Howard College‚Äôs Michael Franco, the Western Junior College Athletic Conference pitcher of the year in 2011, anchors a strong group of returning starters as the Hawks prepare for the start of the 2012 season. (Courtesy photo)
Howard College baseball is no stranger to national rankings, and this year will be no different if all goes as planned. The ‚ÄúPerfect Game‚ÄĚ preseason poll announced Wednesday has the Hawks perched in the No. 1 slot for the 2012 season.
‚ÄúWe are at a point in our program right now where we feel that we should be competing for a shot at the national title every year,‚ÄĚ said Britt Smith, head coach and HC athletic director.
‚ÄúBut at the same time, we focus completely on the process as coaches, sharing our expectations with the players and pushing them to play up to those expectations. That keeps us from dwelling on the results and polls too much.‚ÄĚ
Few fans have forgotten the historic 2009 season that brought the National Junior College Athletic Association Divi. I baseball championship to Howard, but with a new roster preparing for the season, Smith thinks he has an outstanding chance for a run at the title.
‚ÄúWe have a solid group of returners from the 2011 team and probably have one of the most talent-rich classes that we have brought in at Howard as far as our new recruits,‚ÄĚ said Smith.
Returners counted on to provide leadership for the team include pitchers Michael Franco ‚ÄĒ who was the WJCAC pitcher of the year as a freshman ‚ÄĒ Austin Blunt and Nick Sawyer.
‚ÄúThe depth of our pitching staff has to be the biggest strength coming into this season,‚ÄĚ added Smith. ‚ÄúWe feel that we have more quality depth than we have ever had on the mound.‚ÄĚ
Other key leaders returning from the 2011 season are Paul Hendrix and Brendan McCurry in the middle infield, Todd Ritchie and Jordan Allen covering the outfield and C.J. Manning as catcher.
Smith feels confident in his defense adding, ‚ÄúHendrix and McCurry are two of the best defenders we have had together in the middle of the diamond and Todd and Jordan bring continuity to the outfield as well.‚ÄĚ
Smith cautioned, however, that preseason polls will have little impact on how much success his team eventually has. ‚Äú
We tell our kids everyday that this program is where it is today based on hard work and self-sacrifice and that is exactly what will get them where they want to go,‚ÄĚ he said.
Coach Smith has not forgotten the support his teams have received from Big Spring and surrounding communities and he conveys that message to his players.
‚ÄúWe want our players to know that although most all of them are from more than 250 miles from home, they are representing a great community of good, honest, hard working people,‚ÄĚ Smith said. ‚ÄúWe want them to know it is their responsibility to make sure they understand what that means and how their decisions and effort not only represent them but this college and community as well.‚ÄĚ
The 2012 season begins Feb. 2-3 with doubleheaders against Frank Phillips College at Jack Barber Field on the HC campus.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre excited, we‚Äôre ready,‚ÄĚ Smith said. ‚ÄúThe team has worked hard and they are ready to compete.‚ÄĚ
The season home openers will kick off at noon on each day. Admission is free.
For more on HC athletics, visit www.hchawk.com.
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