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Commodores open Friday

By PAT McCANN 
News Herald Executive Sports Editor

Posted Jan 24, 2018 at 4:12 PM

 

Ask two baseball coaches about the best feature of their team heading into the season and you can get different conclusions from the same answer.

 

When Gulf Coast State’s Mike Kandler says the work ethic of his ballclub is very good, that he likes the camaraderie he sees and the cohesiveness entering 2018, it usually is cause for optimism coming from a veteran beginning his 31st season writing out lineup cards.

Listen closer when Kandler adds, “I think we’re good, not great. To win we’re going to have to do a lot of little things right.”

 

Translation: In order to overcome questionable pitching depth and a roster that isn’t going to scare too many opponents when it pulls into the parking lot, the Commodores are going to have to emulate the best aspects of t-e-a-m.

 

While that might seem an innocuous assumption entering Friday’s opener against State College of Florida in Bradenton, a reinforced concept could determine whether or not Gulf Coast can improve on a 33-16 record and get back to the state tournament.

 

“I think you used to take for granted guys were going to be good teammates and that the work ethic would be there,” said Kandler, who will add to 413 wins this spring in his 13th season on the Commodores’ bench.

 

“Kids nowadays have been on 100 different teams because of Summer Ball by the time they get here. They don’t always understand that concept. Now you’ve got to go look for it, and leadership is not as easily found as it used to be. A lot of them just want to do their own thing.”

Translation II: Those who do might not always be pleased with their playing time.

 

Kandler said that two local players, Trever Kilcrease (7-3, 3.94) of Arnold and Alec Aleywine (2-1, 6.26) of Bozeman, will get the starting assignments on the mound for the first two games. Gulf Coast plays a doubleheader on Saturday to conclude the mini-road trip, and Kandler wouldn’t commit to the third game.

 

“I’m not sure after that,” Kandler said. “We’ll see who’s left standing.”

 

Translation III: With starters on a short leash to open the season it depends on how many arms Kandler has to use during the first two

games.

 

One thing for certain is that the Commodores will feature a number of varied combinations in their lineup throughout the end of this month and the next.

 

Gulf Coast is scheduled to play 11 of its 16 games in February at Bill Frazier Field. The Commodores don’t begin the Panhandle Conference grind until March 6.

 

“We’ve still got some two-way guys who will come off their positions to pitch,” Kandler said. “When that happens we’ll have some different combinations.

 

“The first 15 or 20 games we’ll bounce some combinations out there. We have quite a few who have the ability to do more than one thing.”

Kandler mentioned catchers Josh Nowak (.317), a returning sophomore, and Cory Heffron, a sophomore transfer, as being mainstays in the lineup.

 

“Those two guys have got to be leaders, got to be good,” Kandler said. “They’re both going to hit somewhere in the top end.

“Aleywine (.316, 4 HR, 27 RBI) going both ways” is going to be key. “Malik Spratling had a huge fall for us that we’re hoping carries over.”

 

Jacquez Koonce (Rutherford, .292, 12 SB) returns to solidify the defense in center field could be a big plus if he develops into a productive leadoff batter.

 

″(Jeff) Omohundro (.244) needs to handle the left side (of the infield) like a sophomore,” Kandler said. “He was good last year, but he’ll have to play better.

 

“I think Peyton Knight can really help us on the mound if he can throw strikes; his stuff is good. It would be great if JT Duncan (Bay, .228) and Eli Taylor (.237), who both have the ability to do things and work as hard as anybody could have big years. That would help us tremendously.”

 

Kandler said that he won’t have a firm pitch count this weekend, but will have a number in his head depending on the difficulty of the start, the weather and a number of other variables.

 

Kandler has been pretty good at juggling variables as he returns from treatment for cancer of the tongue that was diagnosed midway through the 2017 conference season.

 

“I’m getting better, I’m feeling pretty good,” Kandler said. “The tests and the scans lately have come back good. It’s a slow process, but I’m doing a lot better.

 

“I’ve gained about 10 pounds back, but more importantly I’m getting my strength and energy back.”

 

Translation IV: Play ball!


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