BASEBALL: Pitchers set to lead Toppers

Josh Buckman

Loaded with talent and depth, the Hilltoppers think this is the season when they can claim the Sun Belt Conference Championship that slipped away last season.

“This year’s staff will be much deeper,” pitching coach Mike McLaury said. “There’s not much difference between the top three guys and the top 10 guys.”

The biggest loss among starters is Andy Baldwin who forfeited his senior eligibility to enter the Major League Draft. He was taken in round 15 by the Detroit Tigers.

Baldwin was the team’s number one starter, posting a 3.97 ERA and going 6-6 on the year.

His departure may be hard on the team, but Western will return three starters in juniors J.C. Faircloth, Grady Hinchman and senior Igor Roiberg. With community college transfers Curtis Morrison and Daniel Faulkner, Western has a team rich in experience.

“All the guys are great,” Faircloth said. “Every one of them is easy to get along with. All of them work hard, and they make life a lot easier.”

The depth will allow the team to set up better pitching match-ups.

One big loss is closer Matt Wilhite who now throws in the Anaheim Angels farm system. Though Western’s loss is the Angels’ gain, the Toppers will miss Wilhite and his 1.77 ERA.

The battle for closer, will be determined over the non-conference season. McLaury would not go into detail over who the potential closer could be. “Somebody off this year’s staff is going to have to fill this role,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be one guy, but hopefully we can get two or three pitchers who can make up for it.”

The catcher is a major part of the pitcher’s game. Along with the pitcher and occasionally the pitching coach, the catcher helps call the pitches.

This year the team will be hindered by a lack of an experienced catcher.

In fall practices, it looked like junior Jeff Derrickson would be the starting catcher. However, after experiencing problems with his elbow, Derrickson discovered he had several bone chips. He had Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow, forcing him to sit out the rest of the season.

“It’s tough to take, but it’s part of playing sports,” Derrickson said. “You’re going to have to deal with injuries, and you’ve got to get through them. There’s always next year.”

With Derrickson out, the only Hilltopper catcher with collegiate experience is sophomore Jonathan Bennett. Bennett, who saw action in just six games last season, joins three freshmen catchers in vying for playing time.

“It’s going to take a while to get used to freshman being out there,” Roiberg said. “I’m not as worried about us, because most of the pitchers know what to do when they’re out there.”

Reach Josh Buckman at [email protected]