Tigers look to fill gaps, gain experience
The Iowa Wesleyan College men’s baseball team, which has gotten off to a 4-9 start, is a young team with a lot of knowledge.
“We are very young,” said Head Coach Derek Zander, who is young himself — he graduated from IWC in 2011, and is in his first season as head coach of the team. “We will need to mature very quickly in order to be successful.”
The Tigers graduated a number of talented players from last year’s team, which was 24-31 overall and 14-10 in the MCC, and made it all the way to the MCC championship game.
The Tigers lost starting pitcher Jacob Sanchez, who had a 10-2 record with a 2.42 ERA. The ace struck out 111 batters and walked just 12 to earn MCC Pitcher of the Year honors.
IWC will also be playing this season without Erik Allen, who was 6-3 on the mound with a 2.61 ERA and was named second team all-conference.
They will miss first team all-conference selection Christian Arredondo, who hit .333 and was 19-for-21 in stolen bases.
At the plate, the Tigers lost Elliot Armstrong, who hit .400 with 10 doubles and nine stolen bases on the season.
They also have a big gap to fill after the loss of second team all-American and MCC Player of the Year Michael Mendoza.
The outfielder hit .335 with 21 doubles and eight home runs. He led the team in slugging percentage, runs scored, hits, RBIs, doubles, home runs and total bases, among other categories.
This season, Mendoza was planning on assisting the baseball team as a coach, but has decided instead to try his hand at something new: golf.
He has used up his years of eligibility as a baseball player, so he has moved on to a new sport.
Back on the baseball diamond, Zander and assistant coach Derreck Parkevich will be working with the team’s veterans to help the newcomers on the young team gain some experience.
The Tigers bring back a few letterwinners, including seniors Nathan Strusz, Jacob Neilson, Ryan Daniels, Louis Rivera, Keith Bullock and Joseph Neilson.
So far this season, Jacob Neilson (first base) and Strusz (shortstop) have been leading the Tigers at the plate.
Zander is also expecting to see good things from a few newcomers, including junior Michael Reed, freshman Jeff Burdett and senior Brandon Harris.
Burdett, an outfielder and left-handed pitcher, has also been doing some damage at the plate for IWC.
Overall, the team is still looking for some experience. Their knowledge and their chemistry will help them along as the season progresses.
“We will be quick on the base paths,” Zander said. “We are very smart and know how to play the game. The chemistry on this team is also very good.”
The coach notes that they will need the older players to help the younger players, and that all players will have to avoid injury to keep the team at full strength.
“Keys to the season will be senior leadership and the ability to keep our guys healthy,” Zander said.
The Tigers are scheduled next for a road trip to Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill., for a single game on Friday, March 29.
Their next home game will be the following day, March 30, against Monmouth College.
The doubleheader against Monmouth begins at noon on Saturday at Mapleleaf Athletic Complex.