The State Fair Community College (SFCC) baseball team has been preparing for the 2019 season. The Roadrunners will look to continue to build upon last season, which included a 10-win improvement from the first campaign since the program's return. SFCC also hosted and won a sub-regional for the first time since the resumption of the program and made a run in the Region 16 Tournament which included an upset of the top seed.
Even with that success, SFCC Head Baseball Coach Jud Kindle believes that this year's team will make its own mark and be even better.
"We have to reset every season," said Kindle. "We build our team goals based on what we did last year, but the challenge is this team is completely different. However, we do want to keep the success that we had last year going."
Fans that come out to watch the Roadrunners play this season will see a different style of baseball than what they saw last year.
"On base percentage and stolen bases were key factors last year because we had speed. We didn't have a lot of guys with a lot of power," said Kindle. "This year we have guys that will hit the ball in the gap, but we don't have quite as much speed."
The Roadrunners will look for leadership from sophomore pitcher Logan Bexten and sophomore infielder Gavin Jones. Coach Kindle is also expecting big things from sophomore pitcher Conner Burnett and sophomore pitcher Chris Koehler, who will anchor the bullpen for SFCC.
Coach Kindle is also looking for contributions from freshman pitcher/infielder Jake Lufft.
"Lufft can really hit and will be an important part of our lineup," said Kindle. "The middle of our lineup is pretty good and will need to remain good one through nine this year."
SFCC has several newcomers that are battling for spots on the pitching staff.
"There is a battle going on between Bill Cain and Jack Schmedding," said Kindle. "They are trying to figure out what their role will be. Both of them are very good as middle relievers, but they can also be starters for us. We added E.J. Freeman, who is a very projectable kid. We will see where he fits in. He has the body type to be a starting pitcher. Austin Brooks also could play a significant role in our bullpen. The pitching staff is deeper than it was last year. We just haven't been able to establish the roles that our guys will fit into."
SFCC will also look for contributions from a couple of newcomers in the lineup.
"Anthony Gunn will also be a staple in our lineup," said Kindle. "He has one of the prettiest swings that I've seen and his barrel control is amazing."
The Roadrunners will be tested right out of the gate on their road trip to Tennessee.
SFCC will open the season on Friday, Feb. 8 at Southwest Tennessee Community College. On Saturday, Feb. 9 the Roadrunners will play Dyersburg State Community College and John A. Logan in Millington, Tennessee. The team will close their trip to Tennessee with another game against Dyersburg State Community College on Sunday, Feb. 10.
"We definitely have strengthened our schedule," said Kindle. "I think it is important to understand that it is really not about wins and losses until you get into the region tournament. We want to play the best competition that we can to prepare ourselves for Region 16 play.
"Dyersburg State Community College finished second in the country two years ago," said Kindle. "John A. Logan is in the top 15 of the preseason poll. They have four or five players who are projected to go in the draft this year. They will be a good test for us early in the season."
The Roadrunners will open the home portion of their schedule on Saturday, Feb. 16 with a doubleheader against Highland Community College (Kansas). The first pitch from Liberty Park Stadium-Dey Field is scheduled for 1 p.m.
SFCC will open Region 16 play against St. Louis Community College in St. Louis on Feb. 28. The Roadrunners will finish region play on the road against Metropolitan Community College on April 27. The final game of the regular season will be a single game against Indian Hills Community College on April 30.
"Our first team goal is to host and win a sub-regional this year," said Kindle. "We want to win our Region Tournament. We want to have an opportunity to go to Grand Junction, Colorado (site of the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series).
Coach Kindle sees several keys to a successful season for the Roadrunners.
"We have to be consistent," said Kindle. "It's not about what we are doing the first week of the season. We want to be playing our best baseball right before we start our sub-regional series. We have to stay healthy and keep improving game-to-game throughout the season."