With core returning, Buster baseball in good shape.
By ADAM HOLT
It's not easy to take a roster full of freshmen and stay near the top of the Jayhawk Conference, let alone make it to the Region VI tournament in Wichita.
But Garden City Community College head baseball coach Chris Finnegan and the Broncbusters did just that. The stay in Wichita was brief — GCCC lost both its games and was eliminated — but mixed in with the disappointment was the acknowledgment that the experience should pay off next year.
" ... Anything's bitter when you go 0-2 in the playoffs," Finnegan said. "Especially when you make it all the way to Wichita, and you don't play very well. But it's a huge learning lesson for our guys and our program, the direction we're still going. And what these now-sophomores have to improve on, and what their goals should be. It's not just hosting first round. It's not just getting to Wichita. It's playing in Wichita. You play well in Wichita, anything can happen. That's one of the main steps we'll really have to harp and produce mentally out of them once fall ball starts."
The Busters lose five sophomores, but return most of the core that helped Garden City go 20-12 in division play, 28-27 overall, and sweep its first-round playoff series. Returning are all-conference performers Tyler Alitz, Rocky Desantis, Bradley Spires and Kaleb Zimmer, along with starting pitchers Jake Eikleberry and Brooks Trujillo.
"We re-signed our sophomores that we needed to re-sign, and for the most part, the rest of them are coming back," Finnegan said. "I think our signing group of incoming freshmen are a very, very valuable part of what's going on here. I think it's gonna give us a lot of depth in a lot of places we probably didn't have a lot of depth last year. It's also gonna force a lot of competition. Guys have to show up every single day."
Part of the adjustment with so many freshmen this past season was getting the players used to working every day, Finnegan said. That includes balancing studies with more rigorous practice and game schedules than in high school.
"A lot of it's just the figuring out, the mentality," Finnegan said. "A lot of these guys are used to playing — I hate to call it laid-back baseball — but it's different. "
Finnegan refrained from mentioning any names to watch in the incoming class, but said the Busters should have a good fall with good depth at all positions.
The Busters' somewhat surprising performance in 2013, where they were a win away from a share of a second-straight Jayhawk West title, resulted in coach of the year honors for Finnegan. Next season should be more akin to 2012's campaign, where a sophomore-heavy squad went 37-21 overall.
But Finnegan's seen plenty in his nine years as GCCC head coach, and said even with experience, it might not be easy. There's still plenty of learning to do.
"We've got to start off on the right foot," he said. "I think last year, in 2012, we had an older group, and we kind of thought we had it figured out at the beginning of the year. We can't let that happen going into this next year.
"But a lot of it is to see how much different they can handle things, The one-run game, we have to handle better. This year, at times, we got into tight situations where we had opportunities to take over a game or tie a game, but we didn't do it because mentally, we weren't ready to perform at that level. We weren't mentally prepared to get that big hit."