By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — A former walk-on, Clovis’ Josh Kuchta has played his way through a painful back injury to become the starting shortstop at Eastern New Mexico University the last two seasons.
ENMU coach Phil Clabaugh said Kuchta has been a steadying influence on the team.
“Josh Kuchta is good people,” Clabaugh said Thursday as the Greyhounds (13-16) prepared for a four-game Lone Star Conference South Division-opening series against Texas A&M-Kingsville (21-10) this weekend at Greyhound Field. “He’s been in our program for four years, and he’s a ‘company’ man.
“He’s got a terrible back, but he never talks about it. He understands our philosophy — just catch the ones you can catch.”
The Clovis High grad came to ENMU in four years ago as a walk-on pitcher, and spent most of his first two seasons riding the bench. Since last year, though, he’s been the team’s regular shortstop, batting .348 from mostly the No. 2 slot this spring after hitting .360 a year ago.
Kuchta collected three hits Wednesday in the Hounds’ 17-7 win at Oklahoma Panhandle State.
“We played good,” he said of Wednesday’s victory. “We finally started hitting the ball, and that was a big step for us.
“If we can get past this weekend, I think it’ll be a real morale boost.”
Kuchta hopes to eventually be a coach, and has coached first base this season on the rare occasions when he isn’t playing.
“The times I’ve gotten to coach first, Clabaugh has given me pointers of where to set up and stuff like that,” he said. “I never realized there was so much to it.”
He said he hurt his back while playing soccer in high school. It bothers him when he plays, but he’s opted to try to play through it.
“I saw several back specialists in high school, and they recommended surgery,” Kuchta said. “But I’ve just dealt with it every day.”
He’s made three relief appearances this spring, and expects to see more mound duty in South play with each doubleheader including one nine-inning game and one seven-inning contest instead of two sevens.
“I’m sure with the 9/7 (format), I’ll probably pitch once a weekend if we get in trouble,” he said. “If that’s how they’re going to use me, that’s fine.”
The Hounds, who play three of their remaining four South series on the road after this weekend, know they probably need a good weekend to make a run in the division.
“There’s no two ways about — it’s a big weekend for us if we’re actually going to try to win the South,” Clabaugh said. “We need to win the series, although whether we can or not remains to be seen.”