What a difference a year can make.
For the Redmond High baseball program and head coach Dan Pudwill, this season’s team represents an entirely different group of players from his 2011 squad that placed fourth at the state tournament, but he has the same goal in mind – a Kingco championship.
Also gone is the team’s No. 1 preseason ranking. This year the Mustangs are definitely on the outside looking in, and that’s just the way Pudwill likes it.
Instead of having a target on their back, it will allow them to zero in on their opponents.
“It’s not going to be something where we’re a front-runner,” he said. “We’ll have to track some teams down and really gel in all three phases (pitching, hitting, defense) at the end of the season.”
Even with the talent the Mustangs graduated last year, the deep program brings back a tremendous class of 13 rostered upperclassmen for 2012.
That group will be led by three returning starters, Patrick McGrath – a shortstop and closer who hits for power and average, Peter Hendron – who comes up big at the plate and will share innings with fellow senior Adam Cline, and Cody Beliel – a speedy second baseman who will bat leadoff and steal bases.
“We have a decent core there, and we also have 10 other seniors that have been in the program for a couple years, which is helpful,” Pudwill noted. “We have some younger players that are going to find their way onto the field as well.”
At the forefront of that group will be the team’s only rostered junior, Brent Firth, who provides power from the left side of the plate, and a group of three sophomores that have solid bats: Kyle Francis, Lucas Eliason and Brandon Burditt.
Another notable statistic is that a total of 11 players on the team’s roster have the letter “P” as one of their indicated positions, allowing the Mustangs to have open auditions to see who can perform the best on the mound.
“After (Hendron and Cline), it’s anybody’s guess,” Pudwill said. “So many kids can pitch, we’ll see who can do it (best) at this level, consistently and successfully.”
While the eighth-year coach said that this year’s offense, compared to years past, will be more of a “small ball” game, the Mustangs players still feel they have plenty of pop to hold their own.
“We have strong hitters all throughout the lineup, so we should be pretty good on moving runners around,” Beliel said. “We can play to our strengths by just (stringing) base hits, doubles after doubles, bringing guys in.”
Added McGrath, “Our whole lineup is potent, up and down. We’re going to hit the ball hard, and also bunt a lot.”
As defense has never been a problem for the Mustangs under Pudwill’s watch, the team’s success this year will depend not so much on its ability to hit balls out of the park, but moving runners around and coming up with clutch hits.
“We’ll be playing for a run at a time instead of a big inning,” explained Pudwill, adding that offensive execution will be a focal point of his team this year. “We have to make sure everyone can get on base, everyone can move runners up and get a runner in from third with less than two outs.”
Finally given a chance to shine, the Mustangs’ 13 seniors will look to gel as a team over the course of the year, and peak in the postseason.
“They’ve worked hard, and been an instrumental part of the program for three years,” said Pudwill about his upperclassmen. “I’d like to see them rewarded with a great experience.”
Redmond senior Peter Hendron (right) leads his teammates through warm-up stretches at a recent Mustang baseball practice. Hendron is one of three returning starters and came up big for the team at the plate last season in the playoffs. Tim Watanabe, Redmond Reporter