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Commodores not worried after opening weekend miscues

By Tyler Waldrep

The Gulf Coast State baseball team dropped a pair of games against No. 10 State College of Florida on opening weekend, but coach Mike Kandler hasn’t lost faith that his team is on track to put everything together when it really counts.

“One of the reasons you go play a team like that is to figure out what it is you need to get better at,” Kandler said. “So using it as a learning tool, it was an outstanding weekend.”

The Commodores lost Friday night’s game 10-7 after extending the game to the 12th inning. The following day Gulf Coast State fell 6-1.

The Commodores’ time at the plate stands out as an obvious area in need of improvement as the season continues. The team managed only 18 hits in total across 21 innings and finished the weekend with a .220 batting average and a .289 on-base percentage.

Evan Johnson stood out as a bright spot for the team offensively, finishing the weekend with three hits in eight plate appearances and a team-high .444 on-base percentage.

He also had a pair of home runs in Friday’s loss.

“He got two elevated pitches and did what good hitters do with those pitches,” Kandler said.

After his hot start hitting seventh, Kandler is considering moving Johnson up in the lineup, but that decision isn’t set in stone just yet.

Kandler’s pitchers seemed a little sharper, but he said they still elevated too many balls and didn’t command fastballs well enough to hang with State College of Florida.

The rest of the defense seemed to play closer to what Kandler expected and finished the weekend with only three errors.

“The numbers will be there at the end of the year so you just gotta keep playing and keep grinding it out,” Kandler said. “Two games it’s not enough to really judge anything by.”

Those numbers won’t really start to mean much to Kandler until the Commodores have 20 games behind them. If the schedule doesn’t change, that gives the team almost a month to improve before it crosses that threshold with a doubleheader against Thomas College on Feb. 28.

Kandler said he doesn’t believe the strength of the latest group lies with any one aspect of the game. Instead, he said the success of the 2019 group will come from the strong bonds established between the players before they ever tasted defeat last weekend.

“As we start ironing out the kinks the fact that they’re a united group will start to pay dividends,” he said, “but of course you got to stay that way through the adversity.”

When the players walked out and saw the field for the first time on Monday afternoon, many of them couldn’t help but stop and appreicate what they saw in front of them. For the first time since Hurricane Michael ripped through town on Oct. 10, the field had a backstop and even what the players called a “big leaguer” mound to pitch from.

“Anytime any little thing happens it’s kind of nice,” Kandler said. “It’s kind of like Christmas morning. You almost feel like it’s a present. Like we got that done, we got that done.”

The coach’s favorite gift so far was getting the infield laser-graded after the storm scattered most of the clay across the right field. With the playing surface shaping up, attention will turn now to other items like replacing the windscreen and rebuilding the equipment shed.

“So one morning it will all be back together,” Kandler said. “Just like Bay County will be and we’ll all say that was just a bad memory.”

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