The Glenwood baseball team returns nine of its top 10 hitters and four pitchers that won at least three games.
Yet, that wealth of experience isn’t offering head coach Brett Elam the comfort level one might think.
The Rams committed 95 errors in 35 games a year ago, nearly three per game.
Elam has made it clear to his team, to play championship level baseball that can’t continue.
“We’ve been hammering them on defense,” Elam said. “At a practice last week we didn’t even hit. We did all defensive stuff all day. We’re getting our swings in so it’s not that we’re not focusing on offense. But the old saying is true: offense wins games, defense wins championships. We have to focus on defense and just making the routine play. Not making routine plays bit us last year and we can’t have that.”
With the experience his team has coming back, Elam said the “we’re young and rebuilding” excuse won’t cut it this season.
“How good we can be is going to be determined by how hard we work and push every game on a day-to-day basis. We work hard and do that, we could have a pretty good year,” Elam said.
The Rams lost just one senior from last year’s team was the co-Hawkeye 10 Conference champions and won 22 games before falling in the district final to Harlan.
“Losing just one senior is great but it muddles a lot of things for us with the kids coming back,” Elam said.
Glenwood will have to replace four-year letterwinner and versatile dugout leader Grant Stivers who graduated last season. Stivers could play any position on the field for Elam and was a workhorse on the mound, compiling a 7-3 record in a team-best 34 strikeouts in 11 starts.
“His versatility will definitely be missed. He could pitch, catch, play infield or outfield. Guys like that are so valuable,” he said. “We don’t have one guy who can replace him but we have three or four guys combined that will end up replacing him.”
Senior Alex Forbes, the Rams’ everyday shortstop, leads a returning lineup that hit nearly .300 as a team last season. Forbes and outfielder Mitch Bowden both hit .419 a year ago to lead the team and the conference. Forbes also led the Rams in home runs (2), runs batted it (42) and shared the team lead in stolen bases (16).
“He’s put a lot of time and dedication in during the off-season,” Elam said of Forbes. “He’s been hitting all winter and you can sure tell by his swings in batting practice.”
Forbes’ role on the mound heading into this season is still up in the air. The right-hander started just one game a year ago with Elam preferring to use Forbes out of the bullpen. Forbes went 2-1 with eight saves and miniscule 0.59 earned run average in 13 appearances last season. With elbow troubles plaguing starter Corey Bertini (3-4, 4.11 ERA), Elam has much to decide with his rotation.
“I’m not sure if we’ll see him (Bertini) on the mound this season at all so that sort of throws us a curveball as far as everybody else’s roles will defined on the mound,” Elam said. “The thing we’re looking at is if we start Alex, who do we have the rest of the week and who can we bring on in relief? That’s where we’re stuck with Alec right now.”
Leading the charge for work in the Rams’ rotation is Justin Fisher (3-4, 3.79 ERA), Tyler Jensen (3-1, 1.19 ERA) and Cob Baker (3-0, 2.69 ERA).
Rain and snow this spring hasn’t helped Elam work out his lineup kinks heading into the May 21 opener against Tri-Center.
“We’re rusty,” Elam said. “It’s tough with the spring weather and the makeups with soccer and track. We had 14 guys at a practice last week and that was the first time we’d had more than eight. At the same time, your hands are tied with that because you end up going over the same stuff twice.”