Byron Reichstein, Player of the Year. Gage Curry, Pitcher of the Year. Kaleb Goodell, All-American.
That’s three of the 19 sophomores back for the Navarro baseball team as the Bulldogs open their season Friday at Alvin. Ten of them signed in the fall to play for Division I schools. And with coach Whoa Dill adding a talented group of freshmen and key transfers, it’s another roster loaded with potential to go along with all that experience.
So is it too soon to dream about another trip to Grand Junction, knowing that last year’s team came within a win — really two runs — of getting a chance to defend Navarro’s 2011 national championship?
Dill, assistant coach Matt “Pudge” Podjenski and their players sure would like to find out.
“Do I want to get there? Who doesn’t?” Dill said. “I’m motivated to get the best team out here to win baseball games. Pudge and I try to do everything we can do to win and put a good product on the field. I’m motivated by guys getting drafted or signing Division I and stuff like that.
“Grand Junction, once I saw it, words don’t express what it’s like. It’s awesome. And this team eventually does have a chance.”
Just based on returning players that won major awards last season, Navarro, ranked No. 16 in the NJCAA preseason poll, has to be seen as a contender for the regional title and a trip back to the JUCO World Series.
For starters, there’s left fielder Kaleb Goodell, who was a second-team All-American as a freshman and also the Region XIV Player of the Year. Goodell, who has signed with Texas A&M, batted .401 for the season with 14 doubles, 40 runs scored and 36 RBIs.
The left-handed hitter seemingly got every hit going to the opposite field. He’ll move from the No. 3 hole to the leadoff spot.
Goodell said Thursday that his plan for 2013 is the same one he had last year.
“Last season I just went out there every day and didn’t try to do too much,” Goodell said. “I stayed within myself and a lot of good things happened.”
He’ll be teamed in the outfield by sophomore right fielder Byron Reichstein, who transfers from Texarkana College (that program was shut down after last season).
Reichstein was the East Zone Player of the Year, leading Texarkana in doubles (14), home runs, (5), runs (40), runs batted in (38) and batting average (.372).
Reichstein, who has signed with West Virginia, played first base for Texarkana, but will shift to the outfield. He runs a 6.7 in the 60 (6.8 is the major league average), so he can cover some ground along with Goodell and likely starting center fielder Kevin Meredith.
Navarro sophomore pitcher Gage Curry can remember facing Reichstein last season.
“Byron’s difficult to pitch to, I can tell you that,” said Curry, who signed with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Curry, the East Zone Pitcher of the Year, won 10 games last season and is one of four sophomores that return in starting roles. Left-hander Chad Young set the school record with 101 strikeouts and has signed with Texas State. Zach Hobbs has signed with UT-Arlington and then there’s Lukas Schiraldi, who signed with Texas and may be Navarro’s most talented pitcher.
Curry, the Corsicana product, said Navarro’s deep pitching staff makes the Bulldogs a threat to get back to Grand Junction.
“Our pitching is unreal,” Curry said. “And I trust our defense behind us.”
Dill’s toughest task is replacing the left side of the infield. Shortstop Brett Doe (Baylor) and third baseman Craig McConaughy (Oklahoma State) were dynamic in the field.
“That’s the best left side of the infield probably in Division I last year,” Dill said. “We’ve been spoiled.”
Dill has a ton of confidence in sophomore returnee Tyler Wilson, who can play third, second and first (along with bringing pop in the middle of the lineup). Drake Roberts, a transfer from Oklahoma, will play shortstop. Returning sophomore Mason Salazar has played a brilliant second base in preseason practices.
The Bulldogs are loaded at catcher with returnee Colton Besett and their most noted transfer, John Clay Reeves, who comes from an Arkansas Razorbacks team that advanced to the College World Series last season.
Navarro is loaded with quality arms in the bullpen with closers Blake Griffin and Clint Wilson. And keep an eye on power arm Jack Moffit from Flower Mound, a freshman that may force his way into the rotation.
It’s a typical Navarro team loaded with talent.
“We have a chance to do something special,” Goodell said. “We have a bunch of guys who have signed early. We’re a good group and we’ve responded well to each other.”
Added Curry: “Everybody’s driven. We want to make Grand Junction. We want to get a ring.”
Coach: Whoa Dill
2012 Record: 38-21
Preseason Ranking: No. 16 in NJCAA Poll
Returning Players: OF Kaleb Goodell, OF Kevin Meredith, 3B Tyler Wilson, 2B Mason Salazar, 1B Campbell Cooper, C Colton Besett, RHP Gage Curry, RHP Lukas Schiraldi, LHP Chad Young, LHP Zach Hobbs, RHP Clint Wilson, RHP Blake Griffin.
Key Newcomers: OF Byron Reichstein (transfer, Texarkana College); John Clay Reeves (transfer, Arkansas); SS Drake Roberts (Oklahoma), P Jack Moffit (Flower Mound H.S).
Notable: Navarro has 10 college signees: Curry (Texas-A&M-Corpus Christi), Reeves (Rice), Wilson (Tulane), Schiraldi (Texas); Hobbs (UT-Arlington), Goodell (Texas A&M), Young (Texas State), Reichstein (West Virginia), Roberts (Sam Houston State) and Griffin (Tarleton State) ... Corsicana’s Curry had a banner freshman year, putting together a 10-1 record with a 2.37 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings ... Young had a school-record 101 strikeouts.
Date Opponent Time
Feb. 1 at Alvin Noon (DH)
Feb. 2 at Galveston Noon (DH)
Feb. 7 at San Jacinto TBA
Feb. 7 Grayson (in Houston) TBA
Feb. 8 Howard (in Houston) TBA
Feb. 9 Howard (in Houston) TBA
Feb. 16 at Grayson TBA
Feb. 16 E. Okla. (in Sherman) TBA
Feb. 20 Bossier Parish* Noon (DH)
Feb. 22 at McLennan 1 p.m.
Feb. 23 McLennan Noon (DH)
Feb. 27 at Angelina* Noon (DH)
Mar. 2 Panola* Noon (DH)
Mar. 6 Northeast* Noon (DH)
Mar. 9 at Paris* Noon (DH)
Mar. 16 at Bossier Parish* 1 p.m. (DH)
Mar 19 at San Jacinto 2 p.m. (DH)
Mar. 23 Angelina* 1 p.m. (DH)
Mar. 27 at Panola* 1 p.m. (DH)
Mar. 29 at Northeast* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 1 Alvin 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 3 Paris* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 8 at Concordia 2 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 10 Bossier Parish* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 13 at North Central 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 15 at Weatherford 3 p.m.
Apr. 17 at Angelina* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 20 Panola* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 24 Northeast* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 27 at Paris* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 29 San Jacinto 1 p.m. (DH)
May 11 Region XIV Tournament# TBA
May 25-June 1 JUCO World Series TBA
*Denotes conference game
#Region XIV Tournament site TBA
%NJCAA National Tournament will be played in Grand Junction, Colo.