Truly a new era for Oakland City University baseball.
"Tobe Whitten and Austin Morris are our only regulars who played a majority of our innings last season. Our newcomers and other younger players have stepped up," said Coach T. Ray Fletcher, whose Mighty Oaks will take a 19-11 record into Wednesday's 2 p.m. single game at Kentucky Wesleyan in Owensboro.
Ranked No. 7 in the National Christian College Athletic Association's April 2 poll, the Mighty Oaks may move up in the poll to be released this week. They're fresh from Saturday's pair of 4-3 wins, the second game in eight innings, over Hiwassee, whose Tigers arrived in Oakland City with a No. 5 national ranking.
Sunday's scheduled doubleheader was cancelled due to wet grounds.
"Brandon Taylor has stepped up as both pitcher and center fielder," Fletcher said of the senior from Terre Haute North.
"Jenrick Rivera, our backup catcher last season when Caleb Wagner started as a senior, has stepped up as the starter," his coach said of the sophomore from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
"Noah Baugher is batting .380 as our left fielder and lead-off man," Fletcher said of the freshman from Louisville Trinity High. "Devan Franz (junior center fielder and right fielder from Boonville and Vincennes University) is hitting .326 in the No. 2 spot. Colton White (.258) is playing some shortstop and hitting in the 3-hole," his coach said of the sophomore from Pike Central and Vincennes University."
Junior Tyler Shamblin, transfer from Edisson Community College in Ohio, rotates as shortstop and designated hitter and owns a .440 average.
Jacob Bedwell, junior from Washington High and VU, is hitting .291 as third baseman. Austin Morris, sophomore from Terre Haute South, is a .263-hitting second baseman.
Whitten, who followed Wagner through Gibson Southern and Olney Central College, is enjoying his most productive season in a college college career interrupted by injuries that required Tommy John Surgery and, later, right shoulder surgery.
As pitcher, designated hitter and sometimes first baseman, he's batting .382 with team-leading figures of eight home runs and 29 RBIs, and also is the No. 1 pitcher with a 7-1 record, 3.13 earned run average and 64 strikeouts around 29 hits and just 10 walks in 37 ⅓ innings.
"Tobe is past his injuries and back to full-strength. As a hitter he's waiting on pitches he can drive. As a ptcher he has command of his fastball, curve and changeup," said Fletcher, in his 25th season as head coach.
As a moundsman, Whitten is backed by Tecumseh-bred junior Tristen Cummings, owner of a 3-1 record and 4.81 ERA.
Justin Hallum, freshman from Madisonville, Ky., and the University of Pikeville, owna a 3-0 record and a save; he worked a scoreless seventh inning to save Whitten's 4-3 win over Hiwassee in Saturday's opener..
Isaiah Barber, freshman from Scottsburg, owns a 2-0 record and 2.13 ERA, his second win via a scoreless eighth inning in Saturday's nightcap, when Princeton Community-bred junior Kyle Stuckey entered as a pinch runner and scored game-winning run on a balk.
Their 19-11 record, a turnabout from 13-28 in 2018, hints that the Mighty Oaks will finish with their first winning log since going 17-15 in 2011.
They'll host the NCCAA Mid-East Regional May 13-16. "Our goal is to reach the national tournament," Fletcher said of the May 20-25 NCCAA Championships May 20-25 in Easley, S.S.