Thursday, May 16, 2013

New turf saves games and helps boost Blue Devils’ (35-23) recruiting efforts


When it comes to grading Kansas City Kansas Community College’s first year on its new baseball complex, it was A plus all the way.

Because of the artificial turf, an opening round playoff game was played when it otherwise would have been postponed; the Blue Devils had a 17-10 record at home on the way to a 35-23 season; and recruiting has a whole new look.

“The new field is a coach’s dream,” says head coach Steve Burleson. “Everyone who came in was nothing short of awestruck.”

That’s including recruits. With the loss of 15 sophomores, Burleson and his staff of Matt Goldbeck, Damian Stambersky and Bill Sharp have signed 20 incoming freshmen for next season.

“We’ve got a home we can recruit with,” says Burleson. “I don’t think we’ve had a true home game in 14 years. All we had was a practice field. Now we have a great complex and don’t have to explain to kids why we don’t have a field on campus.”

On the field, the Blue Devils overcame the loss of their workhorse pitcher of a year ago, Dylan Donley, who suffered a season-ending elbow injury, and three promising hurlers at the semester break to finish fourth in the Jayhawk Conference and earn a first round home playoff berth.

“There were times where we probably overachieved so not a lot of regrets,” says Burleson. “Being short of pitching numbers could have been a negative but we were able to go to our position players for more innings which was a plus. At times, we were susceptible to soft hitting production against good pitching but I was relatively pleased with what this team could do defensively and I thought we made good decisions in running the bases.”

The new complex could not have come at a better time because of the snow, cold and rain that threw a haymaker into spring schedules.

“It was a spring like no other and coaches of any spring sport should be congratulated for getting through the weather we had,” says Burleson. “You should not have to wear long underwear in May.”

Pitching-wise, sophomore Zac Butler of Blue Springs took up the slack, compiling a sparkling 11-1 record with a 1.81 earned run average. A first team All-Jayhawk and All-Region selection, Butler had four shutouts, nine complete games and his only loss was 2-0 to league champion Cowley.

“Anytime you have double digit wins in this conference, you’ve accomplished something,” says Burleson.

Three other Blue Devils earned post-season honors. Freshman catcher Garett McKinzie of Raymore-Peculiar was named to the second team while first baseman Dean Long of Lebanon, Mo., and second baseman Jake Woods of Blue Springs received honorable mention.

Long led five Blue Devils who hit .300 or better. Also the leader in run-batted-in with 39 and stolen bases (30), Long hit .361 with a team-high 24 extra base hits.

McKinzie was next at .331 followed by outfielder Andrew Kreiling of Raymore-Peculiar, .324; designated hitter Caleb Waddell of Killen, Ala., .317; and Pancho Amaya of J.C. Harmon, .309. The home run leader with four, Kreiling also drove in 36 runs, McKinzie 34 and Amaya 29.

Other batting leaders were Woods, .284; rightfielder Trent Sullivan of Blue Valley, .275; shortstop Landon Teal of Harrisonville, .242; and centerfielder Lucas Norton of Liberty, .215. The only other freshman in the starting lineup in addition to McKinzie, Norton was a perfect 15-of-15 in stolen bases and was errorless in 107 chances in centerfield.

Cole Frakes, a lefthander from Raymore-Peculiar who was 2-0 with a 3.55 ERA in nine appearances, will be the only returnee to the pitching staff. Losses will include Woods (2-3), Derrick Winter (5-3) and Eli Egger (3-2), both of Waukee, Iowa; Austin Unrein (3-2) of Hays,  Tyler Lankford (2-5) of Derby, Matt Dye (4-5) of Liberty and relief ace Cisco Medina (2-2) of Boulder, Colo.

Other returnees will include catcher Nick Gulotta (.214) of Blue Springs, who hit ,571 as a pinchhitter; infielder Jesse Grace (.296) of Conway, Ark.; and outfielder Mitchell Glessner of Blue Valley Northwest, who missed most of the season with an injury.

After defeating Butler in a three-game opening playoff series at home, the Blue Devils opened super-regional play by edging Seward 2-1 on a 3-hit gem by Butler.

Blanked by eventual champion Neosho 5-0 in the second round, the Blue Devils rebounded to beat Colby 5-4 in 10 innings before falling to Seward 8-7 on an unearned run in the bottom of the 11th inning.

“You can overcome one error in an extra inning game but not two,” said Burleson.