2013 Preview – WAC

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 4th, 2013 in 2013 National Preview, WAC
 

2012 CONFERENCE ISR: 7

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HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2013:

1- New Mexico State

2- Cal State Bakersfield

3- Dallas Baptist

4- Sacramento State

5- Louisiana Tech

6- Texas State

7- San Jose State

8- UT-Arlington

9- UT-San Antonio

10- Seattle

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THE LOWDOWN.

Don’t pay any attention to that No. 7 conference ISR ranking, ‘coz this is a whole new deal for 2013. It’s like that Mexican band Menudo, the name stays the same but there are always new faces doing the gig. Four new teams from Texas join Cal State Bakersfield and Seattle from the Indy ranks to fill in the holes that Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada left. What does that mean? Well it means the WAC gets a little bit weaker overall this year. Yes, I hate to be the wet blanket on this, but it’s true. Still, there’s nothing “weak” about what should be an improved Cal State Bakersfield squad and a usually tough Dallas Baptist squad (even if the Pats are only around for one year). I think people will be surprised at how good Sac State and LaTech are this year… all of which makes Texas State’s ranking down at No. 6 all the more surprising. But that is a very fluid situation, because if the Bobcats can emulate their early-season success from 2012, they’ll contend for the WAC crown, no doubt. As weird as it is to say, I still like the pitching staff that returns for New Mexico State, especially K-machine’s Ryan Beck and Adam Mott. They are, by far, the best two-name, four-letter pitching tandem in the country.

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BREAKTHROUGH TEAM:

- Cal State Bakersfield.

Coach Kernen told me at the beginning of last year that his 2012 team would have some growing pains, but if they stay healthy, “Look out for us in 2013.” So here we are. They’ll settle for nothing short of an NCAA tournament bid.

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TRENDING DOWN:

- Texas State.

The Bobcats struggled to a 10-14 finish last season, then lost their two biggest studs on the mound and their top three hitters in the order, including power-slugging Casey Kalenkosky. Couple that with the move to the WAC and you can see why it could be a tad of a struggle for this inaugural dash through the new surroundings. But for this proud program, it’s a temporary thing I’m sure.

Head coach Ty Harrington (the one on the far right with the wristwatch on) and his Texas State Bobcats hope the transition to the WAC won't be as rough as I think it might be. Feel free to prove me wrong boys.

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BIGGEST CLEATS TO FILL:

- Travis Bellew, RHP, Texas State.

The Bobcats lose a real gem in Bellew, who had four complete games and established his presence on the hill, with 119Ks a year ago. Michael Pitts, the team’s No. 2 starter in 2011, returns after sitting out last year and could move into the Friday role if he’s back to his usual self.

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BEST PLAYER:

- Boomer Collins, OF, Dallas Baptist

Collins hit .374-13-58 for the Pats last season, leading them to their second straight NCAA tournament. He’ll team with longtime backstop Duncan McAlpine to give DBU a great one-two power shot in the order.

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BEST PITCHER:

- Taylor Aikenhead, LHP, Cal State Bakersfield

After throwing five complete games to go along with a 3.20 ERA a year ago, Aikenhead is ready to emerge on the national scene, leading a high-quality pitching staff for the Roadrunners.

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IMPACT NEWCOMER

- Paul Voelker, RHP, Dallas Baptist.

The JC transfer from Des Moines CC has a thundering powerarm that can run his fastball up to the low 90s. With only one returning weekend starter on the mound coming back, Voelker could figure into the rotation from the get-go.

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STEAL A LEAR JET FOR:

- New Mexico State at Cal State Bakersfield, March 28-30

The best weekends are going to be the early weekends in WAC play this year, as the Aggies will take on Texas State, Bakersfield, DBU, Sac State and LaTech in the first five weekends of the season.

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CAPSULES…

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- CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD (25-30 as an independent)

2012 ISR: 100

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All WAC Candidates:

C Cael Brockmeyer (.285-6-32)

LHP Jonathan Montoya (8-5 in 2011)

LHP Jeff McKenzie (6-5, 2.67, 5CGs)

RHP Scott Brattvet (6-5, 4.75, 3CGs)

LHP Taylor Aikenhead (6-3, 3.20, 5CGs)

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NOTES:

- Okay, don’t tell anyone. But between you and I, coach Bill Kernen told me last season that he knew his team would struggle last year, but that the 2013 team would be the one to watch for. Well here we are in 2013 and you know what? Coach may be right. This team will have oodles of experience – by the way, I can’t stand the word “oodles” and yet I just used it anyway – as four everyday starters in the order will be three-year starters and the pitching staff will be led by a handful of uber-experienced hurlers.

- The expansion of Hardt Field is also underway as we speak/write. The new, permanent grandstand with stadium seating is being installed and should be ready for their first home game on February 15th vs. Nebraska. Phase two of the facility, which will include a full-use press box and luxury suites.

- One of the better points about this upcoming 2013 squad is that whenever you give pitching guru Bill Kernen a stocked arms corps, he tends to make the most of it. Jeff McKenzie, Scott Brattvet and Taylor Aikenhead started 40 games between them last season and also had 13 complete games. They could form the most formidable frontline in the WAC this spring if they continue to pitch to potential.

- The even better news is that Coach K will also get mighty-mite LHP Jonathan Montoya back from an arm injury which caused him to miss all of 2012. They’ll also return LHP Chuck Buchanan, a highly-regarded JC transfer who only threw 13.2 innings last season (going 1-1, 3.95) before being shut down with an injury. So obviously, this will be a deep arms brigade for the Roadrunners.

- The top five hitters from last season also come back including top hitter Oscar Sanay, who hit .312. Catcher Cael Brockmeyer is the lone power source and also a solid team leader. The bad side of things is that the Runners hit just .261 as a team last season, so the entire order will need to step up. Being that there is so much experience returning, I’m betting they’ll have a more stout posture at the dish in 2013.

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- DALLAS BAPTIST (41-19 as an independent)

2012 ISR: 26

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All WAC Candidates:

OF Boomer Collins (.374-13-58, 15SBs)

OF Ronnie Mitchell (.297-3-31)

C Duncan McAlpine (.270-9-42)

RHP Cy Sneed (8-5, 4.45)

RHP Jay Calhoun (3-3, 3.45)

RHP Michael Smith (4-1, 3.51, 6svs)

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NOTES:

- In this crazy world of constant conference realignment, it turns out that the Patriots will now spend only one season in the WAC before moving on to play in the Missouri Valley Conference. Talking to head coach Dan Heefner last year he remarked how he couldn’t wait to play in the Missouri Valley – they scheduled three-game weekends with seven Valley teams last year – but then news came that the administrators decided the WAC was the way to go. And lastly (although it could change by the time I get out of the Cave here), now they’ll head off to the MVC after all. But again, this WAC thing will be just a one-year deal.

- I love Dallas Baptist. I do. And not because I used to go to their NAIA playoff games when I was living in Dallas back in the 90s. I just like their enthusiasm I saw first-hand last March when they dumped Big 12 power Oklahoma with a rabid 9th-inning rally. I also love these dudes because they have proven not to be some flash in the pan. In the last five years, the Pats have won 37, 38, 28, 42 and last year’s 41 games. Bloody good work guys.

- The Pats will have some familiar faces coming back on the mound, particularly seniors Michael Smith, LHP Aaron Galbreath (4-3, 3.63) and RHP Tyler Rockafellow (0-0, 5.74, 14appearances). Cy Sneed was a weekend starter as a frosh and should have a more comfortable mindset going into this season. Also watch for classmate Jay Calhoun, who is a groundball-inducing machine.

- Keep an eye on RHP Jake Johansen, who went 3-1, 5.48 last year in 20 apps. JJ was drafted in the 27th round of the MLB draft last June but chose to return to campus. He could move into the weekend rotation, but will definitely need to amp up his game just a tad for the Baptists to make another big run to the Big Dance.

- Boomer Collins is a difference-maker with great  speed, a solid glove and an amenable amount of power in his bat. If he can set the tone with another .374-like season, it could be go-time for the Pats. But DBU lost five of its top six hitters, including longtime mainstays like Ryan Behmanesh, Austin Elkins and Landon Anderson. So Collins’ bat will need to be an infectious one to set an example for the new guys.

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- LOUISIANA TECH (27-28, 7-11)

2012 ISR: 103

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 6

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Ryan Gebhardt (.341)

1B/OF Bre’shon Kimbell (.274-6-38)

3B Taylor Terrasas (.340-3-21)

RHP Phil Maton (8-5, 2.93, .237OBA)

RHP Caleb Dudley (4-6, 3.70, 9svs)

RHP Jamie Gilley (3-4, 4.03, 3svs)

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NOTES:

- Sure, 2012 was kinda a bummer year for the Bulldogs, especially when they had such higher aspirations, but consider that their path of victims included teams like Vanderbilt, Dallas Baptist, Oral Roberts, Fresno State and even took Arkansas to extra innings before losing 6-5.

- The Techsters continued their sullen play away from home. In 2011, they went 9-19 and last year they went just 8-18. Although you could add the WAC tournament which wasn’t a true road game but was played in Mesa, Arizona and that’s where Tech put together a good run and went 3-2.

- Although it says above that there are only five returning starters coming back, the truth is that LT actually has 11 players returning who had at least 20 starts last season. For example, 3B Taylor Terrasas and C Tyler Qualls had 30 and 34 starts last season and had batting averages of .340 and .336 respectively.

- A full 343 of the 476 innings on the mound last season return to the pitching staff. Look for more improvement from the 5.48 team ERA.

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- NEW MEXICO STATE (34-24, 11-7)

2012 ISR: 48

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Parker Hipp (.349)

OF Kyle Phillips (.311-6-40)

3B Robert Lecount (.242-12-46)

LHP Ryan Beck (5-7, 4.24, 113Ks)

DH Tanner Rust (.326-2-26)

RHP Adam Mott (6-3, 4.80, 94Ks)

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NOTES:

- Last year’s Aggie team stormed out to a 30-11 record, but then slumped to an ignominious 4-13 finish, including meekly going 2-and-out in both the WAC tournament and the Tucson Regional, making people wonder if the Ags even deserved an NCAA bid after all. But to their credit they did have an RPI of No. 39, built up on two wins over national champion Arizona and CWS participant Kent State.

- Well one thing is for sure, if coach Rocky Ward is going to make a major move into the post-season, this is going to have to be the year. He’ll have his four best pitchers coming back in Ryan Beck and Adam Mott, who combined for 206 strikeouts last season, along with RHP Casey Collins (4-4, 5.22) and RHP Michael Ormseth (8-2, 5.33). Those four accounted for 52 of their 59 starts and best of all… they are all seniors.

- There are two down sides to the pitching corps. One, saves leader Scott Coffman has moved on along with a horde of relievers. So the newbies in the incoming class will need to acclimate well to pitching n the wind-tunnel that is Las Cruces, New Mexico. And secondly, none of the returnees had a sub-4.00 ERA. And yes, I realize that’s sort of de rigueur given the geography of the area, but still the Ags can’t always count on outscoring people all season long.

- Also coming back for their senior seasons will be All American candidate Parker Hipp, who has hit .349, .396 and .349 in his previous three campaigns, and centerfielder Kyle Phillips, who adjusted well from J.C. ball to last season’s .311 performance.

- One hallmark of a Rocky Ward-coached team is the fact that his teams always know how to get on base. For what seems like the 35th straight season, the Aggies led the nation in walks with 347. That led to last year’s astounding .415 team on-base percentage. Look for more of the same in 2013. It’s just what they do.

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- SACRAMENTO STATE (31-28, 11-7)

2012 ISR: 84

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

2B Andrew Ayers (.336-3-31, WAC Player of the Year)

OF Rhys Hoskins (.353-10-53, Freshman All American)

RHP Tanner Mendonca (6-8, 4.74)

RHP Dallas Chadwick (4-1, 4.40)

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NOTES:

- Give some hand claps to Reggie Christiansen. The dude took over for the legendary John Smith a couple years ago and has quietly made them even more competitive, winning just 19 games in 2011 and then up to 31 wins last season. And the Hornets tied for the WAC regular season crown with Fresno and Nevada and then came within a couple of outs of making it to the NCAA tournament. That’s pretty heady stuff for Sac State.

- There will be a whole mess of pitching coming back for 2013, led by Tanner Mendonca and eventual No. 1 starter Dallas Chadwick. Behind them they’ll have Brennan Leitao (7-5, 5.00), Ty Nichols (2-3, 8.44), Zach Morgan (0-2, 5.58) and Hunter Greenwood (3-4, 5.54). Between the six of them there were 57 starts last year. But one of the big issues that will have to be addressed will be their knack of issuing a lot of free passes. Sac State gave away 233 walks last year.

- Incoming RHP Justin Dillon is a statuesque 6’5, 225 and throws upper 80s. He turned down the big leagues after getting drafted in the 39th round of last summer’s amateur draft but decided to come to Sacto instead and should be an immediate contributor.

- The offense returns nearly everyone from the 2nd-best unit in the WAC (.298 team average). But like the pitch staff, they also had issues with walks… this time not earning enough of them. The Hornets pulled the lowest walks totals in the conference with just 168.

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- SAN JOSE STATE (22-29, 5-13)

2012 ISR: 144

Starters Returning: 8

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

LHP Johnny Melero (2-7, 3.03, .259OBA)

LHP David Wayne Russo (2-3, 3.97)

1B Matt Lopez (.322)

OF Nick Schulz (.286-4-21)

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NOTES:

- Long time head coach, and all-around good guy, Sam Piraro hung up the cleats last summer after a 25-year stint as the Spartan coach. In that span, he won 806 games and also led his charges to the 2000 College World Series. He was a familiar face around the program for a long time and will be missed. But as his career came to a close in the Blue & Gold he was near his wits-end with his recent teams, claiming them to be unmotivated and not as responsive as his teams had traditionally been.

- Dave Nakama comes down from his position as an assistant at Washington to take the program over. Nakama is well-versed in Bay Area baseball having been a long-time assistant to Mark Marquess at Stanford before taking the assistant position under Lindsay Meggs at Udub the last few years. Nakama is a noted offensive mind and a very good recruiter and should be a good shot in the arm to the SJSU program.

- The odd thing about the Nakama hiring is the timing of the hiring. It wasn’t until after fall classes had started that the Spartan administrators finally made the hire of a head coach. Something tells me it is a small microcosm of how the school views the baseball program to begin with.

- The one good thing is that coach Nakama inherits a roster full of experience with eight returning starters and 32 of the 51 starts back from a year ago on the mound. Although future pro Zack Jones did hit the bricks in the off-season, his loss isn’t as pronounced of a loss since he scaled back on the hitting, having just 25 at-bats last season.

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- SEATTLE (23-30)

2012 ISR: 167

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Eric Yardley (2-2, 2.49, 5svs)

LHP Garrett Anderson (6-6, 5.66, 3svs, .258OBA)

C Brian Olson (.276, just 3Es)

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NOTES:

- For the second year in a row the RedHawks got out to a 9-6 mark and that included wins over Utah Valley and Washington. But once again they ran out of gas at the end of the season, going 4-13 in the month of May, including four losses by a single run.

- Unlike last season’s squad, this edition will come into the season with very little quality experience coming back to the roster. There are only four returning starters in the field, although two of them are the two top hitters from a year ago in UTL Ryan Somers (.297) and C Brian Olson.

- The pitching corps will miss all three weekend starters in Seafth Howe, Brandon Kizer and Bryan Dalton. Only 11 starting assignments return with Garrett Anderson having seven of them. Relievers like RHP Evan Ewing (0-3, 4.67) and LHP Kyle Doyle (1-2, 5.25) will have to step into bigger roles this year.

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- TEXAS STATE (32-24, 19-14

2012 ISR: 64

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Kyle Finnegan (5-6, 3.28)

RHP Taylor Black (2-3, 3.63)

OF Morgan Micken (.255, 11SBs)

SS Garrett Mattlage (.240)

DH Andrew Stumph (.253-3-28)

RHP Hunter Lemke (1-0, 1.25)

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NOTES:

- On March 31st of last season the Bobcats were 19-9 with an RPI ranking in the 20s and wins over Wichita State and Rice, along with two wins over TCU and Oregon. Hell, I even made a trip to see TXST play a home game at Bobcat Stadium while I was in Texas for the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin. But from there, things went downhill quickly as the ‘Cats finished April and May with a 13-15 mark, including a 1-2 finish in the Southland Tournament.

- Of course, new surroundings means some renewed enthusiasm for coach Ty Harrington and his staff. But they’ll have to make due with a lot of losses from that 2012 team. The top two starting pitchers in Colton Turner and Travis Bellew have moved on after setting the tone each weekend last year, combining for six complete games. Kyle Finnegan is the lone weekender coming back, but look for mid-week starterTaylor Black to join him after making seven starts a year ago.

- One of the bigger returnees will be RHP Mitchell Pitts, who was the team’s No. 2 starter in 2011, going 6-3, 3.66. If he’s back to his high-ceiling level, the losses on the mound might not be as bad as expected.

- Offensively, it could be a real struggle as the top three hitters are gone in Jeff McVaney, Tyler Sibley and power-slugging Casey Kalenkosky. The top returning hitter is Morgan Micken’s boney-armed .255. Yes, .255 is the best batter returning. The Bobcats hit just .254 as a team last season and will need to hope their younger guys start to figure things out nearly out of the gate.

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- TEXAS-ARLINGTON (36-25, 19-14)

2012 ISR: 61

Starters Returning: 3

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

INF Ryan Walker (.360, 15SBs)

RHP Zach Thompson (3-3, 3.83, 1sv)

RHP Chad Nack (2-3, 4.10, 4svs)

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NOTES:

- Clay Gould would be proud. Hell, Butch McBroom too. The Mavericks returned to the Big Dance last season for the first time since 2006, mostly thanks to their 4-and-0 run through the Southland Conference tournament, where the offense ignited for 36 runs on 47 hits.

- It will be a relatively new team for UTA in 2013 as most of the top pitchers moved on. RHP Kasey Merck (1-3, 5.82) and RHP John Beck (3-1, 4.30) combined for 16 starts and will take on big roles. All four relievers coming back had ERAs below 5.00.

- There are only three starters coming back, but also watch for part-time starters Travis Sibley, who hit .369 in 17 starts, and Brent Bollinger, .275 in 23 starts, as both are capable infielders with good sticks.

- Several players had bang-em-up summers last year that they hope will translate into big seasons. RHP John Beck (No. 4) and OF Matt Shortall (No. 9) were both top 10 prospects in the California Collegiate League and will enter their draft-eligible junior years. Also, soph-to-be RHP Chad Nack was named the No. 6 prospect in the Jayhawk League.

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- TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO (22-32, 11-21)

2012 ISR: 157

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Riley Good (.354)

OF Daniel Rockett (.267-5-40, 13SBs)

SS R.J. Perucki (.284)

OF/RHP Justin Anderson (.324 and 3-2, 6.65)

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NOTES:

- Things literally hit rock bottom last year when the RoadRunners finished in dead last place in the Southland standings. It also marked the third straight season of non-30+ wins. Considering from 2006 to 2009 they finished with 30+ wins, that three-year skid is a pretty harsh reality. The sad thing is that UTSA started out last season at 8-4, including wins over New Mexico (a 3-1 weekend), Dallas Baptist, Kansas and Louisiana. Gah! How did it go so bad from there?

- Lots of firepower returns to the Runners batting order including top-hitter Riley Good and part-time starter Justin Anderson, who possesses great speed and should make a difference on the basepaths this year as well. Speaking of speed, Daniel Rockett and OF John Welborn (.260), combined for 25 stolen bases as well. With only 25 home runs all of last season, this year’s squad will probably rely on pressure a lot more this time around again.

- Pitching wise, nine of the 10 most used arms on the roster come back to the fore, including weekend starters LHP Michael Craft (8-6, 4.91) and dual-threat Justin Anderson, who went 3-2 in 10 starts. Also coming back as a key piece to the RoadRunners success is RHP Matt Sims, who made 22 appearances and secured seven saves.

- RHP Jordan Pacheco (1-3, 5.82) made eight midweek starts a year ago, but went 7-2, 1.82 in the Texas Collegiate League last summer, garnering Pitcher of the Year honors in the summer league. So Pacheco is definitely a candidate to have a breakout season.

 

COMMENTS:

February 5, 2013 at 8:28 pm
3Point1Four says:

Just a correction re last year’s WAC co-champs. NMSU, Nev & Sac St. topped the conference. Fresno St ended up 5th but, as usual, had that WAC Tourney charge that got them to the postseason.


February 16, 2013 at 7:19 am
SigmaPi says:

Bats on fire for CSUB for a great opening day victory over Nebraska! Go Runners!