APPLETON, Wis. — It’s a bit of an all-or-nothing proposition for the Lawrence University baseball team.
On one hand, the Vikings bring an experienced team to the field with nine seniors when they open this season Saturday in Jacksonville, Ill. On the flip side, Lawrence will have to rely on nine freshmen to play key roles this spring.
“This is an interesting group because we are really experienced, and we’re really young at the same time,” said head coach Jason Anderson, who is starting his seventh season at Lawrence with a squad of 19 players.
Lawrence, which posted a 6-27 record a season ago, returns an experienced group in the field and on the mound, but the rookies were quickly incorporated into the team. The Vikings manned a concession stand at Lambeau Field in the fall, and the team bonded while selling hot dogs, nachos and soda.
“They are pretty close off the field. That’s been a nice bonus from doing all the fundraising stuff we’ve done,” Anderson said. “It was a chance for those guys to get to know each other and work together.”
The core of Lawrence’s team is led by senior center outfielder Jake Gordon, who received a bevy of postseason awards in 2014. Gordon was named to the All-Midwest Conference North Division team, earned second-team D3baseball.com All-Central Region accolades and was chosen for the Jewish Sports Review All-America team.
Gordon hit .400 last season with nine doubles, one triple, one homer, a team-high 30 runs scored and 14 runs batted in. Gordon compiled a team-record 54 hits and posted 16 multi-hit games. He also tied the school record with five hits in a game in Lawrence’s 24-11 win over Carroll.
While Gordon helps set the table, senior designated hitter Luke Zablocki can power the Lawrence offense. Zablocki, the starting right tackle on the football team, hit .354 last season with eight doubles, four homers and 19 RBIs in a season limited to 19 games by injury.
Lawrence also returns senior Joel Birch in left field, and either senior Tim Kinsella or freshmen Zach Rabideau or Carl Olsen will play in right.
The infield returns senior shortstop Davis Ogilvie and sophomore second baseman Brandon Klar. Ogilvie hit .253 last season with a pair of homers and 11 RBIs, and Klar hit .209. Matthew Holliday, who hails from Hong Kong, looks like the starter at third, and rookie Anthony Ortiz will see serious time on the infield as well. Freshman Jake Mills could be the guy to replace the graduated Sam Kossow at first.
“Between Hootie (Zablocki’s nickname), Holliday and Davis, we have guys who can drive runs in,” Anderson said. “All three of those guys are legitimate power guys.”
There is no question a rookie will be behind the plate since the only two catchers on the squad are freshmen Travis Weber and Kyle Duex. In addition to their fellow freshmen, they will be catching an experienced group of pitchers.
The Vikings return seniors Drew Doares, Philip Clark, Atley Gay and Kelton Jenkins to the mound. The hard-throwing Ogilvie figures to be the Vikings’ closer.
“That’s our core group of pitchers,” Anderson said. “They have all pitched a ton since they were freshmen, and they will all pitch on the weekends.”
Doares had a team-best three wins last season, and Ogilvie held opponents to just a .250 batting average. Another season with pitching coach Chris Krepline should help the returning hurlers, and Anderson is very high on Holliday and Rabideau.
“The freshmen are playing better than expected,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t seem like they are freshmen. However, we haven’t played any games yet so we are cautiously optimistic about those guys. All of them are going to have to play in some way shape or form.”
While Anderson likes his tight-knit squad, freshmen can still play like, well, freshmen.
“We certainly could be very good, but when half of your team is freshmen, you don’t know until you get out there,” Anderson said. “This group is very focused in practice, and I’ve been very happy with that. We’ve gotten better every day in practice, and that’s all I can ask for.”