After finishing 28-28 last season, the Grand Rapids Community College baseball team starts the 2014 season ranked No. 17 in the NJCAA Division II preseason poll.
Coach Mike Cupples’ Raiders were the No. 4 seed in the 2013 Region XII tournament and after a second-round loss, GRCC climbed its way out of the losers bracket to win the tournament and make its way to the NJCAA College World Series.
The World Series tournament was disappointing in comparison. After losing its first game to Scottsdale Community College 8-3, GRCC won its next game against Lackawanna Community College 6-2. GRCC’s season ended on Memorial Day as the Raiders fell to Madison College 9-2.
Last year’s team was young, most of the position players were freshmen, but the pitching staff was full of sophomores. This year it’s the complete opposite, the entire infield is filled with returning players.
“If we hit the ball, and grow up pretty quick and keep progressing as a pitching unit, I think we’ll be alright,” Cupples said about his team’s chances of a College World Series win.
Cupples said there are two sophomore catchers returning from last year’s team, Nick Black and Doug Cesena are two building-blocks behind the plate. If the Raiders are going to do well this year the experienced infield must hit the ball. The playoff-experienced infield includes four sophomores: first baseman Dylan VanPutten, third baseman Joe Loria, second baseman Jim Eloff, and shortstop Jacob Waters.
The pitching staff, with two combined years of experience, has plenty of young talent. Sophomore relief pitcher Matt Brown changed his delivery to a side-arm motion in the off-season, and that change has resulted in him throwing many more strikes. Cupples feels that the pitching staff has the talent to help his team win games, “If they grow up quick”. They just need to not get rattled by the tough competition early on.
“I’m not worried about a loss, ” Cupples said. “I’m worried about making sure we can play at the level we need to to win a championship. If we can play well against the guys down south we have a good chance.”
Cupples believes that a few losses early in the season isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but actually helps the team grow and prepares them for what would eventually be tough playoff match ups.
The season begins Feb. 27 in Nashville against Columbus State Community College, and GRCC spends it’s spring break down south before heading home when classes resume.