JONESBORO, Ark. – The Arkansas State Red Wolves roll into this weekend at 14-11 overall and 5-1 in the Sun Belt Conference having won their last two weekend series after losing three of four series to open the season. The Red Wolves appear to be heading in the right direction coming into this weekend’s showdown with the Texas State Bobcats for second place in the Sun Belt.
The Red Wolves could easily have sailed into a tailspin having lost a key offensive player in Zach George(RJr., 3B) for the second straight season with a knee injury. Instead Arkansas State has gone 9-6 since his injury which includes a five game winning streak.
When asked about whether this revealed a resilience in regard to the loss of George, Arkansas State head coach Tommy Raffo said he believes it is the, “result of following the plan and doing everything the right way,” which is a process through which Raffo believes the Red Wolves are, “creating their identity.”
Raffo believes that high school recruiting is key to building a solid winning program but does occasionally have to, “plug and play some JUCO kids.” Junior JUCO transfer Lucas Feddersen is an example of that, being brought in to address a need for middle infield depth, following the graduation of everyday second baseman Alex Potts and the uncertainty of how well Zach Maggio (RSr., 2B/DH) would come back from an injury that ended his 2013 campaign.
Feddersen has stepped in well leading the team in hitting (.322) and is tied for the lead in hits (29) while providing a spark on the bases stealing six bases on seven attempts for second on the team. Speaking of steals, the team leader in steals, and a whole assortment of other offensive categories, is Austin Baker(So., CF).
Baker leads the Red Wolves with eight steals on eight attempts while also sharing the lead in hits (29) and leading the team and the Sun Belt Conference in triples (4). Baker has team highs in runs (26), home runs (5), total bases (55), slugging (.567) and walks (16) while being second in RBI (23) and on base percentage (.403). Last weekend he was on base nearly half the time he came to the plate.
When asked about Baker, coach Raffo said that he was, “a very athletic kid and a benefactor of his freshman year experience,” after enduring the “freshman learning curve” Baker had a “really good summer” and has emerged as a much needed offensive weapon for the Red Wolves.
Holding down the middle for Arkansas State has been Dustin Jones (Sr., SS) who has been a stalwart at short for the Red Wolves and has had several clutch at bats early this season. Raffo credits, “time and effort,” for Jones’ success pointing out that he is the, “only player with a full season of experience and a lot of at bats,” and that he is a “tireless worker defensively and offensively.”
Stuart Levy (Jr., C) has emerged as the everyday catcher and is currently riding a 22 game streak in which he has reached base safely. Levy leads the Red Wolves in doubles (9), on base percentage (.415) and is second on the team in slugging (.457) and hitting (.321).
Joe Schrimpf (Fr., 3B) has been the beneficiary of the George injury getting a lot of starts at third. Raffo said that Schrimpf is has a “good idea how to play third, moving left and right well,” but that he also, “has a couple tools at the plate.”
First baseman Logan Uxa graduated and has been replaced by Sophomore Matt Burgess who has emerged, hitting cleanup, to lead the team with 26 RBI.
Daniel Wright left the Red Wolves Friday night starter role upon graduating. Initially, Senior Bradley Wallace (RHP) filled the role with a great start against the Miami (OH) Red Hawks. However, after three rough outings Wallace was moved to the Sunday role and David Owen (So., RHP) took the Friday night slot and in two starts is 2-0 with 12.2 innings pitched allowing just an earned run. Owen leads among the rotation with a 2.97 ERA, 29 strike outs and a .235 opponent average.
Raffo notes that Owen, “seeing Dan Wright and John Koch was a big benefit to him,” and that Owen showed, “flashes of brilliance” late last season as he overcame early season arm soreness.
Chandler Hawkins (So., LHP) continues his role as the Saturday starter and is a turn-around guy as Raffo says the “lefty gives the opposite look,” to opposing hitters. Wallace is the Sunday starter and is a “wonderful competitor” according to Raffo who will, “keep working” at his craft and competing to win every start.
John Koch’s graduation left the closer role wide open and Morgan Croft (Sr., RHP) has scooped it up with an impressive streak of 11.2 scoreless innings pitched. Raffo notes that Croft is a “versatile” pitcher along with Cody Woodhouse (Sr., RHP) who also, “brings experience to the mound having several starts last year.” The two are currently finishing opponents off for the Red Wolves out of the pen, but are capable of showing up at any point in the game and being effective.
Raffo says that his roster is, “pretty high school dominant” as far as recruiting is concerned and that he focuses on class and positional balance in recruiting. Raffo states that recruiting is tied into the same overall plan for building a winning program.
Arkansas State comes full circle this weekend as it hosts the Texas State Bobcats who they played in one of their first games as the “Red Wolves” at the UT Arlington Invitational in 2009. That series also represents Raffo’s first games as head coach of the Red Wolves having taken the job after being an assistant for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Coaching the Bobcats is Ty Harrington, who is excited to return to Jonesboro where he was an assistant coach for the then Arkansas State Indians under Bill Bethea from 1992 to 1994.
The Red Wolves look to keep following the plan while forming an identity and continue building the program forward into more winning seasons down the road.