Expectations are high for the Seminole State College Raider baseball team. After an exciting and torrid finish to the 2010 season, the 2011 squad has its sights set on a Mid-Florida Conference (MFC) title.
"We had some ups and downs last year, which culminated in a 10-game MFC win streak and put us on the brink of a post-season berth," third-year Head Coach Chris Hayes says. "Even though we fell short, I am very proud of the way our group came together and fully reached its potential as a team."
This year, Hayes says, the Raiders should "build on this success, stand on the core values of responsibility and accountability, and make a legitimate run at the Mid-Florida Conference Championship."
Getting there won’t be easy, he concedes, with tough in-conference competitors such as Santa Fe College, the 2010 MFC champion. But Hayes says his squad will succeed if team members "play hard and intelligent daily and remember to have fun in the process."
"Our focus each season is on preparation and execution," he says. "Efficient and potentially dominant pitching, dependable defensive play and consistent offensive execution are what this team will embody. Our biggest opponent — what we will prepare for all year — isn't a team; it's the game itself."
The 2011 Raiders are a well-balanced squad, with 13 sophomores — including seven returners — and 13 freshmen. The group is performing well and coming together quickly as a team, Hayes says, thanks to the substantial game experience they already have under their belts.
"Our veterans have shown tremendous leadership, the transfers have adjusted well and the freshmen have shown they can play at the college level," he says. "These players have worked very hard so far, and they push one another to greatness every day. They understand what it takes to win and are very determined to succeed."
Their commitment and resolve have not gone unnoticed, Hayes says. More than half of the team's sophomores have already signed with or made commitments to play for a four-year college or university in Fall 2011.
"I'm thrilled that we have so many young men who have already made decisions about their future," Hayes says. "It's a credit to their ability, persistence and dedication to being high-quality student-athletes."
Returners Dejai Oliver, Willie Medina, Jacob Knott, Stephen Christiansen, Luis "Gabby" Juarbe, Jacob Newberry and Chase Curtis have done an excellent job embracing their responsibilities and helping the newcomers understand the direction and expectations of the program, Hayes says. They all are expected to make major contributions to the team this season and to help shape the future of Raider baseball.
"These athletes have matured so much and prepared themselves for success in a very short amount of time," Hayes says. "I could not be prouder of the strides they've made, and I know they are all destined for success."
The Raiders' biggest strength this year is their pitching staff, Hayes says. Led by First-Team All-MFC honoree Oliver, MFC Fireman of the Year Knott, and Newberry, and backed by highly-recruited newcomers Joe Lovecchio, Garrett Bush and Corben Madden, the staff should possess electric and diverse options that can match up with any opposing offensive lineup.
"The leadership of our three returners and the great talent we have backing them up could make this pitching staff the best in the state," Hayes says. "It will be fun to watch them progress throughout the season."
Anchoring the infield this year is All-MFC Honorable Mention Willie Medina, who brings a high level of athleticism, leadership and excitement to the shortstop position. Christiansen, a Second-Team All-MFC first baseman, also will have a major presence in the infield as well as in the middle of the batting lineup.
Newcomer Todd Hankins, an Oviedo High School graduate, will take over second-base duties and hit at the top of the lineup.
Two additional Seminole County high-school products, Edwin Rolon, of Lake Howell High School, and Gyvan Delancer, of Lyman High School, will look to solidify the infield at third base. Rolon and Delancer both have a lot of talent and the potential to perform at very high levels, Hayes says.
Right-fielder Chase Curtis, the lone returner from the outfield, will lead a group of exciting and athletic student-athletes, Hayes says. Transfer Martin Kelly will command center field and hit in the middle of the lineup. Freshmen Tyler Lesch and Brandon Singer will play left field and should serve vital roles in the team's success.
The receiving, handling and maintenance of the pitching staff will be critical to the Raiders' success in 2011, Hayes says. Juarbe, a designated hitter and Second-Team All-MFC honoree, will handle the lead catching duties. His energy, quickness and continued development behind the plate, along with his superior hitting ability, make him one of the most well-rounded catchers in the state, Hayes says.
Freshman Matt Morningstar brings significant value to the position as a quality receiver who truly understands the game. His abilities, Hayes says, will bring legitimate depth to a very crucial position.
Freshman Dylan Marston will spend time as a back up and occasionally serve as the Raiders' designated hitter.
The Raiders began the 2011 season Jan. 28, going 0-4 before rallying to win seven straight in their first few weeks of play.
On Wednesday, Feb. 9, the Raiders upset State College of Florida — the then-No. 3 team in the nation — 4-0 on the road.
"The beginning of the season is always a time for adjusting and perfecting our game," Hayes says. "We hit a rough patch right off the bat, but we didn't let it get the best of us. The fact that we came back to shut out three teams and win seven in a row is a testament to this group's perseverance."
Conference play starts March 2 with a home game against College of Central Florida.
"I am very excited about what the future holds for this group," Hayes says. "We have a very challenging start to our season, but we also have the talent, character and determination to pull off wins. I'd like to see us continue to grow together and carry that momentum into our conference schedule."
All Raider home events are free to Seminole State students, faculty and staff with a valid Seminole State ID. Admission is also available to the general public for a small fee. For more information, and to view the Raiders' complete season schedule, please visit the Seminole State baseball home page.
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