February 10, 2016

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

CARTERVILLE – The 2016 spring baseball season gets under way Friday afternoon for John A. Logan College. The Volunteers will take on perennial national powerhouse, Central Alabama, in a four-game series in Alexander City, Ala. Doubleheaders are scheduled for both Friday and Saturday.

“We enjoy going down there. It’s a great facility and Central Alabama is an outstanding program, which won the national title in 2013,” said Logan head coach Jerry Halstead. “Hopefully, we’ll have good weather this weekend and will bring home some wins.”

Halstead begins his 33rd year at the helm of the Volunteers and has posted a career record of 1,248-701. The Carterville native and former SIU standout pitcher said his Logan ballclub is loaded with experience as there are no fewer than 13 returning lettermen from a team that finished 27-17 a year ago and won the Great Rivers Athletic Conference championship.

“I think we have a lot to be excited about,” Halstead said. “And because we won the GRAC, we’re going to have a big bull’s eye on our back. We’ll have to come ready to play day in and day out.”

The Vols’ starting pitching would appear to be a strong suit as led by Matthias Dietz, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound righthander, who switches back from the bullpen to the starting rotation. Dietz, who recently accepted a scholarship from Texas Christian University, was clocked as high as 98 miles-per-hour with his fastball last fall after topping out at 93 to 94 mph last spring.

“I didn’t do much throwing last summer. I just lifted a lot of weights and gained about 30 pounds,” Dietz said. “When I came back last fall, my fastball had more velocity. That was pretty exciting.”

Dietz is ranked by some publications as the top junior college pitcher in the nation.

Another sophomore in the rotation is Bobby Pennington, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound righthander.

Although his fastball does not touch Dietz’s stratospheric levels, Pennington’s pitch command has improved considerably.

“Having a year of experience under my belt certainly helps,” said the Murray State signee. “I pretty much know what to expect now and am looking forward to the season. Locating my fastball is the key to my success.”

Sophomores Gabe Jelley (6-foot-3, 220) of Zeigler, Peyton Cypress (6-foot-4, 190), and Aaron Novak (6-foot-3, 190) should also push for mound time right away.

Freshman hurlers hoping to make an impact are Noah Thornburg of Carbondale (5-foot-11, 160); Jerred Quertier (6-foot-1, 190); Taylor Grider (6-foot, 190); Clay Newton (6-foot-4, 195); Justin Hoffman of Carbondale (6-foot-1, 175); Josh Scheer (6-foot-3, 215); Patrick McBride (6-foot-4, 225); and Austin Christ (6-foot-8, 215).

Returning hitters include outfielders Jeff Hahs (Campbell University signee), Tyler Horchem and Aaron Fuller, as well as infielders Nate Tholl (second base), Doug Parks (third base) and Tyler Robertson (shortstop/first base).

Logan Kaletha, who twice suffered a broken hand last spring, is healthy once again and penciled into the starting lineup in centerfield.

A trio of catchers includes freshman transfer Colin Butkiewicz, freshman Marshall Gilbert, and sophomore Colton Bryant.

Other freshmen who are pushing for playing time are infielders Cody Birdsong, Lucas Larson, and Ben Smith and outfielder Landen Harris.