Baseball team begins new era with coach James Grandey
By Ben Risinger, SID
February 26, 2004
The Bluffton College Beavers begin anew in 2004 with the emergence of head coach James Grandey. Grandey brings with him a desire and intention to shift the tide of Beaver baseball, and the team is ready to do just that.
Bluffton returns a healthy core of players for the season, including All-Heartland
Conference players Kyle Alberson and Bob Heitkamp (2nd team). The Beavers lost only
two players to graduation from last year's 8-25 (2-19 HCAC) squad, including honorable
mention All-conference Wes Hall.
Kyle Alberson returns as Bluffton's most potent offensive weapon. Last year he led the Beavers in batting average (.404), runs scored (25), hits (36), homeruns (10) and RBI's (30). As a junior he broke the homeruns in a season record and homeruns in a career (24). Heitkamp knocked down a .361 batting average, 35 hits, three homeruns and 17 RBI's in 2003.
Grandey brings a new philosophy and enthusiasm to the program in 2004. The change has been difficult for the players, as the team has seen three different head coaches in the past four seasons. Former head coach Vince Wakefield has stayed on the staff as pitching coach for the 2004 season. Grandey believes the team has been adapting well to his style of play. He acknowledges that the team's strengths lie in his senior class who have been working very hard and are ready for their final season.
"We are going to be aggressive in everything we do," Grandey said. "That includes
everything from the pitches we throw on the mound to running bases. The players need
to have the confidence to make plays. The team has responded well to what we have
implemented as a staff. We are all excited for the season to begin."
One of the first and foremost goals of the Beavers is to improve on last year's 2-19 conference record. The Beavers are strongly eyeing a spot in the conference tournament. The top four teams are invited to participate each year with the winner receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Since joining the league in 1998 the Beavers have never made the conference tournament. "We need to do what it takes to make the top four of the conference. As long as we play hard and have great effort and intensity each game, we will put ourselves in a position to make that possible," Grandey said.
The Beaver pitching staff will rotate around seniors Bob Heitkamp and Josh Underwood. Underwood pitched 53 innings in 2003 for Bluffton, posting a 7.21 ERA and 30 strikeouts. Heitkamp will return after a year off of the mound due to injury. Ryan Whitaker and Randy Miller will round out the rotation. Miller led Bluffton last season with a 6.03 ERA from the mound. Steve Hastings, Jason Moore and several freshman will work from the bullpen this season.
"Josh will be very important to us as a fourth year starter. We want to develop him into a total pitcher," Grandey said. "Whitaker has had some success and has good stuff; we are working on his consistency. Florida will help us see who will be in the rotation once we reach conference play."
In the field, Bluffton has some holes still yet to fill at third base and at catcher. Kyle Alberson will be at first with Ryan Fiely at second and Heitkamp at shortstop when not on the mound. Jared Owens and Brad Moore will be competing for third base with Luke Clouse and Steve Bogner looking to be behind the plate at catcher. The Beavers will look to cut down on errors in the field as they committed 70 errors in the 2003 campaign.
"We have to limit our errors in the field," Grandey said. "The team has been working hard to make every routine play. As we improve and gain confidence, I expect us to make some of the plays that we're not supposed to make."
The outfield will consist of a four man rotation. Seniors
The Beavers have the drive and are learning a new style of baseball. The next step is to put the whole equation together. That is exactly what coach Grandey is ready to accomplish.
"To be successful we have to come together and play as a team," Grandey said. "We have to figure out who our top 10 to 11 guys are in Florida and come back here ready for conference play."