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Keehn looks for another playoff berth in Year 2 with AWC baseball
Southern Nevada scored three unearned runs in the third to top Arizona Western 3-1 Friday in the season opener for both baseball teams.
The Matadors also played a late game in the Coyote Border Battle, drubbing Colorado Northwestern 13-0.
Jeremy Alderman was the hard-luck loser for AWC, scattering seven hits over six innings. The Matadors managed three hits in the game.
Dallas Hessler drove in six runs for the Matadors and Xavier Palmer added two hits and two runs batted in.
Richard Dutton pitched a complete game shutout in his debut, striking out eights. The Matador pitching staff did not give up an earned run in either game.
As a first-year head coach, Drew Keehn ended a six-year playoff drought for the Arizona Western baseball team, guiding them into the first round of the NJCAA Region I playoffs last year.
He said his sights are set higher for an encore.
“I think we're definitely capable of improving,” Keehn said. “Our goal isn't to lose in the first round of the playoffs.”
The team started its season this weekend at a tournament in Las Vegas and is home next week for the Caballero Classic. Only six sophomores are back, and all are offensive players.
“I'd say defensively we can pick it up and throw it accurately,” Keehn said. “I like our offensive approach. It isn't going to be any different than it was last year, to get guys on and score runs. Those are the two areas I'm feeling most confident in.”
The entire outfield is back from last year — Xavier Palmer, Dallas Hessler and Hayden Calvert. Keehn said he expects freshman Aaron Loder to push the trio for playing time.
“We understand this league and what it takes to be successful,” Palmer said. “I'm expecting us to show them how it's done and for them to follow suit.”
The infield is also full of familiar faces, with Jordan Atkinson back at first base, Casey Scott at shortstop and Hector Valenzuela at third.
The freshmen will make their presence most felt on the pitching staff, which is comprised entirely of first-year players. Ace Kahana Neal moved on from last year, and while Keehn said there's no heir apparent, there is more depth.
“They're going to have to fit in because they're going to have to pitch,” Keehn said. “We're just sort of identifying guys we want at the beginning, middle and end. We'll definitely sort it out these first couple weeks. The guys who establish themselves are going to be the guys who are there later in the year. They're all going to pitch at some point, and I feel confident in our pitching staff, even though they are really young.”
Keehn said he expects Jeremy Alderman, Jose Rosales-Rodarte and Richard Dutton to be among the top arms on the staff this year.
Both Palmer and Scott said the team is improved from last year.
“We're a lot better than last year, a lot harder workers,” Scott said. “I'm excited for the season to start.
“We've been working hard all year, in the classroom and on the field,” he said. “We're capable of anything as long as we keep working.”