By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (January 28, 2016) — Tarleton State is planning for more fireworks at the plate this season, and the Texans are taking on quite the initial test to get the new year started.
Tarleton, looking to build on a 22-25 campaign, opens Friday with the first of a three-game series at Henderson State, which reached the Division II World Series last season.. First pitch in Arkadelphia, Arkansas Friday is at 6 p.m., with a doubleheader to follow at noon on Saturday.
Tarleton head coach Bryan Conger says the most noticeable difference in his team should be bigger bats throughout the lineup. That was certainly something Conger and staff emphasized on the recruiting trail with no returning player having hit more than four home runs a season ago.
A big – pun intended – part of the solution, Conger hopes, is Jake Hasbrouck 6-4, 260-pound sophomore transfer from New Mexico State who will play mostly as a designated hitter.
“He’s going to hurt some baseballs this year,” said Conger as he pointed out Hasbrouck during a preseason media event. “He looks like a defensive end.”
Hasbrouck owns the home run record at Highland High Cchool, in Ault, Colorado, where he was a career .591 hitter and was named to four all-conference teams and three all-star teams.
But Hasbrouck is only part of the equation.
Another Division I transfer, Hunter Seals, is transferring to Tarleton from New Mexico. Seales helped Rockwall to the 4A state championship in 2012 and received the Connie Mack Award in 2013. He played one year at Navarro College before transferring to Mexico.
“Hunter Seales is playing centerfield and he has a big bat, too,” Conger said. “I think he’ll for really well for us.”
Garrett Kizer is coming on at first base, Conger says. Kizer hit .354 with 27 RBIs and 29 runs scored as a sophomore at Temple College last year.
“Those are going to be the new guys I think will make an immediate impact in the lineup and out in the field, too,” Conger says.
Power isn’t just good at the plate, and Conger was sure to add some to the hill as well.
Zach Freeman joins Tarleton as a senior transfer from New Mexico State where in 21 appearances last season he worked 49.1 innings with a 4.74 ERA.
“Zach has the chance to be pretty good. In fact, he has a chance to get drafted. We’ve already had scouts calling about him,” said Conger. “He got up to 93 (mph) this fall. He has a good arm, a good breaking ball and he’s a good kid, a preacher’s kid.”
Freeman, Hunter Houston Trevor Renfro highlight a group of pitchers that lost Matt Herrick to injury.
All Houston did as a sophomore was was set the school’s single-season record for ERA as a relief pitcher. The righty from Belton had a 1.09 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 33 innings over 20 appearances.
“Of course we’re counting on Hunter doing what he did last year. He was a tremendous shut down guy for us in relief and you have to have that,” said Conger.
Renfro transferred to Tarleton from Texas State last season and struck out 58 batters in 53 innings before what Conger says was a successful season.
“I think Trevor is going to have a good year. He worked hard to reshape his body a little bit and really increased his arm strength in the off-season,” Conger said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the progress he’s made.”
Callaway Kirkpatrick, a senior from Aledo, is a transfer from Marshall, where he made five starts and six total appearances last season after two successful years at Paris Junior College. Troyal Yosko is back with the Texans after 23 appearances in 2015.
Conger has been especially impressed by the work put in by two freshmen.
Cody Nitson, a righty from Caddo Mills, redshirted last season after a first-team all-district pitcher and district co-offensive player of the year in 2014. Daniel Bogue is fresh out of Tyler Lee High School, and Conger says he is ready to help right away. Bogue combined for a 21-6 record with a 1.96 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 144.2 combined innings between select ball and his señor season at Lee, including 14 wins and 107 strikeouts for the Rebels.
“Those are two guys I think can make an immediate impact for us. They put in some good work in the fall and I can’t wait to watch them grow as the year goes on,” Conger said.
The biggest move in the field for Tarleton is Humphreys taking over as the every day short stop for Evan Robinson, who finished his career No. 2 on the school’s all-time assists list.
“Alec moving to short is one of the biggest changes for us this off-season. We made the positional jump in the fall and he’s done a tremendous job,” said Conger. “You kind of worry when you lose Evan Robinson who was so good defensively for four years, but big Al has transitioned beautifully and done a great job for us defensively, and of course we know what he brings offensively.”
Which brings it full circle – back to the improved bats.
Humphreys hit .313 last season, helping Tarleton to a .270 average as a team. Respectable enough, but with only 25 home runs to clean the bases.
“I think as the season goes along you’ll see us hit the ball all over the ballpark,” Conger said.
Hopefully starting this weekend at Henderson State.
“There’s nothing easy about our schedule,” said Conger, whose club meets Henderson State or perennial power St. Mary’s in five of its first seven games before beginning conference play at home against West Texas A&M March 4-6. “We’re playing some good teams right off the bat and then of course the Lone Star Conference is always tough.”
As tough as he personally has ever seen it, he believes.
“I thought last year was the best its’ been since I’ve been here top to bottom, and I can only imagine it’s going to get better,” said Conger. “All the rest of the coaches are good about doing what’s best for their programs.
“I imagine WT will be the most physically talented team in the conference,” he added. “And I’m sure Angelo and Kingsville will be good again.”