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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Young pitching must lead baseball

Bowling Green baseball Head Hoach Danny Schmitz says he doesn’t put a lot of stock in preseason polls. That’s probably a good thing. Last year, the Mid-American Conference preseason coaches’ poll pegged the Falcons to finish fourth in the East Division, and they wound up riding the best offensive season in the country to the division title with a .360 team batting average and a 36-18 overall record. This year, the poll placed them third. Their chance to prove themselves better starts with the season opener today in Knoxville against Tennessee. The Volunteers finished third in the College World Series last season.

On the mound, the Falcons lost their best pitcher, Craig Menke, to injury midway through the season last year. Menke graduated and signed with the Houston Astros. They had good performances from some young pitchers like right-handed starter Kyle Knoblauch and right-handed reliever Clayton Booth, who tied for second on the team in wins, along with Brett Baumgartner, at five.

The loss of Menke means that the majority of the pitching talent on this team is young. Last year was a growing process that allowed Schmitz and pitching coach Tod Brown to gauge who best fit in what roles. Now, the young pitching has to step up and carry much of the load.

“The majority of our experience is in our sophomore class,” Brown said. “We?ll have guys like Knoblauch, (Neil) Schmitz, Booth, (Ryan) Lindquist. We’ll have Doug Flere back as a redshirt junior.”

Knoblauch, Booth, right-hander Lindquist and lefties Schmitz and Keith Laughlin are the sophomore pitching class. They combined to win 18 games last year. However, Flere might be the biggest key to the season on the mound. Flere has been recovering from “Tommy John” ligament transplant surgery on his elbow. He hasn’t pitched in a competitive game since April 2000, but the lefty with a 90-mph fastball and a breaking ball Brown describes as “major league” could become the ace of the staff.

“One of the big keys is Doug Flere,” Schmitz said. “He will play a major role. He’ll allow other pitchers to be put in their normal roles.”

Brad Henry heads a class of three senior pitchers. The righty reliever will most likely be one of the main pillars of the bullpen along with Booth. The two combined for seven saves last year.

The two freshmen pitchers getting the most looks from the coaches are righties Tyler Saneholz and Matt Hundley. Brown and Danny Schmitz believe both can contribute this year.

Offensively, the Falcons lost three main contributors to last year’s fireworks show. Outfielders Lee Morrison and Aric Christman, and third baseman Scott Dukate were lost to graduation, taking 43 home runs and 158 RBI with them.

It falls on the likes of senior outfielder Len Elias, a third-team All-American selection by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Second-team All-MAC selections 2B Corey Loomis and C Tim Newell are also going to be in the heart of the order most days. Sophomore David Barkholz, who split time between the outfield and the mound last year, will become primarily an outfielder this year and bat leadoff most days. Elias will shift from left field to right field, a move made because right field is the sun field at Steller, better suited for a more experienced player. Freshman Jeff Warnock is tabbed right now to be the everyday left fielder.

On the infield, Loomis and shortstop Nick Elrod are the upperclassman anchors. Power-hitting first baseman Kelly Hunt will bat cleanup on most days. He leads all returners with 14 home runs. Andy Hudak, who split time with Dukate at third base last year will become the primary 3B this year.

Behind Newell, the catching situation is a bit dicey. There are four freshmen battling to become the primary backup, Jesse Sobol, Burke Badenhopp, Dustin Pearson and Kevin Longstreth. It is a situation the coaches hope to have resolved this season before they lose Newell to graduation.

The designated hitter spot will be split between sophomore Nate Henschen and Neil Schmitz. Henschen was a catcher last year, but will be used mostly as a 1B/DH this year.

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