The New Mexico State baseball team is counting on a couple of returning All-WAC performers and a couple of incoming freshmen to continue the excellent play of an infield that produced four all-conference players in 2012.
Head coach Rocky Ward enters the 2013 season looking to replace two first-team All-WAC players in the infield. Shortstop Zack Voight and catcher Zac Fisher were both selected during last year's Major League draft by the Chicago White Sox.
Ward will have the assistance of two returning second-team All-WAC selections, senior Parker Hipp and junior Tanner Rust.
Hipp, a preseason Louisville Slugger All-America selection, started all 59 games at second base in 2012, but will be moved to shortstop for the 2013 season. His .488 on-base percentage last season was tops on the Aggie squad. Hipp also finished with 49 RBIs and a .349 batting average, second on the team to Fisher.
Rust, who spent most of his playing time on first base in 2012, finished the year with a .326 batting average, 13 doubles and 26 RBIs. According to Ward, he is the most versatile and best overall offensive player on the NM State roster. Rust will be called upon to perform at either corner of the infield and will also do some catching.
Also returning from the 2012 season will be senior Robert Lecount. Lecount started 52 games for the Aggies last season at third base. Although he will still see some time at third, Ward said Lecount will probably be the opening day starting first baseman and see a lot of his playing time at first base.
Junior Taylor Noyer will take over the majority of the catching duties for Fisher. The Beaverton, Ore., native comes to NM State after playing a year of baseball for Chemeketa Community College. While at Chemeketa, Noyer was selected first-team All-NWACCS and was also selected to the second-team all-region team. He also played in the summer for a Portland baseball club that made it to the Babe Ruth World Series.
Rounding out the 2013 version of the Aggie baseball infield will be a couple of true freshmen. Kent Blackstone, from Vienna, Va., will take over for Hipp at second base, while fellow freshman Derek Umphres, a native of Safford, Ariz., will command the third- base line.
Blackstone was a three-year varsity starting shortstop at George C. Marshall High School. He was the team captain during his junior and senior year, and also was voted the team's most valuable player his senior season. That season he finished with a .379 batting average, four home runs, four triples and made only one error all season. The Washington Post dubbed Blackstone as one of the best high school baseball players in the Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. area.
"Blackstone had a fabulous fall," Ward said. "He's very athletic and a very good running left-handed hitter."
Umphres also played shortstop in High School. He was a starter and helped his team make the playoffs all four of his years at Safford High School. Umphres was a first-team all-state member at shortstop his junior and senior years. He finished his junior season with a .493 batting average before leading the state of Arizona with a .673 batting average his senior year.
"Umphres is really good both offensively and defensively," Ward said. "My best defensive setup is Umphres at third and Lecount at first."
According to Ward, yet another freshman will also be a major contributor to this season's group of infielders, a freshman that may look familiar to local baseball fans.
Joseph Koerper played baseball at Onate High School in Las Cruces from 2007-2009. He played both first and third base for the Knights and was a major contributor to a team that made the state semifinals all three years he played. Koerper was an all-district selection during all three years and was a first-team all-state honoree during his junior and senior years.
As a junior, Koerper led the state with 14 home runs on the season while also hitting at a .395 average. He finished his senior year with a .520 batting average, six home runs and was invited to play in the New Mexico North/South All-Star Game.
"Koerper is a good breaking ball hitter and will help our infield," Ward said. "There will be times when Lecount will play third and Koerper will play first base."
After graduating from high school, Koerper embarked on a two-year mission for his church before returning to Las Cruces and enrolling at NM State.
Aggie fans will get their first chance to see the revamped Aggie infield along with the rest of the team this Saturday (Feb. 9) during the Annual Alumni Game being held at Presley Askew Field. Game time is set for 2:00 p.m. (MT) and is free to all.