Questions loom large for Busters' baseball team

2/14/2013

Questions loom large for Busters' baseball team

Questions loom large for Busters' baseball team

By ADAM HOLT

aholt@gctelegram.com

Ask Garden City Community College baseball coach Chris Finnegan what his lineup — or his defense or pitching rotation, for that matter — looks like with the season opening on the road against Northwest Oklahoma State's junior varsity today, and he just laughs.

"It's a huge question mark with everything we have," he said.

A year after winning a share of the Jayhawk West title with a sophomore-heavy squad, the Broncbusters face the other end of the spectrum in 2013. Garden City returns just five players from last year's team, which while not uncommon at the junior college level, doesn't make things easier to figure out for the coaching staff.

"We're very inexperienced," Finnegan said. "A lot of people want to say, 'Coach Finnegan, you're really, really young.' Well, everybody's young. We're at a junior college, everybody's 17, 18, 19 years old. Some guys, we only get for a year, some guys two, and some guys we get three. But they're just inexperienced. And that's a huge thing. "

Finnegan said he saw a lot of improvement the last few weeks of the fall season, after dealing with some freshmen growing pains in the first six weeks.

With the main season starting at 3 p.m. today in Alva, Okla., the Busters' small group of sophomores will be expected to be leaders.

"You want your sophomores to be your leaders," Finnegan said. "But on the flip side of it, they didn't have a whole lot of time last year. They're still kind of inexperienced, too."

Of GCCC's five sophomores, only two saw relatively regular playing time.

Center fielder Mason Fischer saw the most time in the field, appearing in 44 games and hitting .298 in 131 at-bats, to go with a .397 on-base percentage. Infielder Kevin Czarnecki played in 46 games, often as designated hitter, and hit .245. Alex Buechler played in 30 games, manning the corner outfield spots and designated-hitting at times, batting .265 with a .367 OBP.

GCCC returns two pitchers, in Colton Kibler and Mitch Franek. Kibler pitched 22 innings over 17 games, posting a 3-0 record and a 1.53 ERA out of the bullpen. Franek pitched 31 1/3 innings, with a 5.73 ERA and a 2-0 record.

Garden City will need to replace its entire 2012 rotation, and will tentatively go with TJ Clapper, Josh Heifner, Bradley Spires and Brooks Trujillo for its home-opening series against Iowa Western on Saturday and Sunday. GCCC plays at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. both days, at Williams Stadium.

Whether that remains the rotation as the season progresses remains to be seen.

"That's weekend one," Finnegan said. "Is that going to be our starting four come the end of the year? Heck, who knows. I hope so. I hope we're consistent enough that those are our starting four that we can count on, but we all know it changes every day."

Changes might be the theme with the batting lineup and defense, too. A middle-of-the-order hitter is yet to establish himself, and Finnegan is trying a lot of guys out in different spots, too. The Busters will try to set roles for some players and hope to have something set by the time conference play rolls around.

Finnegan called the situation a "flip of a coin," and applied that to the defensive alignment, as well.

"Right now, it's gonna be whoever's playing well, that's who we're gonna stick in every day," he said. "And if they struggle a little bit, we're gonna go with the next guy."

The main thing the Busters have going for them right now might be chemistry, which might seem counter-intuitive with such a young team.

"The one thing we've had here, I think we've had very good team chemistry," Finnegan said. "I think this group says a lot. Being a lot of freshmen, everybody living in the dorms and stuff like that, everybody knows each other pretty well. So they have a pretty good aspect of who they can get on, who they can't, and joke around with each other. For the most part, they get along pretty well."

The expectations — to contend for titles and a chance to host the first round of the playoffs — won't change. Finnegan said he's interested to see how the group reacts to games, whether they're wins or losses, and how they carry themselves afterward.

So at the beginning of the season, yes, there are a lot of questions. And how they're answered, and when, will go a long way toward determining what this team ends up looking like.

"Obviously, being this inexperienced, it's like I told the guys, April 1 is going to be our turning point," Finnegan said. "Either we're going to get it by then, or we're not going to get it. So we're looking at April 1, kinda figuring out where we're at as a club."

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