OTTAWA — With a young squad in 2012, the Marquette baseball was not expected to contend for a regional title let alone anything further than that, but the Crusaders exceeded everyone’s expectations as they came away with a 30-8 record and a berth in the super-sectional for the second time in three years.
Now with a year of experience, the Crusaders have a wealth of talent back and hopes that their bats will lead the way until their young pitching staff can get some innings under their belts.
“Make no mistake about it, the loss of (J.T.) Yocum, (Tom) Pumo and (Michael) Martini were huge hits, no question,” Hopkins said. “But we have kids coming back — several good position players like Curtiss (Johnson) — that will give us some experience, and I think we’ll hit the ball a little bit, maybe not at the beginning, but we will eventually. Curtiss is a great leader in every sport he plays. I think he will do a great job once again.”
Johnson, an NT First-Team All-Area catcher last season, went to Hopkins and lobbied for a chance to pitch this year as well with the losses from last year’s pitching staff.
“He talked to me about it and I watched him throw a bit,” Hopkins said. “He actually is pretty good and we’re going to use him this season. Our biggest concerns will be defense and pitching. I don’t know how those aspects will be. We lack experience on the mound and we don’t know about our defense yet. For those things, we’ll have to wait and see, but we are going to have different guys go at it and see where it leads us come postseason time.”
Aside from Johnson, the Crusaders will rely on senior Elliot Kowalski (5-0, 2 saves, 1.14 ERA in 2012) and junior Tyler Verona.
They also will look for seniors Logan Sparks and Carter Bacon, juniors Patrick Killelea, Matt Allen, Andrew Allen and Michael Hogan, sophomore C.J. Norman and possibly freshmen Jel Raikes and Evan Snyder to provide innings.
“We could see some young guys out there,” Hopkins said. “But the competition is usually a good thing and guys step up and these young guys are pretty talented, too. We will rely on Kowalski and Verona as well.”
One thing the Crusaders likely will not worry about is offense.
Johnson was second in the area with a .509 batting average, 46 runs and 43 RBIs during his junior season.
Also back in the mix for the Crusaders is sophomore shortstop Trystin Raikes who will be back in the leadoff spot. Raikes batted .351 with 46 runs and 18 RBIs as a freshman.
“Trystin is very talented and had a great season,” Hopkins said. “He is not going to get slower, he’s going to learn to read things more and more and only going to get better.”
Killelea is back at third base and had a solid season with the bat as well, hitting .354 with 25 runs and 24 RBIs.
According to Hopkins, the outfield could be a concern as far as depth.
Sparks (.369, 43 R, 45 RBIs) will play center field, senior Austin McDonnell is back in left and junior Skippy Martini will play right. Junior Luke Miller, Hogan and Jel Raikes are also in the mix.
Brad Martin Sr. can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.