Ping! Baseball Spotlight on the Gents
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The fourth seeded Centenary Gents were down 9-0 to top seeded Oral Roberts in the final game of the 2007 Mid-Continent Conference Baseball Championship. As the Eagles were preparing to claim their 10th straight league Mid-Con championship, an hour and half rain delay temporarily suspended the inevitable conclusion. ORU had the Gents’ number all season, outscoring them 57-8 their previous five matchups which included a humbling 20-0 pasting in the first game of the tournament. Had Disney writers been able to pen the game’s finale, the boys from Shreveport would have launched into a fervent rally and claimed the conference crown (perhaps as an injured star player listened from his hospital bed to the play by play from an old AM radio with a wire hanger and piece of aluminum foil for an antenna...); however that wasn’t the case. The Gents’ offense was retired after plating only a single run and ORU continued on to the NCAA Regionals while Centenary’s season came to an end.

Despite the loss that day, spirits remained high. Instead of throwing in the towel and sulking in the dugout, the Centenary Gents took the opportunity to appreciate how far they had come. Their 28 wins (28-31 overall) were the most since 1991 and included victories over fellow rising programs such as Penn State, Western Illinois and Kansas State. Additionally the Gents went toe-to-toe with perennial powerhouses Arkansas and LSU, losing a pair of games to the hardball titans by a combined three runs. While the rain fell down in that last game, a pair of Centenary pitchers, Johnny Noland and Peter Stark, seized the opportunity for an impromptu game of slip and slide and hurled themselves across the infield, soaking themselves for the amusement of their teammates and themselves. While the Gentlemen went home the Mid-Con Tournament bridesmaid, they also returned to Louisiana with a sense of accomplishment, higher goals and optimism for the next season.

As Centenary readies for their first season in the new Summit League, the team prepares with confidence. The Gents were recently picked third (of eight) in the first Summit League coaches’ preseason poll and return a roster thick with veteran talent. The strongest aspect of the Centenary roster is its pitching staff which returns two of four starters from last season in seniors Jeremy Sheehan and the before mentioned Noland. Sheehan tied for the team lead in wins last season, going 8-5 with three complete games. The righty amassed 88.1 innings, walked only 19 batters and finished with a 4.59 ERA. Noland, a southpaw, won a pair of games with a 5.82 ERA, complied 72.2 innings in 20 appearances and started a dozen games. Another senior who will be back to help the Gents continue their winning ways is Aaron Bronson. Bronson, who tossed a no-hitter for the Green River Community College Gators as a sophomore, made 24 appearances on the mound last season, earning fives saves, three wins and a 4.68 ERA over 32.2 innings. However the most impressive arm last season belonged to a freshman, homegrown talent Dakota Robinson.

Robison impressed his first year of collegiate baseball, winning two games and saving four more out of the bullpen. He led the Gents in appearances, seeing action in 30 games, and tossed a total of 57.0 innings. His strikeout to walk ratio was awe-inspiring, fanning 37 with only seven walks. His efforts were rewarded with second team all-conference designation and was named the Mid-Con Pitcher of the Week on May 21 and was also named to the Ping!Baseball All Freshman Team. While Robinson’s bread and butter pitch last year was his 90’s fastball which he threw with filthy accuracy, he spent the summer developing his change up which should make him even more effective in his first season as the Friday starter.

Yet Robinson shouldn’t be the only young Gentleman earning accolades this season. Both Robinson and Head Coach Ed McCann are energized about a pair of young freshman pitchers who could have the same out of the gate success Robinson had last season. Justin Kraft, from Yakima, Washington and Boone Whiting from Oakdale, California have impressed in the fall and preseason and should help continue to close the gap between the Gents and the top of the league. Kraft is slated to be the number three starter and Whiting went 10-0 in high school with a 0.74 ERA his senior season.

Offensively the Gents are nearly equally as solid with a stable foundation of returning players to help Coach McCann compete for his first conference title. Senior third baseman Teddy Saenz was named second team all-conference last season in his first year with the Gents. Saenz batted .309 with 18 extra base hits and also added 10 stolen bases after making the transition from West Valley Junior College in California. Fellow co-captain and California transplant Alex Maldonado will be back behind the plate for the Gents and will be looking to regain his 2006 stroke in which he batted .318. Last season his average slipped to .272, but he did however earn a national rank in sacrifice hits per game with 12 in 57 contests to place 70th in the country while providing solid defense and leadership being the dish. Another senior, infielder Cameron Penny led Centenary in batting last season, hitting .312 with 10 doubles and a triple. Penny also swiped 12 bases and was one of the hardest batters to strike out in the country, fanning only once every 14.5 at-bats to place 34th in the nation. He was named to the 2007 All-Louisiana College Baseball Team second team for his effort. The versatile senior outfielder Calvin Sanchez had the third best batting average (.302) on the Gents last season. A perfect fit in Coach McCann’s base-to-base offense, Sanchez has the ability to steal a base (12) or move a runner (35th in the nation in sacrifice hits per game at 0.25).

Centenary’s home of Shehee Stadium is spacious and doesn’t allow many balls to get over the fence. In fact, last year the Gents only hit 12 homeruns and eight of them were by seniors no longer with the team. This season three junior college transfers have joined the Gents and have warning track plus power that could have them trotting around the bases. Outfielders Steele Lewis and Joey Fandel, along with first baseman/DH Ryan Bersen could provide pop to an talented offense which McCann declares, “May be the best I have had in along time.” Additionally, the freaky fast and athletic Jomar Tabor, a transfer from Kellogg Community College, gives McCann another outfielder who can cover ground defensively in the vast Shehee outfield while also contributing at the plate (batted .355 for the Bruins and was named all-conference as a leadoff hitter).

The Gents will begin the season on Friday, Feb. 22, hosting the Missouri Valley Conference’s Northern Iowa Panthers in Shehee Stadium at 6 p.m.