TERRE HAUTE —
Jeff Jenkins is serious about his baseball.
At least he’s been thoughtful enough to let his Rose-Hulman teams start their seasons in Florida 22 out of the 24 years he’s been in charge.
“It’s great to go to Florida,” Jenkins told the Tribune-Star last week. “Obviously, in late February, you can’t count on the weather in Indiana. So it’s good that we’re able to go to a warmer climate.”
This season is no exception as the Engineers prepare to debut Sunday against NCAA Division III No. 16-ranked Farmingdale State at Winter Haven, Fla. That will be their first of six games in the Sunshine State before they return to the chilly Midwest.
Jenkins, his assistant coaches and his players have plenty of reasons to be excited about the 2013 season and going to Florida is just one of them.
In 2012, Rose captured the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season title with an 18-6 record and finished 27-14 overall.
“It was an outstanding effort for us,” Jenkins reflected. “It wasn’t one of our better teams, but we did some nice things. We led the nation [Division III] in double plays. We led all NCAA divisions in number of double plays per game. All in all, it was a very good season.”
A return to the top of the HCAC standings is not out of the question for the updated version of the Engineers, although Jenkins is cautious about crowning them as favorites. Since last season, they’ve lost six players to graduation and another former starter who decided not to play baseball in 2013.
“I think we’ve got talent, but we’re really young in spots,” Jenkins said. “We have a nice senior group and very few sophomores and juniors. And we have one of the most talented freshman groups I think we’ve ever had.”
“We’re very optimistic for this year,” senior third baseman Bobby Newman added. “We have a good core of seniors … and the freshman class is looking really good.”
Newman isn’t shy about expressing his goals for the season: “Win the conference regular season and win the conference tournament.
“Those are both realistic goals,” he continued. “And if we get into the NCAA [Division III] tourney [which will begin May 15-19 with the Mideast Regional at Rose Hulman’s Art Nehf Field], then anything can happen.”
Some of the Engineers’ top returnees include junior center fielder/relief pitcher Hank Akard (.371, 33 runs, 14 doubles, 12 stolen bases, 1-1 record, 3.13 earned-run average, five saves), Newman (.324, 33 runs, 26 RBIs, 11 doubles, three home runs), junior second baseman Andrew Benitez (.329, 31 runs, 28 RBIs, two homers) and sophomore right-handed pitcher Ben Menich (6-1 record, 2.98 ERA). Akard was named the team’s Most Valuable Player last season.
Jenkins also said he is glad to have back senior first baseman Donald Stopka (.300, 27 runs, 24 RBIs, 10 doubles), senior catcher Matt Turk (25 runs, 21 RBIs, six steals) and senior pitchers Matt Green (1-1) and Ethan Post (3-1). Post, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average, was an Academic All-American last season.
Jenkins then tossed out the name Kevin Farley, a junior right-handed pitcher who missed last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, as another potential contributor.
“We’ve got several good [pitching] arms,” the veteran coach noted. “It’s a group with some of the livelier arms that we’ve had in a long time. I think there are some freshmen who are really going to help us.”
On offense, Jenkins doesn’t think Rose will display much power, but it should still be able to produce runs.
“I think we have several kids who are going to be good gap-to-gap hitters,” Jenkins explained. “We’ve got to get walks and we’ve got to run the bases smartly because we’re not going to be a team that will hit the ball out of the park with any consistency.”
The Engineers will be without one of their best hitters from last season, Parker Fulkerson of Terre Haute. He left the team over the winter, Jenkins said.
Senior Nick Pilipovich of Terre Haute is still on the team and will rotate in at catcher.
Back to the HCAC, Rose-Hulman was picked to finish third in the preseason coaches poll. Manchester, which emerged triumphant in last season’s conference tournament, is favored to win the title.
“They’re loaded,” Jenkins said of the Spartans from North Manchester. “They’ve got all-conference players at four or five positions. They’re going to be a tough out.”
Overall, Jenkins sounds just as excited about coaching this group of Engineers as he did about any of his teams.
“Every team is a little bit different,” he insisted. “This team has been a real joy to coach because they really bust their tails and they seem to have fun with it. I think we’ve had one of the best offseasons we’ve ever had. It’s a fun, fun group.”
Rose-Hulman’s first home games will be a doubleheader against Carthage on March 9.
Rose-Hulman Baseball 2013
Feb. 24 — vs. Farmingdale State at Winter Haven, Fla., 1 p.m.
Feb. 25 — vs. Alma at Winter Haven, Fla., 11 a.m.
Feb. 26 — vs. Capital at Auburndale, Fla., 1 p.m.
Feb. 28 — vs. Augustana (Ill.) at Winter Haven, Fla., 10:30 a.m.
March 1 — vs. Milwaukee Engineering at Auburndale, Fla., 10:45 a.m.
March 2 — vs. Capital at Auburndale, Fla., 10 a.m.
March 6 — at Wheaton, 4 p.m.
March 9 — Carthage (2), 1 p.m.
March 10 — Carthage, noon
March 16 — DePauw, 11 a.m., and Concordia, 5 p.m.
March 17 — vs. Concordia, 1 p.m., and DePauw, 4 p.m., at DePauw
March 23 — at Mount St. Joseph* (2), noon
March 24 — at Mount St. Joseph*, noon
March 29 — at Bluffton*, 4:15 p.m.
March 30 — at Bluffton* (2), noon
April 2 — at Franklin*, 4 p.m.
April 5 — at Hanover*, 4 p.m.
April 6 — at Hanover* (2), noon
April 9 — Anderson*, 6 p.m.
April 10 — Washington (St. Louis) U., 6 p.m.
April 13 — Transylvania*, 6 p.m.
April 14 — Transylvania* (2), noon
April 16 — vs. Franklin* at Indianapolis’ Victory Field, 7 p.m.
April 19 — Manchester*, 7 p.m.
April 20 — Manchester* (2), noon
April 23 — at Anderson*, 4:15 p.m.
April 26 — Defiance*, 7 p.m.
April 27 — Defiance (2)*, noon
May 4 — at Earlham* (2), 2 p.m.
May 5 — at Earlham*, noon
May 9-11 — HCAC tournament at No. 1 seed, TBA
* — denotes Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference games