FOREST CITY – Possessing plenty of offensive production, the Waldorf College baseball team is looking to generate success this season.
"We have a number of guys that can hit to all fields as well as leave the yard," Waldorf coach Joe Tautges said. "The key to this is making sure our guys stay within themselves and not trying to do too much."
The Warriors return an experienced core led by Derek Breit, who earned All-Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference (MCAC) Second Team honors last season.
Breit led Waldorf in virtually every offensive category in 2014, posting team-highs with a .303 batting average and 36 total hits. The senior shortstop from Rockford, Ill. also led the Warriors with three home runs, 12 doubles and 23 RBIs. Breit finished second on the team with 18 runs scored and was also second in stolen bases, collecting 12 steals in 18 attempts.
"We have a number of guys in the starting lineup that were starters last year as well and understand what it takes to be successful," said Tautges, who enters his first season as Waldorf's head coach.
White tied for second for the Warriors with 35 hits last season. He sported a .276 batting average while ending the year with one homer, 15 RBIs and 14 runs scored.
Alexander provided 25 hits and drove in 15 runs. Bezayiff finished with 17 hits, including five doubles.
Manna and Keeran are two of Waldorf's top returning pitchers.
In 2014, Manna recorded a team-best 3.38 earned run average last season. He held opposing hitters to a .263 average and struck out 14 batters in 34 and two-third innings.
Keeran turned in a 1-2 record and a 3.96 ERA, providing quality innings as a sophomore. The Clear Lake native notched 20 strikeouts and opposing hitters batted .279 against him.
Bauer appeared on the mound in 15 games. Querin, seniors Reid Gilbertson and sophomore Dave Erickson also have pitching experience. Freshmen Lucas McKeon and Adam Kovash are additions to the pitching staff.
Villarreal, a sophomore from Riverside, Calif., brings versatility to the team and can also do damage in the batter's box.
"He is a utility-type guy that will play in the outfield, infield, as well as getting a few innings on the mound for us," Tautges said. "He has a great approach at the plate and I expect him to be one of our top hitters."
Mallo, a freshman outfielder from Oak Lawn, Ill., brings tremendous defensive abilities.
"He is a guy that can run down a ball in the outfield as well as anybody we have had in the past few years," Tautges said. "He gets great reads off the bat and takes good routes."
Seniors Casey Smith, Erik Guererro, juniors Ryan McCabe and Isaiah Lufkin also return for Waldorf. Junior catcher Elvin Nunez is a transfer from Iowa Lakes Community College. Jordan Jewell and Jacob Tedesco join the team as freshmen infielders.
"Every one of our guys needs to understand their roles on the team," Tautges said. "Whether they are a starter or a guy off the bench, everyone will have to do their part. There is no 'I' or 'me' in baseball. We will win as a team and lose as a team."
The Warriors were originally scheduled to open the season Feb. 20-21 at Topeka, Kan., but inclement weather forced the first eight games to be canceled.
Waldorf begins the 2015 campaign in Sunday's 1 p.m. doubleheader against Mount Marty College (3-0) at Yankton, S.D.
"Mont Marty will be a good challenge for our guys to start the season," Tautges said. "They have played a few games already, so they will have a bit of an edge on us."
Solid pitching being backed up by reliable defense is a major key for the Warriors as they take on the Lancers.
"To be successful in the opening weekend, pitchers will have to throw strikes and make guys put the ball in play," Tautges said. "Defensively, we will need to make the plays we are supposed to make."
Staying patient at the plate is also important for Waldorf's hitters.
"Hitters will be a little anxious because it will be the first time seeing live pitching," Tautges said. "It will be important to be patient, see some pitches and have quality at-bats."
The Warriors turned in a 7-32 record last season and tied for sixth place with Central Christian College in the MCAC standings with a 4-20 league record.
Oklahoma Wesleyan University (9-3), ranked No. 3 in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) preseason poll, won the 2014 MCAC regular-season championship with a 23-1 league record. The Eagles also won the conference tournament title. Bellevue University (6-2), ranked No. 12, earned runner-up honors in the regular-season race and MCAC Tournament.
Waldorf opens conference play March 13-14 against College of the Ozarks (0-2), playing four games at Point Lookout, Mo.
Nineteen home games appear on the Warriors' schedule. The home opener is a three-game series with Lincoln Christian University (0-0) on March 20-21.
After missing out on the postseason last year, Waldorf has an obvious goal.
"Our No. 1 goal is to make the conference tournament," Tautges said. "We have a number of seniors that have been here their entire college careers and have missed out on the conference tournament each year by one game."
Qualifying for the MCAC Tournament is at the top of the list for the Warriors' senior leaders.
"These guys especially are chomping at the bit to finally get that feeling," Tautges said. "If you make the conference tournament, anything can happen."
Playing in a tough conference, it'll take a full-out team effort for Waldorf to contend and advance to the postseason.
"To be successful, we will need to compete every pitch and be consistent," Tautges said. "Our pitchers will need to keep us in the game and our defense is going to have to make plays. If we can do these things, we will be in every game and be competitive."