This season's State Fair Community College Roadrunners baseball team features a blend of youth and experience. Head Coach Jud Kindle is pleased with his team's training and has noticed some differences compared to last year's team.
"Since this is the second year of the program, we have more sophomore leadership," said Kindle. "Last year we were a young team. This year we are more mentally prepared to be successful throughout the season."
The team was able to train early in the preseason using the new batting cages inside the Fred E. Davis Multipurpose Center Kempton Room.
"The new cages have been very beneficial to our hitting," said Kindle. "Our guys have worked hard over the winter break to be ready."
The Roadrunners return several student-athletes from last year that Coach Kindle expects to provide leadership for the team.
Sophomore Zack Ehlen earned second-team All-Region 16 and All-Missouri Community College Athletic Conference (MCCAC) honors as a freshman. Ehlen led the team in batting with a .360 average and played in all 51 games. He recorded a team-high 67 hits, 16 doubles, 22 stolen bases, and finished second with 38 RBIs.
Sophomore pitchers Chase Plymell and Jake McMahill will be counted on heavily. Both earned MCCAC honorable mention honors last season. Plymell led the pitching staff in victories with six and led in innings pitched with 62. McMahill recorded three victories and pitched 54 2/3 innings, which placed him second on the team in innings pitched. He struck out a team-high 70 batters and ended the season with a 4.45 earned run average.
"McMahill and Plymell have solidified themselves as our number one and two pitchers in our starting rotation," said Kindle. "We know what we are going to get from those guys. Bret Wilbanks has stepped up and looks to be our closer this year.
McNew recorded 38 hits as a freshman, which tied for fourth place on the team last season. He tied for the team lead in home runs with nine while hitting .260. Crane recorded a .318 batting average and finished second on the team in stolen bases with 18.
Coach Kindle has high expectations of the newcomers and wants to see more aggressive base running.
"We have talented freshman pitchers coming in. Branden Eickhorst performed well in the fall and will be an important part of our pitching staff this year."
The Roadrunners face a tough schedule this season, including a trip to Florida against Pensacola State College. SFCC opens the season Feb. 9 at Arkansas Baptist College. The first home game is Feb. 17 when Marshalltown Community College from Iowa comes to Dey Field in Liberty Park Stadium. Region 16 play begins March 1 at Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods in Kansas City.
"Any region game is important," said Kindle. "Those are the games we need to be the most prepared. Our goal this year is to be at the top of Region 16. The region teams are extremely good, and we want to be right there with Jefferson College, Crowder College and Maple Woods."