LEBANON — Pitching depth and experience are what the McKendree University baseball team is leaning on as it seeks to improve on its 23-23 record of last season.
Coach Jim Boehne, whose team was 17-19 in its first year in the Division II Great Lakes Valley Conference, returns eight pitchers and has added four freshmen, two of whom will be in the rotation.
"It's about pitching and having those guys who are strike-throwers," said Boehne, in his 17th season. "That's a big part of what we're trying to be about --going right at hitters. In the college baseball season where you play four games every weekend, you've got to have that many pitchers."
Sophomore left-hander Sam Lidisky, an Althoff High graduate, and senior right-hander Cole Wille, a Collinsville High graduate, head a rotation that will include freshman left-hander Brad Henry, an Alton High graduate, and freshman right-hander Jacob Renfrow.
Lidisky was a quick learner as a freshman, going 6-2 with a 2.85 ERA in a staff-high 72 2/3 innings. Wille, coming off an injury in 2012, was 1-1 with an 8.71 ERA in 11 games, 10 of them in relief. But Wille was a five-game winner as a starter in 2011.
Henry, meanwhile, was 7-1 with a 2.57 ERA last season at Alton. Renfrow was 5-2 with a 1.62 ERA at Hancock High in St. Louis, striking out 82 in 52 innings.
"(Henry) is getting better and better," Boehne said. "And Jacob, since he just started concentrated on pitching, has made a jump. Those two freshmen are hopefully going to get a lot of appearances for us."
Two other freshman left-handers, Mitchell Langenhorst (Mater Dei) and Dylan Salsman, will start and relieve. Langenhorst was 4-3 with a 2.38 ERA last year; Salsman was 6-0 with a 2.67 ERA at Francis Howell High.
Other pitchers, all expected to work primarily in relief, are: senior right-handers Ben Dallesasse and Jon Trampe (Metro-East Lutheran); sophomore right-handers Matt Sax, A.J. Wise (Triad) and Travis Blumhorst (Okawville); and sophomore left-hander Josh Tonozzi. Dallesasse and Sax were starters last year.
The pitchers will work under Alan Crocker and Kirk Rueter, a former major-leaguer who had 130 victories with Montreal and San Francisco. Rueter, a native of Hoyleton, was hired Friday.
"He's a rookie in the coaching world, but it seems like he's having a lot of fun coming to practice," Boehne said. "Kirk wasn't a power pitcher when he was in the major leagues, but he was a winner. That's what we're trying to be about as well.
"He's such a great guy and I feel like he's going to be a positive influence on our young kids."
Offensively, the Bearcats will be led by senior shortstop Tony Kossina (Belleville West), junior third baseman Jake Kline, junior first baseman Jeff Tolliver and junior center fielder Kyle Rutledge.
Kossina batted .327 with a team-high 57 hits last season while Kline batted .269 with a team-best 10 stolen bases. Rutledge hit .297 and tied for the team lead in doubles with 13 and Tolliver batted .277 with three homers and a club-high 29 RBIs.
Boehne called Kossina "Mr. Consistent."
"He's a big key to how we'll go," Boehne said. "We're not worried about his batting average; it's score runs and get on base. He's our key. (And) we need Jeff to come through. He's a middle-of-the-order hitter and we need him to have a good year as well."
Pierce Borah, a junior, and Tyson Boehne, a freshman from Carlyle and the son of Jim Boehne, will split time at second base. Borah, who batted in 73 at-bats last season, also could see time at designated hitter and third base.
"Pierce is a very good college hitter," Jim Boehne said. "Tyson is probably a better defender right now who can run a lot better. It's interesting to see those two guys because they both offer something a little bit different."
Freshman Zach Klockowski, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound left-handed hitter, will get the first crack at the starting designated hitter job.
"He brings a lot of power to our lineup," Boehne said.
Senior Tyler Collins and freshmen Kyle Jackson (Carlyle) and Nathan Micklautz are the catchers. Boehne said all are solid receivers whose primary responsibilities will be to provide defense and work in concert with the pitching staff.
Senior Steven Todoschuk, a transfer from King University in Tennessee, will start in right and could bat third or fourth. Freshmen Jay Roberts and Grant Anderson bring speed and athleticism to left field. Anderson also will see time in right field.
The Bearcats were scheduled to open the season at home Tuesday against Harris-Stowe and Wednesday against Missouri Baptist.
But those games have been postponed by cold temperatures and wet grounds. Boehne hopes a doubleheader against Quincy on Saturday and a single game against the Hawks on Sunday won't be added to the casualty list.
"We're ready to get going," Boehne said. "It seems like it's been a long preseason. But with so many new kids, it's been a good thing for us. We're ready to play. Let's start playing some games and hopefully build from there.
"It doesn't matter who we play; it's all about our performance. When you go out and play a good team, you've got to play well out of the gate. We've got to be ready from the get-go --offensively, defensively and on the mound."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.