“We’re really looking forward to this year because we have a lot of guys coming back,” said Ramos, who is entering his fourth season at the helm. “If they step up and repeat what they did last year we’ll have a good year.”
The Tornadoes will begin their campaign on the road at 3 p.m. today with a double header against Lee University. The Flames are currently ranked third in the NAIA.
“By no means do we feel intimidated,” Ramos said. “We’ve been over there before and played some good baseball. Two years ago Rodrekius Wright threw no-hitter, but we lost. Hopefully we can show what we can do.”
TC flipped its 2010 record of 19-30 to 30-19 in 2011.
Ramos said 30 wins was a goal of the team’s since the first day of practice, but he was also happy with his players as individuals.
“It was a good year if you look and wins and losses, but it was a better year with the kids’ attitude,” Ramos said. “They understand it’s not just about going to practice, but going to class too. It was a fun year because the kids got good grades and didn’t give me any trouble off the baseball field.”
The season ended for TC in their first trip to the conference tournament with losses to Houston Victoria and host Thomasville.
“It was a good experience for the kids,” Ramos said. “There were some good games. We want to have a winning season and go to the tournament again and put ourselves in position to win the national championship. Now that they have a taste of it they’re really looking forward to go back. They want to represent Talladega College as a winning institution in baseball.“
The Tornadoes took a big hit in the batting order, losing seniors Jesse Sharbutt (two-hole), Jose Marin (three-hole) and Richard Cochran (cleanup).
Marin (.368 average) and Cochran (.309) led the team in RBIs with 43 each. Cochran hit 10 home runs to lead the team.
Sharbutt, a .339 batter, hit 34 RBIs and six homers.
“Even though they were good hitters, they were heavy guys and slow runners,” Ramos said. “This year we have more good hitters, but they’re faster. We tried to recruit speed and that’s what they have this year.”
Filling the spots will be Chase Benfield, Bronson Honeycutt and Ramon Cruz.
Benfield, a .314 hitter last season with 27 RBIs at the nine-hole and leadoff, will bat second this year.
Honeycutt, a native of Pell City who has transferred from Bevill State, will be the three-hole. Ramos said he’s “banking” on a good season from Honeycutt.
Cruz, whose dream has always been to bat cleanup, will get his wish this year after playing leadoff in 2011. He hit .367 with seven homers and 41 RBIs last season.
“I think they’re going to get the job done,” Ramos said. “We’ll be struggling for a while, but we’ll have a very good defense.”
The biggest defensive losses last year come in the infield.
TC lost its first, second and third basemen off of last year’s squad and will see some fresh faces at the positions today.
Childersburg High alum Dosson Stubblefield will start at first base. Second base will be occupied by Emmanuel Pina and Hector Justo, while Sylacauga’a Austin Drummonds will play third.
Fellow Aggie Matt Collier, who pitched in high school, will play left field for the Tornadoes.
Many of the freshman Ramos recruited came from successful high school teams.
“They are good kids,” he said. “They have that winning attitude. It feeds off to the other players, so it’s a good combination.
Wright, a senior, will be TC’s No. 1 pitcher this season. In seven games last season, he was 2-0 with a 9.33 ERA.
Jimmy Rodriguez, this year’s No. 2 pitcher, went 1-1 last season in eight games with a 5.32 ERA.
No. 3 pitcher Gabriel Viso was 1-1 in eight games with a 7.79 ERA.
“All three are very powerful,” Ramos said. “We spent a lot of time on them in practices and we’re expecting good things from them. We’re depending on them to keep us in games.”
Ramos also said he expects sophomore Ryan Pettus to have a good season out of the bullpen.
Talladega’s strength of schedule ranks in the top 30 this season.
While TC is in a new conference, the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, only two other schools field baseball teams — Tougaloo and Edward Waters. Ramos is confident the Tornadoes can handle the GCAC competition.
Outside of the three-game series with Lee, other notable opponents down the stretch include series with Mobile, Southern Polytechnic and Auburn-Montgomery, all of which were top 25 teams in 2011.
“This year’s schedule is very tough,” Ramos said. ”I think we’ll be fine, but we need to play with the competition. I think last year we took a big stride in getting the kids to buy into that. We just need to play as a team.”
Contact Wesley Sinor at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @sinorDHsports.