APPLETON, Wis. — Don’t be fooled by the Lawrence University baseball roster and its 20 players. While the contingent is small, these Vikings are talented, versatile and can really swing the lumber.
The Vikings return seven position starters and four experienced pitchers from a season ago. Lawrence opens its season with four games this weekend on the turf in Jacksonville, Ill.
“We’re athletic and we can hit,” said Lawrence coach Jason Anderson, who was quick to praise his team’s attitude and work ethic. “Our leadership from our captains (Brandon Klar, Kyle Duex, Travis Weber) has been unbelievable. We’re in great shape. We’re focused. We’re excited to be at the ballpark. Frankly, this is one of the more fun groups I’ve coached, and we haven’t played a game yet.”
Lawrence returners are paced by junior Matt Holliday and sophomore Nolan Spencer, both 2016 All-Midwest Conference selections. Holliday, who will start at first when he’s not pitching, hit .412 last season with seven doubles, a triple, two homers and 17 runs batted in. He also went 4-1 on the hill with a 3.56 earned run average.
“Holliday has a chance to be one of the best hitters ever here,” Anderson said. “I expect him to keep doing his thing. He looks the same, if not better, going into this season.”
Spencer hit a team-high .413 last season with three doubles, two triples, 21 runs scored, 15 RBIs and 16 stolen bases while playing shortstop. He was the first Lawrence freshman to lead the team in hitting and bat .400 since Chris LeFever hit .400 in 1990.
Other starters back from a team that hit .302 last season are catcher Travis Weber (.336 BA, 24 RBIs), outfielder/pitcher Zach Rabideau (.337, 13 RBIs), center fielder Andrew Lauber (.331, 29 RBIs), utility man Anthony Ortiz (.243, 11 RBIs) and second baseman Brandon Klar (.216). Add to the mix junior first baseman Cole Erickson (.284, 14 RBIs), who started 20 games a season ago.
“This team can hit, for sure,” Anderson said. “We’re pretty athletic. We will be able to run the bases pretty well. We’ll see if we can make the routine play and lower the number of walks we give up.”
In that group of starters, only Klar is a senior.
“We are very experienced even though we are very young. The majority of guys who are going to play are juniors and sophomores,” Anderson said.
Spencer and Lauber were sensational as rookies, and Anderson believes this group of freshmen is just as gifted. Catchers Tony Caputa, Ethan Jones and Patrick McDonnell, first baseman Rudy Mueller-Schrader, infielder Mike Brady and utility man Reno Zemrak are all freshmen who could have an immediate impact.
“This could be one of the most talented freshmen classes I’ve had,” Anderson said.
The pitching staff is led by Holliday and juniors Kyle Duex, who had a breakout season in 2016, Rabideau and Craig Batchelor. Duex, who won a pair of games last season, is strictly a pitcher this spring after catching in his first two seasons.
Brady and another newcomer, Brad Olson, will vie for starting roles, and rookies Caputa and Jones figure to be key contributors in the bullpen.
“Even though we only have 20 guys on the roster, we have 14 pitchers,” Anderson said.