A renewed attitude, combined with experience and a few new pitching additions, give the Portales Rams baseball team reason to believe they can do a 180-degree turn from their 7-16 campaign, and possibly make a state tournament run.
“We could go all the way,” senior T.C. Nusser said. “We’ve got some young guys that are throwing good. That’s what we didn’t have in the past.”
The pitching, led by Nusser and senior southpaw Seth Clabaugh, will be the biggest factor in whether the Rams can compete this season, which begins with a 4 p.m. game today against Friona, Texas.
Second-year coach Greg Hill said there are eight players who could potentially start a game on the mound for the Rams.
“We’re going to have two freshmen starting,” Hill said, “so we’ve got to get leadership from the older guys.”
For right now, it looks like only three positions are for sure from game to game: junior Tyler Rutherford as catcher, and a freshman infield combination of third baseman Mario Salazar and shortstop Ryan Acosta.
The other spots fall into place after Hill decides who the starting pitcher is. Clabaugh, Nusser and junior Jacob Lopez could see time at pitcher, first base, third base, the outfield or as the designated hitter.
Meanwhile, seniors Nathan Brown and Kevin Cheatham will either pitch or help senior Briant Banister and junior Todd Mosier patrol the outfield.
“Everything’s a lot better than it was last year,” said Cheatham, who hit .370 last season for Portales. “and it takes all of those things (hitting, pitching, defense) to win games.”
Hill felt that if Cheatham can play to his potential this season, the 6-foot-2, 216-pound senior could end up playing college baseball. On the other hand, Hill feels it’s beneficial that Clabaugh, his top left-hander, will play college football instead.
“Seth’s bigger and stronger and I think he has a better focus,” Hill said. “Signing with Angelo State is going to allow him not to have that pressure (of playing for a college scholarship).”
Clabaugh pitched three perfect innings during Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage, and forms what he and his teammates call the “L-Unit” with fellow southpaws Lopez and junior Tyler Ryen.
Ryen, who has a partial sidearm delivery, came to the Ram roster after three years away from the game. Hill said that 6-foot-4 sophomore Lawrence Gamble could also pitch a few innings.
The Rams start district play April 6 at Lovington, but have 13 games on the pre-district schedule.
Hill thinks the pre-district schedule will be good for the Rams, since it includes Texas teams that already have “a few games under their belt.”
All things considered, though, he feels the team’s fortunes depend on its upperclassmen.
“They’ve got to show leadership, lead by example,” Hill said. “We have leaders that are good kids, that know this is their last year.”
It’s a job Nusser feels he and his senior teammates are ready for.
“With baseball, there’s no one person if falls on,” Nusser said. “Everybody has to do their part. The seniors just have to be leaders every day and work hard and get the younger guys to work just as hard.”