The Lancers are in the midst of a three-year rebuilding process that 35th-year coach Spud O’Neil says is going as planned. However, he admitted that the most important thing about this season is for his team to learn how to close out games.
“I called this the five-inning team last year,” O’Neil said. “We were always ahead after the fifth inning, but we couldn’t finish in the sixth and seventh. Even in the playoff game we were ahead 2-1. This group should be able to fix that, and by the end of the year we should be pretty darn good.”
Lakewood will rely a lot on ace pitcher and right fielder Ricky Tiedemann, who was called on to produce offensively and defensively for the Lancers last season. Tiedemann hit .297 last year with 15 runs scored in 30 games. On the mound, he posted a 3.16 ERA in 13 appearances while averaging one strikeout per inning. O’Neil said he’s seen Tiedemann grow up a lot on and off of the field.
“He’s still a young junior and he hasn’t proven anything yet,” he said. “But in my opinion, he’s a really talented pitcher who can hit as well as anybody. He’s put the work in and come a long way.”
Tiedemann, who is the younger brother of minor league pitcher and Poly alum Tai Tiedemann, isn’t the only returning pitcher with valuable experience. Seniors Mitchell Knight and Anthony Jovel combined to make 31 appearances last season. Knight had a team-best 2.74 ERA, and Jovel struck out 23 batters in 23 innings.
The right side of the Lakewood infield will be one of the best in the league with All-League returners senior Kevin Kolb and junior David Barush. Kolb is a three-year starter who is one of the best defensive first baseman in the league, and Barush hit .343 as a sophomore with a team-high 10 doubles and 23 runs scored.
Junior Eddie Gaxiola is returning as starting shortstop after his breakout sophomore campaign that saw him hit .372 in the middle of the lineup, and new third baseman Blair McDaniel can play both spots on the left side. Meanwhile, senior Nathan Blair has taken over catching duties after serving as the backup last year.
All-Moore League senior Devon Semper will be filling the hole left in center field by the talented and reliable Carter White. O’Neil said the battle for playing time in left field is ongoing with guys like Wyatt Coats and Freddy Enriquez.
O’Neil also said he’s trying to find different ways to motivate his team, and make them a more cohesive unit. Like a lot of successful coaches, he’s adopted the teachings of John Gordon and his book “The Energy Bus.”
“It’s not X’s and O’s,” O’Neil said. “It’s all about life and being good people with teamwork, leadership and optimism. Our word for this season is grit, and passionate perseverance leads to success.”