A revamped defense and pitching rotation figure to be the keys to success for the Rolla High School baseball team this spring.
The Bulldogs will indeed have a new look in the field and on the pitching mound. RHS returns five starters and eight lettermen back from last season's 17-9 campaign.
Rolla is scheduled to open the 2013 season on Friday, hosting Union at 4:30 p.m. on the First Community National Bank Field at the Bray Sports Complex.
Key losses to graduation for Rolla were shortstop Jake Zelasko, infielder/pitcher Allan Anderson and the Bulldogs' No. 1 pitcher, Cole Roark. Roark, the Ozark Conference's 2012 Pitcher of the Year, is now a member of the Southwest Baptist University baseball squad.
There is also change in the dugout, as Karl Odenwald replaces Jason Swearingen as Bulldog head coach.
"I think pitching will be our biggest question mark," said Odenwald, the Bulldog assistant coach last year. "I feel confident we will have quality pitching. But the last two or three years we had so many senior (pitchers) and the juniors didn't get the varsity experience."
This season the top three starting pitchers for the Bulldogs figure to be senior Zach Lewis, junior Seth Stevens and junior Tristin Brown – all right-handers. "I think Zach, Seth and Tristin are all capable of being good, solid pitchers," Odenwald said.
Lewis is likely to begin as the No. 1 starter for Rolla. Rolla's regular second baseman last season, Lewis had limited varsity exposure on the pitching mound.
Also expected to see innings on the mound for RHS are sophomore right-hander Jake Stephens, sophomore right-hander Mason Pickrell and senior left-hander Hayden Nielsen.
Back to handle that staff at catcher is senior Michael Pickrell, a three-year starter at the position. Stevens and sophomore Cameron Clayton are the backup catchers.
Stevens is the regular starter at first base, when he isn't pitching. First base reserves include senior Chance Callahan and sophomores Dalton Turner and Weston Davis.
Lewis returns at second base. When he's on the mound junior Bryan Peach and sophomore Collin Nash figure to see time at the position.
Stephens is the regular starting shortstop. When Stephens is pitching Lewis figures to slide over to shortstop.
The third base position is a battle between Callahan and Nash.
Senior David Roberts returns to anchor the outfield from centerfield. The corner outfield slots are being contested for by Nielsen, junior Matt Claypool and sophomore Andy Satulla.
"I think we're really healthy on defense; I think that is the strength of the team," Odenwald said. "Up the middle, with Pickrell at catcher, Jake at shortstop, Zach at second base and Roberts in centerfield, I think we're as good as anybody.
"Jake, for being so young, has some of the best hands I've seen. He's very talented and has the ability to be really good at shortstop. You put a guy of his caliber with Zach Lewis and I feel that's a pretty strong middle of the infield."
Page 2 of 2 - Offensively Odenwald said the Bulldogs will have to manufacture runs, but the squad may eventually surprise with its power.
"We've got to take advantage when we have the opportunity for guys to score," he said. "And we may have more pop in the lineup than some think. Pickrell has been hitting in the leadoff position in the past and we're still deciding where he'll hit this year. Seth Stevens is looking great in practice and I think we'll have some team speed. We feel confident from 1-9."
As usual, the Bulldogs will be challenged by a talented and deep Ozark Conference race.
"(Springfield) Parkview won it last year," Odenwald said. "(Springfield) Kickapoo always has a great team. Those two teams we'll be measuring ourselves against. And Lebanon was young last year but they're loaded. And Camdenton always gives you a game."
BULLDOG NOTES: Rolla is slated to begin play in the annual Four Rivers Tournament next week, hosting Hermann on Monday and playing at St. James on Tuesday. The tournament finals are slated for March 23.
Perry Rice will serve as Odenwald's assistant coach this season.
March 15...Union, 4:30 p.m.
March 18...Hermann in Four Rivers Tourney, 4:30 p.m.
March 19...at St. James in Four Rivers Tourney, 4:30 p.m.
March 23...Four Rivers Tourney finals, tba
March 25...Lebanon, 4:30 p.m.
March 26...Houston, 4:30 p.m.
March 28...St. Clair, 4:30 p.m.
April 1...Iberia, 4:30 p.m.
April 2...at Springfield Kickapoo, 4:30 p.m.
April 4-6...Springfield Red/Blue Classic, tba
April 9...Waynesville, 4:30 p.m.
April 12...at West Plains, 4:30 p.m.
April 16...Camdenton, 4:30 p.m.
April 17...at Jefferson City, 4:30 p.m.
April 20...Houston JV Tourney, 9 a.m.
April 23...at Joplin, 4:30 p.m.
April 25...Springfield Glendale, 4:30 p.m.
April 26...at Licking, 4:30 p.m.
April 29...at Columbia Hickman, 4:30 p.m.
April 30...at St. James, 4:30 p.m.
May 2...at Springfield Parkview, 4:30 p.m.
May 4...Rolla JV Tourney, 9 a.m.
May 7...at Springfield Hillcrest, 4:30 p.m.
May 9...Salem, 4:30 p.m.
May 11-16...District Tourney, tba
March 16...Rolla Freshman Inv., 9 a.m.
March 21...West Plains, 4:30 p.m.
April 1...at Waynesville, 4:30 p.m.
April 4...Camdenton, 4:30 p.m.
April 6...Rolla Freshman Tourney, 9 a.m.
April 10...at Jefferson City Helias, 4:30 p.m.
April 18...at Lebanon, 4:30 p.m.
April 23...Lebanon, 4:30 p.m.
May 2...Waynesville, 4:30 p.m.