Webster University baseball coach Bill Kurich knows this season will be different. He knows his Gorlok baseball team will not be sneaking up on anyone this year — and he said that’s fine.
The Gorloks reached the program’s first ever berth in the NCAA Division III College World Series (CWS) last season. The team has what Kurich said is one of the toughest schedules in the country ahead of it if the Gorloks want to return to Appleton, Wis., the site of the CWS.
“We don’t feel like we’re going into games against those top-ranked teams just trying to prove ourselves,” Kurich said. “We expect to win those games. I think that’s a good place to be. … We don’t look at it as a challenge like we’re trying to go up there and hang with the big dogs. That’s who we are, and that’s who we want to play.”
Webster returns 19 players from last year’s record-breaking 36-14 team while bringing in seven transfers and five freshmen. The roster has 31 players, a luxury Kurich said allows the coaching staff to deal with injuries and platoon players and still feel it is getting the most out of everybody.
Senior pitcher Steven Dooley said the deep roster is a good problem.
“Basically, we think there’s no reason why we can’t go back (to the CWS) if we play like we’re capable of,” Dooley said. “There’s really not anybody that will be sitting the bench that shouldn’t be playing.”
Transfers present position battles
Webster graduated two senior catchers last season, which left Kurich with a small dilemma at the backstop. In the offseason, junior catchers Ian Foege and Joe Winckel transferred from Jefferson College (Mo.) and Southwestern Illinois College, respectively, to Webster.
“(Foege) does these things defensively that are pretty special and swings the bat well,” Kurich said. “He is going to be one of our main catchers along with Joe Winckel (who is) a bigger, more physical kid who will see some time at DH (designated hitter) and first base when he’s not catching. … Our completely new catching core is something we’re working on, but we like the talent that’s there.”
Junior shortstop Ryan Hall transferred from Division-II University of Central Arkansas. The move prompted Kurich to put the infielder back at second base where he started in 2012 before injuries moved him to shortstop.
Left field will be another battle led by another transfer from the College of Lake County (Ill.), junior outfielder Corey Lasky. Kurich said Lasky would be the team’s centerfielder if Webster didn’t already have senior outfielder Cody Stevenson — who lead D-III with 59 stolen bases last season.
“Corey Lasky…is exactly the kind of player we like,” Kurich said. “He’s a good runner. … He’s going to have a number of opportunities to win that left field job. He would probably be the center fielder on every other team in the country that doesn’t have Cody Stevenson on it. It’s nice to have really two center fielders out there.”
Kurich also said the speed at the top of the lineup with Stevenson, Lasky and Hall will be a strength of the team in 2013.
Right field was a rotating door for the Gorloks in 2012, and Kurich said that may be the case again this season. Candidates for the position include returning players senior outfielders Alex Kazmierski, Mike Rainbolt and sophomore outfielder Jordan Stoulp; transfer from D-II St. Joseph’s College (Ind.) junior outfielder Jared Turner and freshman outfielder Max Morohashi.
“We’re going to probably mix and match things out there until we settle into something,” Kurich said.
First base is a position yet to be nailed down. Along with Winckel, Kurich said Rainbolt has been seeing some time at first base as will Brett Buchanan, a transferred infielder/pitcher from St. Joseph’s College. Buchanan said making plays at first should be his priority at that position.
“I got to stay focused on defense and not worry about hitting so much,” Buchanan said.
Kurich said he will also rely on Buchanan to be the front-line starter for the Gorloks in 2013. Kurich said he has confidence in returning pitchers sophomore Isaac Behme, senior Cody Hafeli and Dooley to help round out the rotation.
Junior pitcher Zach Schneider — who missed all of 2012 with a shoulder injury — is starting to throw bullpen sessions, and Kurich said he expects Schneider to be pitching for Webster in late March or early April. Sophomore pitcher Jack Bensinger will miss all of 2013 with elbow problems, Kurich said. Pitchers senior Jason Gray and junior Dylan Dean Smith will be able to pitch for Webster this season after missing all of 2012 with injuries.
Difficult schedule awaits Gorloks
After a quick round-robin tournament at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Ill., on Sunday, March 2 and Monday, March 3, Webster’s record stands at 2-4. However, the difficulty curve will ramp up this week as the Gorloks head to the Sunshine State for the Russ Matt Central Florida Invitational from March 10 to 16.
Webster is scheduled to play:
—No. 1-ranked Wheaton College (Mass.)
—No. 3-ranked Marietta College (Ohio)
—No. 4-ranked SUNY College at Cortland and
—No. 12-ranked St. Joseph’s College (Maine) in a seven-day span. Webster, ranked 20th in the country by d3baseball.com, will also play Central College (Iowa) and Augustana College (Ill.) while in Florida.
Even with the upcoming difficult slate, Kurich said the team’s No. 1 goal is to capture its seventh consecutive St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship. That would give Webster a berth in the NCAA Regional, and winning the regional is another goal of the team.
Dooley said not going back to the CWS this year would be a letdown.
“For us seniors, especially after last year, if we don’t at least make it to the World Series again, it’s going to be a pretty big disappointment,” Dooley said. “This year in Florida, we’re going to be playing three teams we played in the World Series. Next weekend will be a very good test to see what’s going to happen. I think we’ll play pretty well against those teams.”