by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
The good news on the Kansas City Kansas Community College baseball program – 75 wins in the past two seasons. The bad news is most of the key ingredients in those 75 wins will be lost via graduation.
Gone will be eight full-time starters and the ace of the pitching staff of a team that finished 34-26 this season.
“Great kids who worked hard but we just didn’t get off to a good start,” said KCKCC head coach Matt Goldbeck.
Opening East Jayhawk Conference play against the five teams that would finish in the bottom half of the league, the Blue Devils were 11-9 before going 6-10 against the four top teams in the final four series of the season.
“Decent teams but teams we should have beat,” Goldbeck said of the disappointing start.
One-run decisions also hurt the Blue Devils. More than half of the conference losses in a 17-19 season were by one run as they finished just 5-10 in games decided by a single run.
Statistically, there was a wealth of outstanding performances. As a team, the Blue Devils batted .348 while the pitching staff held opponents to a .248 average. They also out-scored foes 470-341, averaging 7.8 runs per games.
Individually, the Blue Devils were led by the starting outfield of Josh Schumacher, Rorey Combs and Tyler Pittman who combined for 209 hits, 176 runs, 62 extra base hits and 130 runs-batted-in.
Batting leadoff, Schumacher led the Blue Devils in hitting (.387), runs (74) and stolen bases (18) while driving in 34 runs; Combs was second in RBI (51) while hitting .340 with seven home runs; and Pittman was fourth in RBI (45) and hitting .332 with 16 stolen bases and 11 sacrifice hits.
Their performances earned all three scholarships to four-year programs, Schumacher at Central Missouri; Combs at Washburn; and Pittman at Emporia State. Second baseman Brigham Mooney, who hit .298 with 44 RBI, has also signed with Emporia State.
In addition to Mooney, infield losses will include first baseman Brandon Still, third in hitting at .342 with 46 RBI; third baseman Brandon Green, who hit .309 before being sidelined by injury the final 20 games; and catcher Adam North, who hit .257 in 45 games.
Also departing will be the Blue Devils’ most versatile player, Gavin Gifford. The designated hitter who also saw action at first base, Gifford hit .288 with 42 RBI. He also compiled a 3.38 earned run average on the mound, picking up a win and a save in KCKCC’s playoff sweep of Butler County.
Cole Gacke heads the list of losses in the pitching department. A righthander, Gacke was 10-2 on the season with 70 strikeouts, 24 walks and a 5.06 ERA in 83 innings. Gone from the bullpen will be lefthander Allan Brown, who was 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 10 appearances; Julian Rivera (3-2 and 5.14) in a team high 22 games; and Gunner Vestal (1-1) with a 4.38 ERA in 16 games.
Only freshman shortstop Kevin Santiago will return as a full-time starter. Finishing a point back of Schumacher for the lead in hitting, Santiago batted .386 while leading the team in home runs (11), runs-batted-in (63); extra base hits (35) and slugging percentage (.575). Kemper Bednar, who hit .250 in 20 games at third base; and catcher Jared Goodfellow, who hit .211 in 30 games (23 starts) also return.
The returning strength will in the starting pitching where four freshmen had seven or more starts in 2018. Orlando Oritz (3-6, 6.26) made 13 starts and led in strikeouts with 91; Carlos Soto (4-7, 5.05) started 11 times, completing six; Victor Gotay (3-3, 3.94) made 10 starts; and Bret Snider (2.2, 4.08) got seven starts after coming off the injured list. Reliever Paxton Hunter (3-1) also returns.
“We’ll have to build around the pitching staff and Kevin Santiago,” said Goldbeck, who is 115-68 (.628) in his three seasons as Blue Devil head coach.