Puhl pleased with progress of young UHV team in fall practice

Nov. 28, 2012 at 5:28 a.m.

UHV's Andrew Thibodeaux runs the bases during the Jaguars' practice at Lowe Field on Tuesday. The team has 12 freshmen on the roster this year.

UHV's Andrew Thibodeaux runs the bases during the Jaguars' practice at Lowe Field on Tuesday. The team has 12 freshmen on the roster this year.   Morgan Walker for The Victoria Advocate

Chad Kruse has played a number of positions in one season with UHV and two with the Victoria Generals, but catcher isn't one of them.

But that didn't stop Kruse from grabbing a catcher's mitt and a mask to warm up a pitcher as the Jaguars worked out on a sunny afternoon at Lowe Field.

"I'm the oldest guy here and I've been here a couple of summers in Victoria so I'm trying to kind of assume that leadership role I guess," Kruse said. "We've a got a lot of good, solid talent here that if we just do everything right we can be pretty productive."

Kruse, Tyler Steiner and Corti Wilson are the only non-pitching seniors on a team that includes 12 freshmen.

UHV head coach Terry Puhl is looking for the three seniors to set an example for the younger players.

"It's always best to have leadership from position players," Puhl said. "You can have it from pitchers, but pitchers only get out every fifth day so it's hard for them to be a real leader."

The Jaguars are completing their final week of fall practice as they prepare for their 2013 season, which opens with a doubleheader against Wiley College on Sunday, Feb. 3 at Riverside Stadium.

"The first thing was to get acquainted with my new players, especially the pitching staff," Puhl said. "I think we've got an idea now of who will be our starters and who will be my middle guys and who will emerge as closers."

The biggest change this fall has been the amount of hitting the Jaguars have done against live pitching.

"We did that the entire fall," Puhl said. "We did a regular batting practice and then we had our pitchers throw against our hitters. It gave the freshmen pitchers a lot more experience and also gave me a chance to see exactly where our freshmen pitchers are."

Puhl expects returnees Brayden Blanton, Cory Carter, Nathan Falkenstine and Nick Huff to lead the rotation.

Andre Del Bosque, who transferred from Temple College, will be in the mix and Orlando Quiroga could become the closer.

Puhl is still trying to determine whether to use freshman John Garcia as a pitcher or position player.

UHV pitching coach Doug Heinold has been impressed with what he's seen from his staff during the fall.

"What I look for in these guys is mainly are they keeping the ball down," Heinold said. "If we've got a guy throwing up consistently, he's not going to make it. I try to get that in their minds and talk to them about some of the things like first-pitch strikes, staying ahead in the count, and controlling the game and things like that.

"All the pitchers have done an excellent job this fall," he added. "Everybody's throwing strikes. Everybody is keeping the ball down for the most part. I think everybody is just about where they need to be at this point."

Brandon Bohanon returns at catcher and UHV will likely begin the season with an infield of Josh Ledesma at first, Ryan Suescun at second, Chad Kruse at third and freshman Dylan Blaha at shortstop.

Steiner is back in the outfield and Puhl will also look at sophomore Andrew Thibodeaux and freshmen Seth Harrison and Gabe Verduzco. Wilson will repeat the utility role he played last season.

"I think this team will be faster," Puhl said. "I would think it's a little more well rounded."

UHV will have to be play at a high level to start the season.

After the season-opener, the Jaguars play five games against NAIA powerhouse LSU-Sherveport and eight games against NCAA Division II Texas A&M-Kingsville and Incarnate Word.

"I think it's a mind set we need to have," Kruse said. "We have some guys who are returning that know what we're capable of and and a lot of freshmen and transfers who did well where they were at. I think everybody is pretty confident and the main key to succeeding is just confidence."

Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or mforman@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.



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