Feb. 6, 2003
NKU SEEKS GLVC REPEAT IN 2003
Norse to rely on talented pitching, good defense
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - At first glance, this appears to be a season of transition for the Northern Kentucky University baseball team.
The Norse must replace six key players - each of whom were All-Great Lakes Valley Conference performers - from last seasons 37-24 team that captured the GLVC championship and advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament. Among the missing are NKU all-time hits leader Jason Martin, GLVC Pitcher of the Year Lenny Bays, not to mention NCAA Division II second team All-American Steve Walton.
The first glance, however, can be extremely misleading when it comes to the 2003 NKU baseball team. Norse head coach Todd Asalon welcomes back three veteran pitchers and four starting position players, but the third-year NKU mentor also brought in an outstanding recruiting class that includes two blue-chip starting pitchers.
Our pitching depth has improved from last year, and we have a very good combination of letterwinners and recruits who will make us very strong in that area, said Asalon, who was named GLVC Coach of the Year last season. I also believe we will have an excellent defensive team, and you win games with pitching and defense.
If we get timely hitting, we can be very good this year.
The pitching staff appears to be NKUs strength. A year ago, Chris Unkraut posted a 7-4 record with a 2.63 earned run average. The junior right-hander will again be a key starter in the NKU rotation this season.
Sophomore Brandon Evans emerged as the teams closer last season and finished with a 5-0 record, three saves and a 2.05 ERA. Evans also held opposing hitters to a .222 batting average in 2002. Junior right-hander Chad Anderson was 1-0 with a 4.13 ERA last season, but he played a crucial role in the Norses GLVC Tournament championship by coming out of the bullpen.
Brandon Evans stepped in as a freshman and did a great job as our closer, and we expect him to be even better now that he has a year of experience, Asalon said. Chris Unkraut had an outstanding season, and we expect the same from him this year. Chad Anderson is a solid pitcher who did a nice job in the GLVC Tournament, and he has the ability to be a major factor again this year.
Those three will be joined by two transfers - left-hander Geoff Freeborn and right-hander Mike Marksbury - who could rank among the GLVCs top pitchers by seasons end. Freeborns fastball has been clocked in the low 90s, and he combines that velocity with excellent control. He will be the teams No. 1 starter in 2003.
Marksbury, a hard-throwing junior, figures to be the Norses No. 2 starter this season. While at Miami-Hamilton, Marksbury posted a 10-1 record with a 1.89 ERA.
Freeborn has outstanding command of his pitches, and hes going to be a very good addition to our team, Asalon said. Marksbury throws the ball hard, and I expect them to be 1-2 in our rotation.
Justin Seiter, a transfer from Morehead State University, will provide experience as a reliever. Seiter owns a sidearm delivery and a fastball in the low 90s.
Newcomer Jeff Schachleiter, a former prep standout at Colerain High School and an 18th-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds three years ago, could also be a factor in 2003. Junior right-hander Dizzy Peyton also figures to see plenty of action on the mound for NKU this season.
Kyle Robbins, Brad Baker, Steve Thomas, Tom Unkraut, Derrick Moeves and Kyle Frye should provide depth for the NKU pitching staff.
The Norse offense must replace four All-GLVC selections, including Martin, Walton, center fielder Justin Rahschulte and third baseman Pat Eschan. That group combined for 35 home runs and 222 runs batted in last season.
NKU returns junior second baseman Shaun Erie, who collected a school-record 83 hits last season en route to a .352 batting average. Erie also scored 60 runs and had 12 doubles last year.
Senior shortstop Chris Osterkamp is also back after batting .326 last season. Osterkamp, the team captain, also set a school record with 13 sacrifices last season, and he is one of the top fielding shortstops in the GLVC.
Erie is a fine hitter, and he has really improved each season, Asalon said. Osterkamp is a steady, clutch player, and he is a David Eckstein clone. With Erie and Osterkamp, we have two outstanding baseball players in the middle of the infield, and it is going to be a strength for this team.
First baseman Jerrod Fraley and third baseman Josh Perkins - a pair of transfers - figure to win the starting jobs at the corners. Fraley, who is expected to provide NKU with power, earned All-Conference honors at Sinclair Community College.
Perkins played at the University of Southern Indiana before transferring to NKU, and he led the Screaming Eagles with a .393 batting average in 2001. He also had 14 doubles, three home runs and 33 RBI that season.
Fraley and Perkins should step in and give us a lift offensively, and they both can drive in runs, Asalon said. We lost some very good RBI producers, so it is important we get clutch hitting from those two players.
Lewis Jones and Keith Jackson, a pair of returning letterwinners, could earn starting positions in the outfield. Jones batted .297 with 16 RBI last season. Jackson hit .281 with five doubles and 21 RBI a year ago.
Jones and Jackson should play key roles for us in the outfield, and we expect a lot out of them this season, Asalon said.
Craig Craddock, a transfer who hit .350 last season at Bluefield (W. Va.) State College, could land the third starting berth in the outfield. Sophomore Jim Deller, who batted .250 in 23 games last season, will also see playing time in the outfield in 2003.
Freshman Conor McGeehan has won the starting job at catcher. A solid hitter and excellent defensive catcher, McGeehan will take the position vacated by Martin.
McGeehan earned Mid-Miami League All-Conference honors three times while at Lebanon High School, and he also earned All-State honors in Ohio.
Conor is an excellent defensive catcher who throws and receives very well, Asalon said. He will, in time, be an excellent college hitter when he adapts to college pitching. He will be an immediate impact player for us.
Sean Ryan, Chris Meyer and Joe Kendall will provide depth at catcher.
Ben Gulleman, who should provide the NKU lineup with power, figures to start the season as the designated hitter. Meyer could also see time as the designated hitter in 2003.
NKU is picked as the co-favorite in the GLVC preseason coaches poll. The Norse shared the No. 1 position in the poll with the University of Indianapolis.
NKU finished with a No. 21 national ranking in the NCAA Division II poll last season.
NKU will begin the season on Feb. 22 with a doubleheader at Lincoln Memorial University.