats during practice on Thursday afternoon. The men's team opens their season tomorrow at Washington University in St. Louis. "I'm excited, coming from high school, to take the next step in baseball and be with the team," Asuras said.

Looking to bounce back after a disappointing outing in 2011, the DePauw baseball team begins its 2012 season this Saturday with a game against Washington University in St. Louis.

"Coming off last year where everyone was disappointed, the guys are motivated," head coach Jayson Martin said. "The senior group is very motivated to bounce back and finish strong. Everyone in the program has very high expectations."

In 2011, the Tigers could not overcome a slow start and found themselves battling the entire season to reach a 500 record. Their play curved upward near the end of the season, finishing 11-7 during April, but a nine game losing streak in the middle of the season was too much to overcome and the team finished 19-21, losing in Southern Coast Athletic Conference double-elimination conference tournament after three games.

"It was very frustrating, but we were young," senior Alex Berlyn said. "We only had two seniors on the team."

But optimism is up as the team heads into the new season with a veteran roster and plenty of talent returning. The team has been practicing since the beginning of February and is itching for its first real competition of the season.

"This is the longest we've waited to play our first game," senior captain and catcher Sam Swafford said. "We're all definitely anxious to get out there."

Martin echoed that the Tigers were eager to begin the season.

"They're ready to go," he said. "They're excited. We've been fortunate to get outside and get a lot of good work in. I think we're geared up to have a pretty good start of the season."

For pitching, the team returns four of their five consistent contributors. Senior captain Andy Manson held the best starting record for the team at 5-2.

"We have a deep pitching staff," Manson said, "Last year, some of the trouble came because we were young all over."

Manson, senior Elliott Ross who led the team in starts last season, senior Hobbs Donovan and sophomore Michael Chiaro round out the starting pitching rotation for the Tigers this season. Donovan, though, is still on limited pitches as he returns from minor shoulder surgery during the off-season. 

"As a catcher, it's great to have some pitchers with experience," Swafford said. "It really makes my life a lot easier. We know we can depend on them."

From the offensive side, junior Jason Cohen and senior Rob McPike lead a talented and productive lineup of hitters who all boast experience.

"I just go to continue to do what I'm doing," said Cohen, who batted .368 in his sophomore season. "Just hitting through the gaps and driving in some runs from the four spot."

McPike, who carries into the season his thirty game on-base streak, hopes to keep production up.

"I just got to make sure I don't start playing like a jackass," McPike said.

This spring marks the baseball team's first season in the North Coast Athletic Conference.

"The SCAC was a very good league. I think the teams at the top were good," Martin said. "I think of the depth of the (NCAC) is also very good, with Wooster the team has been a perennial contender."

The team unanimously agrees that its primary goal is to make and win the NCAC tournament. To reach the conference tournament, teams must place in the top two of their division. The top two teams from each division then play a double-elimination tournament to decide the conference winner. While the introduction into the new conference will be not easy, the team looks forward to some advantages.

"I think the biggest difference is we're going to play a lot of teams that have faced similar challengers early on in the year with having to practice outdoors," Martin said. "In the SCAC, the first conference opponent we played had 20 games in and hadn't practiced indoor at all."

The Tigers will look to lean on their veterans as the season begins.

"We have seniors at all the positions. They're able to lead. It makes practice run smoother and hopefully translates to the field," Swafford said.

Martin has been impressed and believes in his seniors and their leadership.

"We've got nine guys, nine seniors compared to two last year," Martin said. "They've done a really good job holding their team mates accountable for how we practice."

DePauw will travel to St. Louis this weekend for Saturday and Sunday matches against Washington University as they begin their 2012 season. 

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