5/12/2006 – Daily News Record
Harrisonburg’s Valley League baseball team might not have to wait as long as usual for some key players to finish their college baseball seasons. By Mike Barber Daily News Record The University of Arizona could be on its way to its first losing baseball season since 2000. But bad news for the Wildcats could be good news for the Harrisonburg Turks. Turks owner and manager Bob Wease, as he normally does, has four players on this summer’s roster from Arizona, a team that had qualified for the NCAA tournament each of the last three years. In the past years, that meant Wease and the Turks would open the season sans some of their best players. This year, that shouldn’t be the case. "It’s best to get them in here and get going from the start," Wease said Thursday. "You really don’t know who’s going to be your starters, who’s going to be your players. But, of course, it’s good for the kids to reach the world series because it’s an ultimate dream for all of them." Last season, Arizona lost in the regionals, and the four Wildcats slated to play for the Turks – catcher Matt Denker and pitchers Matt Baugh, Sean Jarrett and Brad Mills – didn’t arrive until mid to late June. Harrisonburg was 9-9 before all four players had joined the team. In 39 games, Denker hit .312 with 22 RBIs, the third most on the team. Mills went 6-0 with a 1.57 ERA, Jarrett was 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA and Baugh was 1-4 with a 5.08 mark. This year, Denker and Baugh are returning to the Turks and, Wease said, should be ready for the start of the season, since Arizona is currently 21-25. Baugh said playing in the Valley League was an enjoyable experience after a long college season. "Coming from Arizona, it’s real intense," Baugh said. "It’s kind of relaxing coming to the Turks. You just work on what you need to work on for the next year." Teams’ histories of reaching and making runs in the tournament are something the NCAA-sanctioned Valley League squads take into consideration as they put rosters together. The New Market Rebels avoid top-level Division I schools all together, building a roster primarily of D-II players, team president and general manager Bruce Alger said. "We tend to, for the most part, stay away from those teams that a have a good chance to go to the College World Series," Alger said. "We try to put together a roster every year where we have 90 to 95 percent of our players here on opening day." Targeting lower-level players hasn’t hurt New Market’s on-field performance. The Rebels have appeared in the championship series three of the past four years. With the Turks, Wease still goes after big-time talent, but not to the same extend he did five years ago. "I used to get players from Miami and LSU and all these other teams," Wease said. "I sort of steer away from them because, if you look at them, they’re always in the world series and the world series won’t be over until June 28, 29. You take three or four days off, get your apartment cleaned out and everything. By the time you get here, there’s five games left in the season." Still, the Turks do have a pair of players from fourth-ranked Florida State, which has reached the tourney each of the last 28 years, on the roster this summer. Pitcher Stephen Ochs played for the Turks last year and, while the Seminoles reached the super regionals, Ochs wasn’t on the traveling squad. He started the Turks’ third game of the season, tossing seven scoreless innings as Harrisonburg beat New Market, 5-1. This year, Ochs is redshirting, Wease said, and should report to the Turks on time again. His teammate, freshman pitcher Jimmy Marshall, will be a late arrival. Marshall, who also catches and plays in the outfield for FSU, will be with the team through the postseason. San Francisco, which is sending two of the Turks’ top two returning players in outfielders Scott Cousins and Lucas DeLong, is in the hunt for its first postseason appearance in school history. Cousins played 16 games for the Turks before his summer was cut short when he was hit by a pitch on the left hand and missed the rest of the season. At the time, Cousins was hitting .362 with a home run and seven RBIs. This season for the Dons (33-19), Cousins is batting .330 with five home runs and 39 RBIs. Even if the Dons miss the NCAA tournament, Cousins might not play a full year with the Turks. If he doesn’t lose players on the front end, Wease said, sometimes he loses them after the season starts to the major league draft. Cousins and first baseman Clint Robinson (Troy) are both likely high draft picks this year, Wease said.