The 2013 version of the Purdue North Central baseball team is placing high hopes on a strong returning cast in the field and a bevy of newcomers on the mound.
Leading the way in the field will be returners Ched Gaskin, a Pre-Season All-American, and Colin Willis who both received numerous accolades this past year.
Gaskin, a senior catcher from Brighton, MI and Muskegon CC was named 2nd Team All-American last year for his offensive and defensive prowess. In 2012 Gaskin hit .412 (6th highest at PNC) with 8 HR's (2nd) and a school-record 73 RBI.
The left-handed hitting slugger added 12 2B's (6th), 2 3B's, a PNC record 32 BB's and 4 HBP's while amassing a .619 (4th) slugging percentage and a .498 (2nd) on base percentage. Gaskin cut down 20 would-be base stealers while catching the bulk of PNC's games.
Gaskin also put his name in the PNC record book for hits (80 – 3rd), total bases (120 – 3rd), plate appearances (234 – 2nd) and at-bats (194).
Willis (Sheboygan, WI/Sheboygan North HS), a junior centerfielder was equally impressive and made First Team All-Conference for the second straight year. The Sheboygan, WI native hit .441 (3rd all-time at PNC) with 2 HR's 37 RBI, 12 2B's (6th), 5 3B's (3rd) and 20 BB's (5th).
Willis set PNC records in runs (65), stolen bases (28 in 31 attempts), hits (93), at-bats (211) and plate appearances (244) and slugged .573 (9th) with an on-base percentage of.498 (2nd).
Willis also made a name for himself this past summer when he made the All-Star team in the prestigious Northwoods League as a member of the Battle Creek Bombers. Willis led the team with a .284 average, was first in hits (78), 3B's (3) and second in RBI (28), runs (31) and stolen bases (18) while adding 7 2B's (4th) and 2 HR's (4th). He added 9 outfield assists with his plus arm.
Willis expects to see time on the mound this spring as a short reliever and has impressed so far this in this role.
The Panthers return 5 other starters as they only lost 2 regulars to graduation from last year's line-up in leftfielder Nate Hall and designated hitter Jeff Strbjak; both had solid numbers. Hall hit .342 with 5 HR's, 13 2B's, 30 RBI, 49 runs and 9 SB's with an explosive arm in leftfield.
Strbjak was First Team All-Conference at DH, hitting .284 with 3 HR's, 14 2B's, 19 BB's and 35 RBI.
Leading the returnering infielders will be junior Kevin Gates, a third baseman from Chesterton, IN (Chesterton HS) who hit .305 with 2 HR's 7 2B's, and 20 RBI. Gates returned to the field following a 2 year absence after pitching at the University of Iowa. Gates should also see time as a reliever on the mound, building off a solid performance in the fall.
Senior Brad DuBois (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC) returns to the middle infield after hitting .318 with 7 2B's 5 3B's, 25 RBI and 9 SB's last season at shortstop.
Sophomore Eddie Moldenhauer (Dyer, IN/Lake Central HS) also returns up the middle after a strong freshman campaign. The lanky righty hit .299 with 5 2B's, a 3B and 22 RBI while fielding .955 as the everyday second sacker.
Senior first baseman Greg Toliver (Berrien Springs, MI/Kalamazoo Valley CC) also returns. The tall first baseman came on strong at the end of the year to finish at .248 with 2 HR's, 5 2B's and 26 RBI.
Besides Willis, the outfield also returns sophomore Ty Taylor (St. Joseph, MI/St. Joseph HS) who will make the shift to leftfield. After a slow start due to a knee injury, Taylor rebounded to hit .259 with 10 2B's and 16 BB's while manning rightfield. Taylor will also see time as a reliever for the first time this season.
The Panthers have several returning positional players that will provide needed depth throughout the course of the season.
Senior Tyson Blattner (Chillicothe, MO/Chillicothe HS) brings speed to the middle infield and looks to recover from last season when he hit .191 in 47 at-bats.
Junior Trevor Williams (Fair Oaks, IN/Kankakee Valley HS) should help at third base and will battle for time at designated hitter and a utility role. Williams hit .304 in 23 at bats with 1 HR, 1 2B and 5 BB's. Last season he had just earned a starting opportunity before an injury set him back. Williams should also have an increased role on the mound as he was limited to 4 innings due to the injury but finished with 4 K's and a 2.25 ERA.
The other lone returning outfielder expected to make a contribution is senior Brian Mazurek (Utica, MI/Macomb CC). Mazurek hit .294 in 17 at bats and added 9 stolen bases while playing an errorless role in all three outfield positions.
Two other returners look to make significant contributions at catcher and designated hitter in seniors Rich Myers and Justin Hunt. Myers (Chicago/De La Salle HS) played a key role last season for PNC, hitting .289 in 76 at bats. He added 2 HR's, 4 2B's a 3B and 14 RBI as the DH and #2 catcher behind Gaskin.
Hunt (Milwaukee, WI/Madison CC) returns after a year-long absence and was the starting first baseman and back-up catcher his junior season. In 2011 he hit .268 with 6
2B's and 18 RBI in 112 at bats. Hunt could also see time on the mound as he logged 8 innings in 2011.
Several newcomers, led by two senior transfers, expect to make an immediate impact in the field this season for the Panthers.
Transfer Anthony Olund (Savannah College of Arts & Design/Crown Point, IN/Lake Central Point HS) transferred to PNC for his final year after SCAD dropped their baseball program. Olund hit .307 with 5 2B's, 10 BB's and 8 RBI in 88 at bats last season. Olund, a standout at Vincennes CC his first two seasons before attending SCAD, will play middle infield this season.
Fellow transfer Spencer Anderson (Fort Wayne, IN) also started his career at Vincennes CC and played with Olund before playing at Mid-Continent University as a junior. He was looking for a change this year but hit .402 with 8 2B's, 2 3B's and 12 SB's in 14 attempts. Anderson looks to bring his speed and athleticism to the outfield and see time in centerfield and rightfield. His strong arm may merit some time on the mound in a limited capacity.
Five other newcomers look to make a contribution, including transfer Josh Piggot (Lansing, MI/Lansing CC) and four freshmen. Last year at LCC Piggot hit .284 with 5 dingers and 25 RBI. The first baseman/DH added 4 2B's and 10 BB's.
Freshman Kyle Hernandez (Hebron, IN/Hebron HS), Jake Wright (Kankakee Valley HS/DeMotte, IN) Nick Latham (LaPorte HS/LaPorte, IN) and Max Kerr (Chesterton, IN/Chesterton HS) also hope to make contributions.
Hernandez is a left-handed hitting outfielder who shows promise and is a dedicated worker. Wright and Latham are two freshman catchers that have improved dramatically behind the plate and have potential. Kerr is a burly first baseman who has toned up and has the ability to drive the ball.
On the mound the Panthers have to replace their top two starters from last season in Shane Prance and Tony Hoolehan but believe a young staff of pitchers can get the job done.
Prance signed a professional contract with the Schaumburg Boomers after being named Second Team All-Conference. He finished 7-5 with 3 saves in a school record 84.1 innings. He also punched out a record 95 hitters against just 20 walks while finishing with a 2.88 ERA. He also had a program record 8 complete games and gave up just 13 extra base hits all year.
Hoolehan was 5-5 in 71.1 innings and struck out 61 while walking 39. He finished 5 games he started and ended with a 4.54 ERA.
Sophomore Jordan Polito (Schererville, IN/Lake Central HS) looks to lead the staff after a strong freshman season when he finished 4-2 with a 4.36 ERA in 64 innings, the most ever thrown by a freshman at PNC. Polito completed 3 games while striking out 33 against 31 walks.
Fellow sophomores Dan Snyder (LaPorte, IN/South Central HS), Cody Jansen (Kokomo, IN/Western HS) and John Cristo (Munster, IN/Munster HS) also hope to leave their mark on the mound this year.
Snyder finished 3-4 with a 5.93 ERA in 41 innings while striking out 26 and walking 16. Jansen, a hard throwing righty, looks to come into his own as a reliever after going 1-1 last year in 17.2 innings pitched (14 K's). Cristo looks to improve following an injury plagued freshman season.
Senior Tim Newman (St. Joseph, MI/Lake Michigan CC) expects to improve upon last year and make a big contribution after finishing 3-3 with a 7.29 ERA in 45.2 innings. Newman completed 3 games and struck out 17 while allowing 19 walks.
Several newcomers will be expected to make a major impact this year if the Panthers want to reach their goals.
Junior lefty Brendan Spongberg (Alsip, IL/Prairie State CC) should lead the group after finishing 8-0 last season at Prairie State CC. Spongberg struck out 56 against 18 walks and finished with a 2.62 ERA in 71 innings pitched.
Three other transfers should also carry a bulk of the workload for the Panthers staff this spring. Sophomore Alex Ricica (Toledo, OH/Franklin College) and junior southpaw Sam Maxwell (Vincennes, IN/Franklin College) both came in from Franklin College. They saw limited time due to injuries but are expected to step in and be major contributors for PNC.
Junior Donovan Rigel (Auburn Hills, MI) transferred in from St. Clair CC in Detroit and should also make a significant contribution. Rigel saw limited action the last two years on the mound due to Tommy John surgery but appears to be back to form. He played first base last year for St. Clair but will only pitch for the Panthers.
Finally, freshman John Chico (Chicago/Jones Prep HS) should make a contribution, primarily as a left-handed pitcher and maybe as an outfielder.
Back to lead the Panthers in his 9th season is Head Coach John Weber. Weber has led the program to new heights but wants the program to go even higher. Prior to Weber's arrival the program had one winning season and one post season appearance. The Panthers have now had five of each in Weber's first eight years.
Last year PNC qualified for the postseason once again and finished 29-30 despite a 1-9 Florida trip. The Panthers proceeded to knock off the #1 seed and 16th ranked team in the country (Judson) in the Chicagoland Conference Tournament in their first game. PNC eventually knocked off Robert Morris, who was receiving votes, before falling to tournament champion St. Francis (IL).
The good-looking skipper has challenged the team to take the program up another notch but knows his young pitchers must come through.
"We have a strong, balanced line-up top to bottom, excellent defense and significant depth," said Weber. "But we need our young pitchers to mature quickly if we want to take the next step for our program."
Weber is joined on the staff by first year assistants Prance and Larry Blake. As mentioned, Prance looks to use his pro experience to help develop the young arms both physically and mentally.
Blake returns after serving as an assistant at Hammond Gavit HS last season following his retirement from Sears. Blake was PNC's first intercollegiate head coach back in the 1990's and led the transition from club ball during his tenure. Blake will handle recruiting, the outfielders and assist with hitting.
Ryan Frost returns for his second year and will handle the hitters. Frost was a two-time All-Conference player as a utility player for PNC in 2010 and 2011 as a catcher/centerfielder.
Handling the training duties once again for the 10th year in a row will be Doug Cassell, a contracted trainer through IU-Health LaPorte Hospital.
The Panthers open their season in Jacksonville, IL on Feb. 23rd and follow that weekend up with another trip to Tennessee. The next week over spring break the Panthers fly to Florida for 11 games on their annual southern swing.
PNC's home opener is March 23rd against Olivet Nazarene, a CCAC opponent. The Panthers only have 12 home games this season