Chiefs will live and die by experience on diamond
March 30, 2011 | 09:47 AMWalworth — The Big Foot baseball squad will play the role of underdog this season.
Although seven starters are back including all-conference center fielder Mike Kunes and top pitcher Luke Kahl, the Chiefs have been picked by the other division coaches to finish last in the six-team Rock Valley South this season.
That's just fine with coach Steve Bochat, whose squad ended up in fifth place out of six in the division last year.
"We had a 4-19 record last year, but there were only one or two games we were out of," Bochat said. "With seven returning starters, I'm excited about our potential. Our seniors are stepping up with their leadership. It's nice that we are junior- and senior-dominated."
The Chiefs lost shortstop Steve Dowden and third baseman Matt Long from last year, but the returning players include the entire pitching staff.
Kunes, a senior, has been an all-Rock Valley selection the last two seasons. Joining him in the outfield will be senior returner Jordan Gottman and junior David Crump. Other returners will include senior catcher Kyle Collins, senior pitcher Vaughn Bourassa and juniors Zak Quick, Kahl, Tyler Santeler and Ryan Recknagel.
Bochat is excited about the team's pitching staff, which features Kahl, Gottman, Bourassa, Quick, Recknagel and juniors Marcello Ramon and Matt Molitor.
"We have five good starters and a couple of good middle relievers," Bochat said. "This is Kahl's third year pitching on varsity. He beat some very good teams last year, but he had to pitch too much. Now, we have starters around Kahl. We don't have a door-shutter, but we have a lot of good pitchers."
Recknagel, Molitor and sophomore Billy Landers will battle for the shortstop and third base holes left by Dowden and Long.
"If we get somebody to step up on the left side of the infield, we'll be pretty competitive," Bochat said.
Carter Hehr, a sophomore who joined the squad at the end of the season last year, will return at second base.
Bochat also is looking forward to the contributions of newcomers Ramon and James Kirby, a sophomore.
"Ramon has really picked up his attitude," Bochat said. "He could be a surprise. I'm hoping for big things from him. Kirby provides a really good bat."
Overall, Bochat said the team's pitching and hitting will be solid. Now in his third year as head coach, he expects the Big Foot program to return to its winning ways.
"Our goal is to be over .500 this year," he said. "Anytime you take over a program, it should take five years. We've shown baby steps, but it's time to start putting wins together. Finishing above .500 is a big goal, but we're good enough to be there. I hope our senior leadership carries over into the season. The sky's the limit for these guys."
Bochat said the Rock Valley South will be stacked with Clinton, Beloit Turner and Palmyra-Eagle all expected to contend for the title. But Bochat's focus knows his squad can do some great things.
"Our number one goal will be having fun," he said. "The guys are always on me about having fun. But winning is fun. We've struggled lately, but our numbers are back up this year. We have built a solid foundation, and we're ready to win. The RVC South is very tough, but we'll see what happens. We all put our pants on one leg at a time."
Big Foot will open its season Thursday at home against South Beloit, Ill., before a doubleheader Saturday at Waterford. Conference play opens April 5 at home against Edgerton.