Potomac State Catamounts to open with great lineup

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Frankfort High grad Zack Whitacre will once again be at shortstop when the Potomac State College Catamounts open their baseball season.

By Roy Harper

Potomac State College

KEYSER - As a creature of habit, Doug Little is restless. So many of the things that the 24-year head baseball coach of Potomac State College used to take for granted are now seen as treasures.

“I'm just looking forward to the pregame meeting with the umpires in our first game, from there we'll just take it one thing at a time.”

Just like everyone else in college baseball, the Catamounts had their 2020 season ended abruptly by the COVID-19 pandemic in early March. They had played just 12 games.

“For baseball coaches we get so accustomed to a routine, so this has been a challenge in so many ways,” Little said.   “From the safety of the players to multiple schedule changes- it has been a challenge.”  Little and his team gets tested two times a week for the virus.

“We are so fortunate to have biweekly testing at Potomac State. Like everyone else we want to play games, but we understand the need to keep everyone as safe as possible.”

After playing 14 intrasquad games in the fall, Little is looking forward to playing someone else.

“We almost had a full fall season and it was a credit to our players, coaches and trainers following the protocols and making sacrifices so that we could stay on the field through late October.”

Now, hopefully, the real season begins this week.  Almost one calendar year since they last played.

So, what gives Little cause for optimism as the 2021 season is set to begin?

“I like our team,” he says.  “I’m not sure that is always the case at this point of the year.  But these guys have put in the time and waited so long, I just know that we can be a decent team.”

With depth on the mound the Catamounts have not seen in some time, Little once again is quietly optimistic.  

“It's so hard to find solid pitching, he lamented.  “We feel like we have some decent arms and some more guys on the back end that are on the cusp of being really good.”

As one of just two three-year players on the roster, Brandon Schaeffer starts as the ace of the staff.  Two years ago, Schaeffer was as good as anyone in the country with a 7-1 record a and an ERA of just 1.82. The southpaw struck out 85 and walked just 15 in 54 1/3 innings pitched.

After dealing with some arm issues a year ago, the Auburn, Pennsylvania, native is healthy and ready to return to form in 2021

“I completely expect big things from Brandon.  He is so mature and polished and has worked so hard to get back to this position.  Not to get ahead of ourselves, but someone at the next level is going to get a real steal.  I think he could pitch for anyone in the country.”

Joining Schaeffer at the top of the rotation will be returner covid-freshman Ashton Staubs.  The Martinsburg product went 2-1 and struck out 22 and walked just eight in 16 innings a year ago.

“Ashton really could be good, says Little. “He has the stuff and the makeup; he just lacks the reps that he would have gotten a year ago; we have a few guys like that.”

Two more examples of pitchers that need reps are a pair of southpaws in Avery Heiple, (Somerset, Pennsylvania) and Jonathan Money, (Mt. Airy, Maryland).  Despite a boatload of talent, Heiple struggled in the shortened 2020 season.

“I swear he's not even the same kid he was a year ago”, says Little.  “He is so improved, so much more confident.  He had a stellar fall campaign and I think he is poised to have a breakout season.”

“Money has also grown so much in a year. He had flashes of greatness last season and we expect big things again this year. These two guys are so close to being shut down arms for us I can't wait for them to get out there and show what we can what they're capable of.”

Returners Dalton Benson, (Fairfield, Virginia), MacHugh Messier, (Madison, Connecticut) and Jared Adams, Jefferson, Georgia) are expected to take on an expanded role in 2021.

Little also can't wait to see what a quartet of true freshmen can do this season on the mound.

Heading that group is Robert Kelley, (Vienna, Virginia). The young right-hand pitcher had an impressive fall season and has the look of a frontline starter.

“He definitely pitches with an edge”, said Little.  “He has a live arm and he should continue to get better. We think he can win a lot of games and be a mainstay in our rotation all season.”

Other true freshmen Little believes are ready to contribute are: Jake Arnold, (Hummelstown, Pennsylvania), Jackson Taylor, (Berryville, Virginia), Matt Kerns, (Capon Bridge), James Riddel, (Weyers Cave, Virginia), Matthew Eaton, (Newville, Pennsylvania),  Hunter Ridgeway, Lewisburg), and Seth Wolfe, (Beckley).

“We all know that in baseball, it all starts on the mound, said Little. “This group of pitchers really has a chance to keep us in games and all have a high ceiling to continue to develop and get better.”  

When it comes to scoring runs this season, the Catamounts are again led by a third-year player in Dale Houser.

Two years ago, Houser was one of the top hitters in all NJCAA Division 1 Baseball, leading the country in hitting for much of the season.

The Maytown, Pennsylvania, native ended the 2019 campaign with a batting average of 426 scored 37 runs, had 49 hits, eight doubles, six triples and two home runs. A year ago, Houser got off to a slow start, but he hopes to return to form in 2021.

“It feels like it’s been a long time coming,” said Houser.  “We have been waiting so long and we are all just so ready to get back on the field.”

Returning from a year ago will be seven covid-freshman who will all be in the mix for the Catamount line up.

Graham Brown, (Middletown, Maryland), Caleb Taylor, (Morgantown),  Devon Neal, (Morgantown), Preston Taylor, (Charleston) Josh Hoffman, (Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania),  Trevor Thomas, (Wheeling) and Zack Whitacre, (Short Gap) all look to garner heavy playing time for PSC.

“At the JUCO level there is such a jump from the first year to second year,” said Potomac State assistant coach Don Schafer.  “These guys obviously never got the chance to get those game day reps a season ago, but they have all put in time to make up for it and are all ready be major contributors this year.”

Other returners for the Catamounts are Nick Wright, (Martinsburg), Bryce Turner, (Broadway, Virginia) and Easton Petitt, (Barboursville).

Newcomers Anthony Swenda, (Bridgeport, Pennsylvania),  Chance Satcho, (Pittsburgh), Dakota Miller, (Newport, Ohio), Sami Khan, (Sykesville, Maryland) and Jack Hoeymans, (McLean, Virginia) all flashed some brilliance in the fall season and look to compete for playing time.

Around the horn, Devon Neal looks to be the man at first base to begin the season.

“He will be right in the middle of our lineup,” said Schafer.  “His potential is off the charts, if he can put it all together- lookout.”

There is depth at first base as well as Nick Wright, Matt Kerns and Dylan Perry (Baltimore) provide some mix-and match options for the Catamounts.

At second base, Graham Brown will be the opening day starter.  

“Thus far he has done nothing but produce,” says Schafer.  “He led us in hitting both of his fall seasons and I expect nothing less this spring.  He has all the tools to be a solid hitter.”

Providing depth at second will be Bryce Turner and Chance Satcho.

At shortstop, Zack Whitacre gets the nod, just as he did a year ago.  

“Zack has grown so much as a player,” said Schafer.  “His transformation has been exceptional, and it is all his doing; he has worked so hard to become a really good player.”

The hot-corner has competition as returner Trevor Thomas and newcomer Anthony Swenda battle it out for the starting spot. In addition, Dale Houser spent much of the 2019 season manning 3rd base and will get some time there as well.

Behind the plate, Caleb Taylor looks to get much of the playing time.  

“Caleb is a gritty, old-school gamer,” says Schafer.  “He comes from the mold that is becoming harder and harder to find; kids that just love to play. He also really catches the ball and calls the game well. But his offense is what sets him apart from other catchers.”

Providing depth for Taylor will be newcomers Wil Schoonover, (Moorefield) and Liam McKenzie (Keyser).

In the outfield, Potomac State has multiple options.  Maybe too many options.

“It is a good problem to have,” said Schafer. “There are lots of moving parts to figuring out a lineup, and having so many good players makes it tough, but it is better than the alternative.”

Dale Houser and Josh Hoffman both make the jump to the outfield after making the transition this fall after being infielders most of their careers.  

“They can both cover so much ground it just made sense to make the move,” Schafer added. “It also allows us some versatility if we need them back in the infield.”

Joining them will be Preston Taylor, Easton Petitt, Dakota Miller, Sami Kahn, Ryan Shoemaker (Keyser), Jack Hoeymans, and Clay Maholic, (Morgantown).

“There is a lot of talent in that list,” said Schafer. “There is not one guy there that cannot help us win games and from time to time all will be asked to do so. I like their athleticism and the depth they give us.”

Potomac State’s spring schedule has already undergone so many changes it is made settling into a routine a challenge for the Catamounts.

“We have stressed to our guys that this year we may have to start and stop if we have a COVID case, or if other teams do,” says Little. “We just have to be ready for anything, games being moved, changed or canceled will be more frequent this season- we just have to deal with it.”

The Catamounts open their home season March 10 for a pair of games with Garrett College beginning at 1 p.m.