The outfield expanse of the Winkin Complex, with its speedy artificial surface, places a premium on having a center fielder with enough anticipation and athleticism to track down line drives headed for the gaps and choke off opponents’ rallies before they get started.
The Husson University baseball team believes it has tracked down its latest answer to that defensive challenge in western Canada.
David LeBlanc, a junior from the Edmonton, Alberta, suburb of Beaumont, has made an immediate impact for the Eagles. Husson begins its northern schedule with road doubleheaders Saturday at Newbury College and Sunday at Mitchell College.
The business administration major, who hits right-handed, batted .395 during the season-opening trip to Florida with a team-leading five doubles, six RBIs and four stolen bases.
LeBlanc also played errorless defense with three assists, two that led to double plays for the 5-6 Eagles.
“We like all of our outfielders to have speed but Dave especially can cover ground,” 12th-year Husson head coach Jason Harvey said. “He reads the ball as well as anybody we’ve had in the outfield. His first step is always the right step, and his throws are typically on the bag coming back into the infield, which gives us a chance to cut down some runners.”
LeBlanc’s transfer from Lethbridge College to Husson came largely by accident, as Harvey was recruiting one of his teammates before both decided to enroll at the Bangor school last fall.
The friend subsequently required Tommy John surgery and returned home, but LeBlanc remained and already has been influential — he’s even been named a team captain.
“He’s been a huge, huge addition to our outfield,” Harvey said.
LeBlanc is one of five new starters for a Husson team trying to improve on last spring’s 14-22 finish, including a 9-13 North Atlantic Conference record that left the Eagles out of postseason play for the first time since before the school left the Sunrise Conference to join the NAC in 2005.
Also starting are four freshmen: Second baseman Kobe Rogerson of Brewer, third baseman Ethan Stoddard of Old Town, left fielder Nolan Brown of Gorham and catcher Michael Schneider of Niceville, Florida.
They join junior first baseman Alex Chapman of Westford, Vermont; junior shortstop Nick Guerrette of Hermon; and senior right fielder Conor Maguire of Ellsworth in the lineup.
“One thing you look for when you go south are guys who can compete day in and day out,” Harvey said. “I think we found that group that can provide us that competitive atmosphere on a daily basis.”
The Eagles’ pitching rotation is led by junior right-hander Jesse Colford of Bangor, senior righties Austin Smith of Lincoln and Ryan Allender of Rockland, and sophomore left-hander Cam Graham of Houlton, who pitched a no-hitter last spring.
Husson also returns relievers Jake Gauvin of Bucksport; Nolan Dousa of Mansfield, Massachusetts; Ben Bernier of Minot; and Matt Smith of Belfast.
One key for the Eagles will be improving on last year’s .219 team batting average. Husson hit .295 while in Florida.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve been able to pitch and play defense for the most part year in and year out,” Harvey said. “I think our best years have come when our offense has been good, and I think this year the offensive pieces are there.”
The Eagles are scheduled to play their home opener March 28 against Saint Joseph’s College of Standish before beginning NAC play with a doubleheaders against UMaine-Farmington on March 30 and 31.
With only the 20 yards nearest the outfield fence of the Winkin Complex unplayable as of late Thursday morning and good melting conditions being predicted for the coming days, Harvey is optimistic his team will start its home schedule on time.
“Hopefully with the rain coming up we have a shot of having it cleared by early next week,” he said.