British author Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote, “Winter, slumbering in the open air wears on its face a dream of spring.” But had Coleridge grew up a century later in the town of Newberry, S.C., he might have included something about the loud “ping” of baseballs crushed by aluminum bats.
South Carolina has always been a baseball-mad state, and you could say the father of this blind devotion is Newberry College. Since 1901, students have at the college have suited up in the scarlet and gray, carving out their own place in this uniquely American pastime. This season, the 105th edition of Indian baseball hopes to build on the foundation laid out by hundreds of young men past, while writing their own chapter. This year’s squad will rely on an enviable mix of experience and an infusion of youth that head coach Tim Medlin thinks can return Newberry to the forefront of small college baseball in the conference region.
“I am very enthusiastic about this year’s team,” says an upbeat Medlin. “We’re young at spots, but so far these young men have shown a real commitment to being the best they can be. You really can’t ask for much more as a coach.”
After a disappointing 2004, Newberry starts this season with 16 new players into the fold. This clean slate sparks a sense of cautious optimism within the coaching staff. As many as five freshmen could be taking the field on opening day, but Medlin has confidence that some of these players can make an immediate impact.
“We will be relying heavily on some freshmen to make an impact,” explains Medlin. “But then again, we will be relying on the team as a whole to make an impact. We’re not hinging our success on one group. We must play like a team to be successful.”
One area where the Indians should be successful is the pitching staff, where Newberry returns four young, but South Atlantic Conference-seasoned arms. A discussion of the Indian pitching staff could not be complete without mentioning Russell Haltiwanger (Simpsonville, S.C.). Every staff has a workhorse, and Haltiwanger certainly fills that role for Newberry. Last season the junior led the team in innings pitched (62.1 IP), strikeouts (58 K), and games started (11). Haltiwanger also pitched three complete games, all against SAC-rivals.
But even after all of those gaudy stats and being named 2004 preseason first-team All-SAC, Haltiwanger struggled through last season, compiling a disappointing 4-6 overall record, finishing out of the running for any postseason awards. A return to 2003 form is not out of the question for Haltiwanger.
While Medlin is high on Haltiwanger, pitcher Joel Crisp (Summerville, S.C.) could be the most valuable player for Newberry. “He’s a guy that refuses to lose,” say Medlin on Crisp. “A guy that wants to win above all else.” And winning was something that Crisp became familiar with last season, winning five games and compiling an outstanding 3.57 ERA, tops among returning pitchers. He commands the ball well, only surrendering 12 walks last season, and pitched a complete game against Mars Hill.
No one player that will take the mound for the Indians is more intimidating than junior Jared Locke (Manning, S.C.). Standing at more than 6-6, Locke is as polished as he is physically formidable. Don’t let last year’s stats fool you; (ERA over ten with only four Ks) Locke has shown marked improvement over the off months.
Also in the mix on the mound this season will be returning starter Pete Stuppiello (Gilbert, S.C.). He had a strong sophomore season, and looks to come back even stronger in 2005. A versatile pitcher, Stuppiello leads all returnees with 21 appearances, mixing in relief stints and four starts. Expect to see him used in the same capacity as last year, with a mixture of work out of the bullpen and starting appearances.
Entering last season, the Indians faced the daunting task of replacing the entire left side of the infield decimated by graduation with freshmen. Adjusting from the high school level to college proved to be a daunting task for these young men, as Newberry led the SAC in errors and were last in fielding percentage. This year, with a full season under their belts, 3B Ryan Easterby (Charleston, S.C.) and SS Anthony Dillenger (Gaffney, S.C.) figure to be much more solid defensively and dangerous offensively. Easterby, in the grand tradition of players stationed at the hot corner, has some offensive credentials, jacking five four-baggers in 2004. Dillenger has pop as well from the shortstop position, as he hit seven HR’s last season, and finished second on the team in total bases with 71. The offense will come around, but both players will have to work to overcome the 49 errors they made between them last year in order for Newberry to be successful.
At first base, the Indians are stacked, as the two leading returning offensive producers from 2004 come back for more this season. Dean Walker (Afton, Tenn.) has been more of a table setter in previous seasons, but Medlin will put him in the four-hole this season, counting on his only senior everyday-starter to collect the big hits. If 2004 is any indication, Walker shouldn’t have any trouble. He hit .305 last season (the highest among returnees), leading the team in doubles. Walker will also play a spot of DH, along with Clark Mullins (No. Augusta, S.C.). Mullins saw action in 28 games last season, hitting .319 and driving in 11. But what will get you “Moneyball” readers excited is Mullins’s .382 on base percentage.
Rounding out the outfield is sophomore second baseman Matthew Webb (Cheraw, S.C.). Webb also had his share of growing pains to work through as a starter for most of last year as a freshman, but a hard off-season regimen has put Webb in the best shape of his life and primed to turn heads.
If you like youth, speed, and power, then prepare yourself to fall in love Newberry’s 2005 outfield. The Indians will rely on three capable freshmen to get the job done this season. Jamall Kinard (Newberry, S.C.) is a local product with quite a high school resume. He will patrol centerfield for the Indians and bat in the leadoff position. “He has rare speed,” say Medlin. “He’s just a weapon. We’re happy to have him.” Besides his natural athleticism, he has a cannon for an arm to boot.
Starting in RF this season will be Brandon Brown (Starr, S.C.). Brown can hit for power and average, and can even lay down a bunt or two. He’s got a strong arm, so look for Brown to make some outfield assists this year as well. Nick Martin (Morehead City, N.C.) is has shown great defensive stuff in practices in the left field spot, and figures to add some pop in the lineup.
The 2005 edition of Newberry Indians baseball kicks off on February 2nd on the campus of Mt. Olive College. The Indians first see the friendly confines of Kirkland Field on February 9th against Coker. This season’s schedule features 22 home games, including five double headers. The SAC portion of the schedule begins with a double header against Tusculum on March 9th.
“We’ll be ready,” closes Medlin. “This league is too good not to be.”