Despite the lingering snow, the Harper baseball team is scheduled to get warm in time for a season opener against visiting Prairie State College at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
The Hawks are coming off a 21-28 season that included a 5-8 mark in the North Central Community College Conference. The Hawks bowed after reaching the NJCAA Region IV sectional champioinship game.
Harper will be without several of the key contributors from last season, including starting pitcher Scott Plaza (Prospect). He led the Hawks with 9 complete games and 177 innings last season. Plaza is pitching for the Univeristy of Wisconisn-Whitewater.
"We are going to miss Plaza," said Harper coach Cliff Brown.
Harper will look to an Illinois Wesleyan transfer, 6-foot-5, 200-pound Chris Bobo, for mound help. He pitched out of the Titans' bullpen last season and struck out 34 in 45 innings.
On balance, the starting rotation will be less experienced, but Brown remains optimistic that overall depth will be a plus.
"We are going to have guys who are going to compete," he said. "On paper our starters are going to go pretty deep in games."
Three of the starters are freshmen: Steven Yfantis (Wheeling), Mike Sampson (Prospect) and left-hander Lee Breitzman (Fremd).
Brown says this may be the hardest-throwing staff he's had at Harper.
"The hope is to give them the ball," he said, "and say 'See you in 7 innings.' "
The position players have more in the way of experience. Brown is especially eager to see sophomore catcher/first baseman Kevin Robinson (Conant) in action. He played on Harper's football team in the fall of 2011 but has been focusing on baseball ever since the school cut football last winter. Robinson hit .269 last year.
"I am looking foward to seeing Kevin just concentrate on baseball," Brown said.
Two other sophmores that will be asked to make a contribution are outfielder Cory Kay (St. Viator) and third baseman Kurt Becker (Palatine).
A healthy season from outfielder Andrew Skinner, another sophomore, could also help. He missed 5 weeks last year with an injury but was able to walk away with a .357 batting average and has shown terrific power.
Brown recalls watching Skinner hit a homer against Madison Area Technical College which bit through a 25-mph wind to right field.
"Not too many guys can hit balls like that," Brown said.
Harper will focus on the fundamentals in hopes of continuing to improve the program. Brown said he thinks the team has "gotten better.
"When it comes down to it, you have to be able to pitch it and catch it."