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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Falcons’ punch gone from lineup

For the past couple of seasons, the Bowling Green baseball team had an unmistakable calling card: offense, offense and more offense. A relentless lineup featuring big sticks like Len Elias, Kelly Hunt, Corey Loomis and Tim Newell pocked outfield walls with volley shots, and rustled the trees behind the outfield fence at Steller Field with home run balls on more than a few occasions. But that was then.

The Falcons, who start the 2003 season tomorrow at the University of Tennessee, are a decidedly different club. The offensive punch is toned down. Gone are graduated seniors Elias, Newell and Nick Elrod. Loomis was drafted by the Detroit Tigers as a junior after last year, and opted to go pro. Veteran infielder Andy Hudak, whom the Falcons figured to have at third base this season, may be gone for the duration after back surgery. What’s left are Hunt, a small band of returnees, and quite a few question marks.

Not that Hunt is a bad place to start. In December, he was selected to his second consecutive Louisville Slugger Preseason All-America Third Team. The 6′-5″ first baseman is one of the best pure power hitters in the Mid-American Conference. He can hit the ball out of the park to all fields, and it showed last year in his team-high 22 home runs. But he also exhibited great bat control and a keen hitting eye, finishing second on the team with a .402 average and driving in far and away the most runs on the team with 84. Hudak had the next-highest RBI total with 57.

“I am basically not going to try to do too much,” Hunt said. “I am going to try to get on base, and if someone’s on base, knock them in. I know what I am capable of doing.”

“I don’t want Kelly to change,” coach Danny Schmitz said. “I want him to keep doing the things he’s doing, and do them correctly.”

Hunt is the cornerstone of this year’s offense, but there are others who will have to help shoulder the load while the team’s youngsters get used to the college game. Among them are outfielders David Barkholz and Jeff Warnock.

Barkholz was slowed by a shoulder injury last year. He said the injury, which he suffered colliding with the outfield wall at Eastern Michigan, is fully healed. That’s as important as anything to BG. A healthy Barkholz can be the offense’s ignition switch. Last year, as the team’s primary leadoff hitter, he took his .412 on-base percentage to the bench for several weeks. BG didn’t feel too many ill affects because of all the firepower down the lineup, but this year, it could be a different story. BG doesn’t have the luxury of having a player of Barkholz’s caliber batting leadoff everyday. He may be a heart-of-the-order hitter this year.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Barkholz said. “Whatever is going to work best for us. One, two, three, nine, wherever. I just want to help keep everybody ready to go.”

One of the guys who may share some of the leadoff duties this year is Warnock. Warnock was sifted out of the 2002 freshman class and became the team’s everyday left fielder by season’s end. He brings some balance to the lineup, a left-handed line-drive hitter with solid power, decent speed and an excellent glove in the outfield.

“I think I may be one of the more experienced players here now,” Warnock said. “I think I will be able to have more of a leadership role with the experience I’ve gained. Whatever my role, I just want to do it to the best of my ability.”

The annual road trip to start the season is when the coaching staff will sort out the questions and let the younger players gain some experience prior to the home and conference schedules. In the season’s first month, BG will play at Tennessee, Dayton, and have a week-long trip to Fresno, Calif. over spring break. The home opener is March 18 against Tiffin.

During the road trip, Danny Schmitz will need to do some patch-work at third base. Nate Henschen has been used primarily as a DH and utility man in his three-year career. There is probably no question he could shoulder the offense burden of playing third, but it is a hard defensive position to start playing cold and expect to play well.

The other option is freshman Tyler Wasserman, but with no experience, it will be hard to pencil him in everyday and expect productive play.

Catcher is a thin position for BG. Kevin Longstreth will start out as the No. 1 backstop, and he got some innings backing up Newell last year. But if Longstreth struggles, there are no veterans waiting in the wings. Jesse Sobol figures to be the main backup, but with just three appearances last year, he’s still getting his feet wet.

The middle of the infield is more or less up for grabs to the best performers. Junior Spencer Schmitz is the front-runner to win the starting second baseman’s job. He batted .302 in 29 appearances last year, but it was a relatively weak .302, almost all on singles. Spencer’s only extra-base hits last year were two doubles, and he had just eight RBI.

Freshman Bobby Majer and sophomore Jimmy Lipari round out the main middle infield candidates. Danny Schmitz said Majer will probably get the early nod at shortstop and Lipari will be used as a utility man.

Right field yields the coaches’ most glowing reviews of a freshman so far. Freshman Nolan Reimold will begin the season in right, and may become this year’s version of Warnock.

“We’re pleased with Nolan, what he’s shown so far,” Danny Schmitz said.

Nolan is the brother of John Reimold from the BG basketball team.

Pitching

The several years Danny Schmitz and pitching coach Tod Brown spent grooming their sometimes-struggling young pitchers may pay off this year. The pitching staff figures to be as strong as it has been since the late ’90s.

The starting rotation is anchored by 6′-8″ righty workhorse Kyle Knoblauch. His 4.93 ERA from last year doesn’t look so good, but his 7-1 record and team-high 76.2 innings pitched certainly does to Brown.

“Kyle’s one of the guys we are going to be relying on,” Brown said. “He’s been in the rotation since he was a freshman, and we are looking at him as our top starter right now.”

Lefty Doug Flere is the staff’s lone senior. Last year, his first since Tommy John surgery in 2000, he struggled to knock the rust off and get his arm back in shape. In 12 starts, he compiled a 2-7 record with a monstrous 9.00 ERA.

This year, he said he feels a lot better.

“I had a good summer playing out in Maine,” he said. “I had a good fall season when I came back. I am looking to go out and start contributing more.”

The Falcons have a group of eight or nine pitchers who can start, a luxury Brown and Danny Schmitz would like to use.

“We have guys like Burke Badenhop, Tom Oestrike, Tyler Sanholtz, Keith Laughlin and Tyler Johnson who all can throw,” Brown said. “Maybe eight guys who can be a conference-caliber pitcher.”

Johnson is probably the most promising freshman on the staff so far. The 6′-3″ righty is from Tipp City, Ohio.

What sets BG’s pitching staff apart from some other college staffs is the presence of a true closer. Lefty Neil Schmitz found the stopper’s role last year and flourished, going 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA and six saves. Opposing batters his a modest .262 off him in 37.1 innings.

Brown said he did not know if Neil Schmitz would solely be used as a closer this year.

“It is not like last year where we knew we were going to be in almost every game because of our offense, so we needed a guy out in the bullpen to close in every game.” Brown said. “But it will still be good to have a guy like Neil out there. He is our best pitcher.”

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