WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- There will be no shortage of experience when the Whitman College baseball team takes the Borleske Stadium field this spring.
Not only does coach Travis Feezell have three senior hurlers ticketed to get the bulk of Whitman's pitching starts, seven of his eight position players will also be seniors and juniors on a regular basis.
"It's a veteran team with lots of experience," Feezell says. "We'll start all seniors and juniors in the field with the exception of one talented freshman, Sean Kinney, in left field."
Kinney, a graduate of Seattle's Blanchet High School, will hit in the lead-off spot and join junior Ryan Nelson and senior David Fee to give the Missionaries good speed in the outfield.
Senior Adam Zaitz, a two-time All-Northwest Conference catcher, will anchor an infield that also includes seniors Kyle Carothers at first base and Bobby Jones at third. Juniors Blake Fisher and Danny Richards are the starters at shortstop and second base, respectively.
"That's a fairly solid infield," Feezell says. "One of the nice points about this season is that we have the infield positions locked in. In past seasons, Blake played three infield spots, while Danny moved between second and third. This season we'll have more consistency and stability in the infield."
Seniors Ryan Toivola, Matt Brewer and Mark Hinshaw will serve as Whitman's primary starting rotation. Senior Jeremy Bishop and Nelson will see plenty of time in relief roles. "One of the keys to this season is our pitching," Feezell says. "I love our staff, and (assistant coach) Chris Drabek has done an excellent job in preparing them."
"Toivola and Brewer will be our top two guys," Feezell adds. "We will use them almost exclusively as pitchers this season. We need their pitching to be a priority. They both have excellent stuff."
In past seasons, Toivola at first base and Brewer at shortstop have been regulars in the field when not pitching.
Toivola, a 6-foot-3 lefty, earned All-NWC honorable mention recognition as both a junior and sophomore. Last season, he started 10 games on the mound and won five of nine decisions for a second straight year. He led the Missionary staff in earned run average (4.48), complete games (six), innings pitched (74) and strikeouts (48). He was fourth in the NWC in innings pitched, and he also ranked among the league leaders in strikeouts and victories.
While Toivola relies on finesse, Brewer and Hinshaw are big, hard-throwing right-handers. Hinshaw transferred to Whitman a year ago after two seasons of junior college ball. "Mark has definitely improved over last season," Feezell says.
Bishop, a right-hander, is the pitching staff's closer this season and "someone we could throw in all three weekend games," Feezell says. Playing for Whitman for the first time last spring, Bishop compiled a 3-1 record in relief with one save and a 5.02 earned run average. Nelson gives the Missionaries a left-handed arm to use out of the bullpen.
Carothers, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder who swings from the left side of the plate, figures to wield one of Whitman's biggest bats. He was named NWC "Hitter of the Week" on two occasions last spring, and he earned All-NWC honorable mention recognition at the close of the season. Playing in 34 games, he led the Missionaries in batting average (.342), hits (40), on-base percentage (.446), RBI (30), total bases (64), and slugging percentage (.547). He tied for the team lead in home runs with four, doubles with ten, and walks with 18.
Zaitz, a skilled defensive catcher, hit .291 last spring, marking the third consecutive season his average has been .290 or above. Zaitz, who clubbed four home runs last year for a second straight season, earned All-NWC honorable mention kudos. He garnered First-Team honors as a sophomore.
While bouncing from one infield spot to another last spring, Fisher hit .304 and led the Missionaries in runs scored with 30. He tied Carothers for the team lead in walks with 18 and was No. 2 on the squad in batting average, total hits and on-base percentage. Fisher capped his sophomore campaign with honorable mention all-conference honors.
Jones, who missed last season, hopes to build on the fine junior year he enjoyed in 2000. He led the regulars in hitting that season with a .365 batting average, collecting a team-high 50 base hits in 38 games. Jones led the conference in doubles with 17, and he topped Whitman in total bases with 72. He also had 24 RBI and scored 21 runs, earning honorable mention all-conference honors.
Nelson, who mans center field for the Missionaries, hit .283 last season as a sophomore. His 30 hits included 10 doubles and two home runs. He also knocked in 18 runs.
Whitman's roster includes more experience in senior Jay Babbitt and juniors Jake Jensen, Ari Stiassny and Aaron Stiassny. Jordan Gale and Bjorn Bjorkman are sophomores, while the first-year class also includes Geoff Bergreen, Steve Johnson, Andrew Shultz and Spencer Fox.
Whitman gets an early jump on its season when its travels to Chandler, Ariz., in mid-February to play four games in four days. "It's great to get on the field that early," Feezell says. "It gives us a chance to work out whatever kinks we might have."
The Missionaries return home to host their annual Kight Invitational on the weekend of Feb. 23-24. More tournament action follows March 1-3 at the JUGS Classic, hosted by George Fox University, one of Whitman's Northwest Conference rivals.
Whitman opens its NWC slate March 9-10 with three games at Linfield, that rolled to a 28-12 record last season. The Wildcats, who tied George Fox for third place in NWC last spring with a 15-9 mark, were picked to win it all in a recent preseason coaches poll. Linfield picked up six of the nine first-place votes and topped the field with 82 points.
George Fox was second in the preseason poll with 71 points. Willamette, last year's league champ, came in third with 63 points. Whitman and Whitworth tied for fourth place with 43 points, a single point ahead of Pacific. Filling the next three spots were Pacific Lutheran, Puget Sound, and Lewis & Clark.