NEWTON — Versatility. It is a driving force for Newton Senior High’s Cardinals going into the 2014 baseball season.
Focus for NHS co-head coaches Darin Tisdale and Pat Riley, who are in their second season in those roles, has been to develop their players to play “anywhere” on the field for the Cardinals.
“We have a lot of guys who play multiple positions. When you have players like that, who can hit the ball also, it’s a positive for the team,” Riley said.
The Cardinals open the 2014 season Tuesday at home against Marshalltown in a non-conference contest. Varsity first pitch is 7:30 p.m. in Woodland Park.
Newton comes off a 17-17 2013 season. The Cardinals lost to West Des Moines Dowling Catholic in a Class 4A substate tournament opener.
Newton finished third in the Little Hawkeye Conference a year ago with a 10-8 record behind Norwark (15-3) and Knoxville (11-7). Riley and Tisdale agree Newton, Norwalk and Knoxville should be contending atop the conference this season.
“Norwalk always fields a strong team. Knoxville was young last year and should be tough this season. Grinnell and Pella Christian finds ways to win some games,” Riley said. “It’s a pretty balanced conference, but we see ourselves, Norwalk and Knoxville battling for the top spot.”
Pella and conference newcomer Dallas Center-Grimes will figure into the Little Hawkeye Conference race as well, Riley added.
Newton has three seniors returning from last year’s squad and five juniors with plenty of varsity experience. Riley pointed out the Cardinal have their top four pitchers back and most of their infield returning.
Seniors back are Chandler Sturtz, an infielder and pitcher; Evan Shimon, catcher and infielder; and Derek Wrage, infielder, first baseman and pitcher. Juniors are Tyler Wood, pitcher and infielder; Mike McCormick, infielder, outfielder and pitcher; Jeff Stanton, outfielder and pitcher; Michael Barr, infielder, outfielder and pitcher; and Jordan Travis, infielder, catcher, outfielder and pitcher.
Wood proved to be one of the top pitchers in the Little Hawkeye Conference, earning a unanimous selection to the 2013 All-Little Hawkeye Conference first team. Sturtz earned All-Little Hawkeye Conference first team honors as a utility player. Derek Wrage earned LHC second-team honors as a pitcher. Shimon and McCormick garnered Little Hawkeye honorable mention.
Wood posted a 7-3 pitching record to lead the Cardinal pitching staff. He led the team with 44 strikeouts and had a 2.52 earned run average. Wood allowed 64 hits, issued 26 walks and gave up 29 runs in 64 innings of work.
Wood also played third base for the Cardinals during the season. He hit at a .311 clip with 37 hits, which included five doubles and two triples. Wood drove in 17 runs and scored 28 runs. He was 9-of-9 on stolen base attempts.
Sturtz had a fielding average of .962 with just five errors, playing several positions for the Cardinals. He led the Cardinal offense, hitting .350, driving in 14 runs and scoring 28 runs. He had four doubles among his 35 hits.
Wrage was 4-3 pitching with a 2.24 ERA and picked up four saves. Wrage struck out 38 batters walked 17 and allowed 59 hits. At the plate, Wrage hit at a .231 clip with 15 hits, eight runs scored and eight RBI.
McCormick saw action as an infielder and outfielder for the Cardinals last season and had just eight errors. He hit .258 and had 23 hits. McCormick scored 13 runs and drove in six runs. He was 6-of-6 on stolen base attempts.
Shimon was the Cardinals’ designated hitter with a .256 batting average. He had one home run and six doubles among his 20 hits. He scored 10 runs and had 16 RBI.
Shimon steps in as the starting catcher for this year’s squad along with Travis and sophomore Duncan Lee.
“Evan caught quite a bit last year so he has the experience while Jordan and Duncan are both athletic kids but will be learning on the fly,” Riley said. “Our pitching staff will be our foundation this season. We’ll be solid on the hill.”
Barr finished with a 4-3 pitching record. He allowed 41 hits in 32 1/3 innings. Barr struck out 17 batters and issued 12 walks. Stanton hit .232 with four stolen bases and Travis had a .214 batting average.
Tisdale said every season a team starts out relying on their pitchers and catchers. The Cardinals will do that and should have a core of four or five players, who can hit the ball on offense.
“The offense catches up to the pitching. We have guys who can hit the ball consistently then our other kids in the lineup need to come up with hits and sacrifice bunts to move runners,” Tisdale said. “We’re focused on running the bases hard and well, producing runs and making things happen that way.
Jan Vitek, a foreign exchange student, is the other senior on the team. Junior Blake Anderson is back out after not playing baseball for a couple of years. Riley said Anderson is pretty athletic with a lot skills and strength, who they expect to help the team.
Sophomores on the squad are Andrew Weiland, Drew Stout, Bryce Tish, Austin James, Jake Bennett and Jason Wu, another foreign exchange student. The coaches like what they see from their younger players.
“We’ll make mistakes early. There’s a learning curve even with the veterans,” Riley said. “It’s mid to late season when we want to start to peak and playing our best baseball.”
Tisdale pointed out the team has a number of players involved in multiple spring sports right now. He said those players are at practice off and on as the other sports allow, so it will take awhile for the team to get into a routine.
Riley and Tisdale have Brett Jacobs and Wayne Mann as assistant coaches. Tisdale said this was the second year the four have been together as a staff and “it’s working well right now.”