By Daniel Johnson, Sports Writer
It is no wonder that veteran hitters like Johnny Zepeda, Ruben Rivera and Joel Wells are living up to the history of success the ACU baseball program has developed in recent years. But behind the veteran heavy bats are six freshmen glad to be along for the ride.
The future of the ACU baseball team rests on the shoulders of freshman players Trey Watten, Jordan Schmitt, Thomas Bumpass and Minor Alexander and pitchers Ryan Quidley and Matt Sullivan.
“These freshmen have all brought stability for the future and will give us a good nucleus to recruit around, but it is on the coaches and older players to teach them the fundamentals and help them adapt to the college level of play,” head baseball coach Britt Bonneau said.
It is the adaptation to the higher level of play Bonneau speaks of that will make or break the future success of the freshman recruits. For third baseman Watten, adapting to that level has been a rocky ride so far.
“It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve struggled at the beginning to consistently find my stroke at the plate and role on the field,” Watten said. “But it’s getting better as I slowly improve and adjust to this level.”
Watten, who was voted District 6-5A offensive player of the year his senior year at Coppell High School, leads the Wildcats with eight defensive errors. In the Wildcats two-game romping of No. 1 Central Oklahoma, Watten appeared to have overcome his struggles with a combined four hits, three runs, and two RBI. Watten and the rest of the freshmen have had the critiques and support of veteran sluggers like Zepeda and Rivera to aid their conversion to college ball.
“I really enjoy helping out the younger guys because they aren’t hardheaded and try not to disagree when we point out mistakes they make,” said left fielder Johnny Zepeda. “We have been there and will try to help them in whatever way we can.”
For freshman catcher Jordan Schmitt, another top offensive player from the Metroplex, the support, advice and experience of junior catcher Alec Sowards has helped his success so far this season. Schmitt, who has continued to start throughout the preseason, has a .333 batting average and three RBI in the 11 games played by the Wildcats.
“I haven’t had time to think about the pressure,” Schmitt said. “I’ve just been thrown in and I have to keep playing the same game I’ve played my whole life.”
Senior shortstop Ruben Rivera has stepped into the role of a vo leader to remind the freshmen and other players they are playing the same game they’ve been playing since Little League.
“I know it can be intimidating to be thrown into such a successful Division II program, so I’m trying to constantly remind the young guys that they’re still playing baseball,” Rivera said. “Watten, Schmitt and the others have tremendous talent and they need to learn how not to be satisfied with our success so far. We need to get better every day.”
Second basemen Thomas Bumpass has served as a utility player in various positions so far this season. He has helped support the strong bats of the Wildcats with a .354 batting average and five RBI. Playing for the Wildcats this season has been a thrilling experience for Bumpass.
“It is exciting to be with such a respected team; it is a challenge to work your way up and compete for a spot on the roster because right now we are the team to beat,” Bumpass said.
Freshman pitchers Ryan Quidley and Matt Sullivan are coping with learning to throw to a college line-up. Unlike high school, where there are usually holes in the consistency of the line-up, the college batters can all hit.
“You really can’t slack off against these teams, you’ve got to hit your spots, change your speeds and really stay focused,” Sullivan said.
The transition has been slow but successful for the six freshmen as they struggle and succeed together through the same obstacles.
“Right now we’re all just having fun and trying to find our roles on the team,” Quidley said. “It’s not easy to go from the stud in high school back down to the freshman fighting for playing time.”