The thought of opening the 2013 college baseball season at offensive-minded Dallas Baptist with an entirely new pitching staff might be enough to give some coaches a bad case of the willies.
It leaves Creighton pitching coach Rob Smith excited.
Smith will be in charge of rebuilding a Creighton staff that will likely lose its three weekend starters as well as three-fourths of its productive bullpen. It's likely some, if not most, of the pitchers Smith will throw at the heavy-hitting Patriots will be getting their first taste of collegiate experience.
“That scares the heck out of me in one respect,” Smith said. “But it's also incredibly exciting in another respect. I've certainly enjoyed these guys while we've had them, and I don't look forward to them moving on.
“At the same time, as a coach, you get excited about coaching and teaching. And with so many new players around, there's going to be a lot of that going on next year.”
Smith's experienced pitchers were among the dozen seniors who played key roles in the 2012 season that ended with an appearance in the championship of the Los Angeles regional. Like Smith, Creighton coach Ed Servais acknowledges that there is plenty of retooling needed to ready the Bluejays for next season.
Creighton loses its top three hitters — first baseman Nick Judkins, third baseman Chance Ross and catcher Anthony Bemboom — from its everyday lineup. In addition, Scott Thornburg, who split time at designated hitter and catcher, also departs.
Servais, too, is excited about the challenge of preparing a team to make a run at a third straight NCAA tournament berth.
“Having young players come into your program is not the worst thing because they bring tremendous energy and a wide-eyed approach,” Servais said. “They want to prove themselves.”
In reviewing the recently completed season, Servais said he believes some of the problems Creighton encountered during the regular season were tied to not getting enough things accomplished during fall practice.
“We were probably a little complacent last fall,” Servais said. “I don't see that happening next year with all the new kids coming in and trying to prove themselves.”
At the same time, Creighton will need veterans such as Mike Gerber, Alex Staehely and Brennan Murphy to provide direction next season. Staehely has been a starter his first three years in the program, the first two at second base and this past season at shortstop.
Gerber has been a starter in center field as a freshman and sophomore, while Murphy struggled for much of the 2012 season after joining the program as a junior college transfer. He emerged as a key contributor late in the season for a team that won 13 of its last 22 games.
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“Brennan was a totally different player at the end,” Servais said. “Mike Gerber has the potential to be a guy that you can build a lineup around. Alex had a rough season offensively, but we expect him to be a much better next season.”
Creighton also returns starters in second baseman Jake Peter, who showed plenty of potential as a freshman, and left fielder Brad McKewon. Jordan Makovicka, who saw action in 25 games, and Michael Blatchford, who was injured most of the season, also will return.
Servais also joins Smith in being excited about some of the young pitchers that will join the staff next season. Servais expects Brett Swain, an Omaha Skutt product who played the past two seasons at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, to step in and fill one of the spots in the weekend rotation.
Creighton loses seniors Shane Liska and Erik Mattingly from the rotation. Servais also expects junior Ty Blach, drafted Tuesday by the San Francisco Giants, to turn professional.
The Bluejays also will lose seniors Kurt Spomer, Reese McGraw and Chase Webb, who combined to make 98 appearances out of the bullpen this spring. The lone experienced reliever set to return is Mark Winkelman, who compiled a 2-1 record and a 2.57 ERA in 37 appearances.
The only other pitchers who threw significant innings this season and are set to return in 2013 are Andrew Urban and Nick Musec.
“Those guys come back with some reasonable experience,” Smith said. “After that, our staff will be made up of a lot of freshmen that redshirted this season and junior college and freshmen we have coming in.”
And that could make that first road trip of the 2013 season very interesting, Servais said.
“That first weekend at Dallas Baptist could be as challenging a weekend to open a season as we've had here probably since we opened at Arizona State 12 or 13 years ago,” Servais said. “Facing Dallas Baptist with young pitchers trying to find their way is going to be interesting.
“We'll be hoping like heck the wind is blowing in that weekend.”
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