Whitman ushers in new era in Missionary baseball

Coach Jared Holowaty begins his first season in Arizona this week with low numbers and high hopes.

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WALLA WALLA - Many decades after it was popularized by Abbott and Costello, the classic vaudeville comedy routine Who's on First? continues to bring smiles to the faces to baseball enthusiasts.

All kidding aside, however, baseball fans flocking to Borleske Stadium to see Whitman College play this season should remember to bring their rosters and scorecards.

In a year of transition, Whitman has just 15 players in the dugout and nearly all will be playing more than one defensive position, especially since 11 of those players will be cycling on and off the mound on a regular basis.

"No, we don't have numbers and depth, but what we do have is versatility," says first-year coach Jared Holowaty, who arrived on campus last August and is still months away from welcoming his first recruiting class.

"We have 13 guys who can play multiple positions and 11 will pitch. As we make pitching changes, guys will be moving to different positions."

The son of a college baseball coaching legend, Holowaty captained an NCAA Division III national championship team and brings both an air of confidence and sunny disposition to a program that has been losing games with more frequency than winning them.

"The guys have worked extremely hard since last fall," Holowaty says. "I think we've put them through some training that they haven't experienced before.

"This team can improve a great deal as we go through this season and lay the foundation for more success in the future, but we need to stick to it. I truly believe this team is going to get better with every game we play."

Whitman heads to Arizona this week to open its season with four games against NCAA DIII teams from California, starting with Whittier College at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Six more non-league games, all on the road, will follow before Whitman opens the Northwest Conference season at home on March 6-7 against Puget Sound.

While it should come as no surprise to any baseball fan, Holowaty's No. 1 priority to start the season is pitching.

"It always comes down to pitching at every level of baseball," Holoway says. "Every team needs pitching and then more pitching. The New York Yankees need more pitching.

"No matter how good your team might be, every coach in the country wants more pitching. The question is always do we have enough pitching, and the answer is always that you can never have enough."

Whitman lost all-conference pitching ace Pete Stadmeyer to graduation last spring, but the Missionaries return senior Blaine Mercado and sophomore Peter Olson, two right-handers who started nine games apiece last spring.

Holowaty and new pitching coach Mark Michaud are pleased with the progress they've seen thus far with their hurlers.

"We're hoping to have four guys who will establish themselves as the keys to our pitching staff, but we're going to need everyone taking a turn on the mound," Holowaty says.

"Right now, the strength of this team is its offense and the hope that we can play fundamentally sound baseball," he says. "With our pitching, the goal is to keep our offense in the game and give ourselves the best chance to win. If that means breaking down a game by throwing four or five pitchers a game, that's what we will do."

Seniors Jason Sease and Brian Kitamura and junior Erik Korsmo are other returning veterans who have sharpened their pitching repertoires in recent months.

Freshmen Justin Weeks and John Nortz also have shown plenty of promise, as has Eric Tolleson, a sophomore who threw limited innings last spring while rehabbing a shoulder injury.

Weeks, Nortz and Tolleson had good pitching success in high school.

Other freshmen rounding out the pitching staff are Max Settle-Winick and Tyler Grisdale.

While pitching is paramount, it isn't only the focus.

"As a coaching staff, we're doing everything we can to make sure all the guys are getting enough work as both pitchers and position players," Holowaty says.

Korsmo's time on the mound might be limited because of his value as the squad's best catcher.

Joe Rodhouse, a senior, is back after a one-year hiatus and the first option at first base.

Patrick Stauffer, a junior, returns as the starter at second base.

Two of the freshmen, Weeks at first base and Nortz at second, are the back-ups on the right side of the infield.

Jay Richards, another junior, returns at shortstop.

When he's not pitching or catching, Mercado will hold down third with Tolleson and freshman Will Martin in reserve.

With Kitamura slowed by an ankle injury, Tolleson begins the season as the starting centerfielder. When he's healthy, Kitamura may morph from the outfield mainstay he's been in recent years to a jack-of-all-trades this spring, Holowaty says.

Other probable starters in the outfield are Martin in left and Weeks in right.

Sease and Olson are ticketed for outfield duty as well, and senior Mitch Hannoosh, back in the fold after a one-year absence, can play all three outfield positions. Hannoosh also gives the coaching staff another solid bat.

Korsmo, who also earned all-conference honors last spring, powered the offense as a sophomore with a lofty .360 batting average. Sease also topped the .300 mark while Kitamura and Mercado came close. Stauffer, Tolleson and Richards hit between .250 and .300.

"These guys scored a lot of runs last year against some good teams," Holowaty. "Our offense and hitting should be okay. We've got guys who can hit."

While several Missionaries posted batting averages last spring that ranged from very good to respectable, Holowaty expects better numbers this season.

"We need to be a year better at the plate and not just a year older."

At the same time, he says, "all we need from our offense is for all the guys to make steady contributions. No one has to do a lot if everyone does a little.

"We don't need to have guys hit .360 with 10 home runs. We want a bunch of .290-plus hitters who can take their walks and cut down on their strikeouts."

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