CANTON, Mo. -- Culver-Stockton College baseball coach Kevin Kocks likes the mix of hitting and defense the Wildcats have this spring.
The veteran coach is still sorting out the pitching.?"On the mound is probably our biggest question mark," Kocks said. "Can we find our guys to go out and compete and have three guys in the conference competing?"
The Wildcats, who open play this weekend with four games in McKenzie, Tenn., lost three key pitchers in right-handers Daniel Smith, Tyler Smith and Brady Weavers from a team that finished 16-28, with a 12-16 record in the Heart of America Athletic Conference North Division. C-SC won four of its last six games before a first-round exit in the conference tournament.
C-SC was picked to finish ninth in the Heart in the preseason poll. Central Methodist, the defending conference regular-season champions, is picked to repeat. The Eagles are also ranked No. 21 in the NAIA preseason poll.
C-SC returns righty Anthony Garcia and southpaw Kole Watson, but Kocks is still looking to develop more quality arms. Garcia made 12 starts last spring, going 3-6 with a 4.21 ERA in a team-high 77 innings. His 45 strikeouts also led the Wildcats. Watson went 4-4 in eight starts, recording a 4.95 ERA in 56 1/3 innings.
C-SC also returns Andrew Wimberly, who missed all of 2018 with an arm injury.
"We hope those guys can give us a chance," Kocks said. "If our pitching can find its way, then I think defense will make plays behind it."
Kocks says developing a solid rotation is even more critical this season as the Heart has moved to three-game series instead of four games each weekend.
"The league will be more competitive when you have the top three guys pitching," he said. "With a four-game series, that just left a lot of holes with a lot of ball clubs. You'll also get a winner now on the weekends."
If pitching falls into place, Kocks likes how the rest of the team shapes up.
The Wildcats return third baseman Jonny Damon and shortstop Alejandro Cardinale to anchor the left side of the infield. T.J. Durfee and Nick Stratman will return to the outfield. Alex Satunas returns to first base, while newcomers Brian Wolford and Chase Jones will play second base and catcher, respectively.
Damon returns as the team's leading hitter after a .338 campaign with seven doubles, three triples and 13 RBIs.
Only four players on C-SC's roster hit home runs last year, which Kocks said will influence the offensive approach.
"It's going to be scrappy," he said. "We don't have a lot of power."
Date Opponent Time
Feb. 8 Midway# 1 p.m.
Feb. 9 Midway# Noon
Feb. 9 Bethel# 6 p.m.
Feb. 10 Bethel# Noon
Feb. 15 Robert Morris Chicago% 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 16 Northwestern College% 1 p.m.
Feb. 16William Woods% 6 p.m.
Feb. 17 Waldorf% 1 p.m.
Feb. 17 Midland% 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 22 Jamestown% 5 p.m.
Feb. 23 Morningside% 12:30 p.m.
Feb. 23 Hastings% 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 24 Waldorf% 1 p.m.
Feb. 24 Graceland% 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 26 at Missouri Baptist 1 p.m.
March 2 at Central Methodist* (DH) 1 p.m.
March 3 at Missouri Valley* (DH) 1 p.m.
March 7 at College of the Ozarks 4 p.m.
March 8 at College of the Ozarks 4 p.m.
March 9 at College of the Ozarks Noon
March 12 at Lindenwood-Belleville 3 p.m.
March 16 Mount Mercy* (DH) 1 p.m.
March 17 Mount Mercy* 1 p.m.
March 20 at Clarke* (DH) 1 p.m.
March 23 Peru State* (DH) 1 p.m.
March 24 Peru State* 1 p.m.
March 27 at HLGU 3 p.m.
March 30 at William Penn* (DH) 1 p.m.
March 31 at William Penn* 1 p.m.
April 2 at Lincoln 3 p.m.
April 3 Clarke* 1 p.m.
April 6 at Graceland* (DH) 1 p.m.
April 7 at Graceland* 1 p.m.
April 9 at Columbia 3 p.m.
April 10 Lincoln 3 p.m.
April 13 Grand View* (DH) 1 p.m.
April 14 Grand View* 1 p.m.
April 17 HLGU 3 p.m.
April 19 at Evangel* (DH) 1 p.m.
April 20 at MidAmerica Nazarene* (DH) 1 p.m.
April 23 Lindenwood-Belleville 3 p.m.
April 26 Baker* (DH) 1 p.m.
April 27 Benedictine* (DH) 1 p.m.
May 1-7 Heart Tournament
#-Played in McKenzie, Tenn.
%-Played in Joplin, Mo.
*-Heart of America Athletic Conference game