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TerpZag
02-12-2015, 10:49 AM
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19 letterwinners return to the GU baseball team for 2015, giving the Bulldogs the experience and depth necessary to compete for a WCC title.


Old Faces Ready for New Year


Game Notes: Gonzaga (http://www.gozags.com/fls/26400//BASEBALL/2015/Week1.pdf?DB_OEM_ID=26400) | Utah Valley (http://www.gozags.com/fls/26400//BASEBALL/2015/UVU.pdf?DB_OEM_ID=26400) | CSUN (http://www.gozags.com/fls/26400//BASEBALL/2015/CSUN.pdf?DB_OEM_ID=26400)

SPOKANE, Wash.—There are a lot of familiar faces around the Gonzaga Bulldogs’ clubhouse this year, and the mix of experienced returners and talented newcomers leaves the GU baseball team in good position to contend for the West Coast Conference title.

“The strength of this team is depth,” said Gonzaga head coach Mark Mactholf. “We have strong starting pitching, guys that can come up and help us in the bullpen and maybe even start, and we definitely have more options offensively. We could start seven or eight lefties in the lineup or go with a lot of right-handed hitting. There are more options than last year as far as experienced guys, depth, and lefty/righty matchups.”

Gonzaga has 19 letter-winners taking the field again this year, including seven of last year’s starting fielders. That results in a tremendous amount of talent returning, including four starters with a batting average over .285. Junior utility player Caleb Wood had the highest average of the group, hitting .300 with 68 hits and 24 RBIs, both second-most on the team. Senior infielder Mitchell Gunsolus and his .417 on-base percentage is also back after leading the league with 43 walks last season. Finally, Sam Brown and Jimmy Sinatro both hit .286 in 2014 with Brown legging out three triples while Sinatro tallied a team-leading 32 RBIs.

On the mound, all three weekend starters from 2014 are back, including All-WCC and All-Freshman Brandon Bailey, who led the team with 102.1 innings, 62 strikeouts, and four complete games. Fellow righty Andrew Sopko also returns for his junior season. In 2014 he posted a 3.64 ERA, fanning 61 opposing batters while issuing just 23 walks for the best strikeout/walk ratio on the team. Junior Taylor Jones is also on the team once more, giving the Zags a pitcher who’s a threat with the bat as well as his arm.

In all, 85.3% of the Zags’ starts in 2014 will be on the roster again this season, meaning the Zags won’t have nearly as many growing pains to undergo at the beginning of the year. That coupled with the chance to practice outside extensively before the season means the Bulldogs should be ready to hit the ground running for the non-conference slate.

“We’ve gotten outside a lot this year, so we feel like we’re more prepared heading into this first weekend,” said Mactholf. “We’ve been able to get the guys some work on the grass, and because of that there’s a better feel for what we have coming into the year. It’s been huge for the new guys [to get outside]; the older guys know what they’re doing a little bit more, but it was still a great warmup for them.”

Pitching Staff

Bailey and Sopko will lead the Zags’ starting rotation this season; Bailey figures to be the go-to Friday night starter while Sopko will take the ball every Saturday. A number of pitchers look to be able to grab the Sunday spot, with the favorite being Jones, who earned a starting nod 14 times in 2014 while posting a 4-3 record. Two more who look like they could break into that rotation include redshirt junior righty Sean-Luke Brija and freshman southpaw Calvin LeBrun. Whoever nabs the Sunday spot will complete a starting rotation much improved from the beginning of last season.

“Last year, everyone was new and we had to replace three really good starters on the mound. A year makes all the difference,” said Machtolf. “They’ve all got a year of competition under their belts so we feel confident that we’ll have good starting pitching again this year.”

The Zags’ bullpen will be a mix of veterans and new faces. Brija, David Bigelow, and Wyatt Mills are the only three returners who made more than one appearance last year. Reinforcements came in over the summer, however, as both Zach Abbruzza and Derek Peterson return from arm injuries to lend some experience to the relief staff, and a number of incoming freshman and transfers will round out the pen. Newcomers Tyler Frost, Eli Morgan, Hunter Wells, and Gage Burland will all begin their GU careers in relief, at least to begin the season. A number of those bullpen arms do have the potential to break into the starting staff later in the year.

“We do feel like we have a good mix of young kids and some guys with experience, both in the bullpen and starting,” Machtolf said. “Bigelow’s pitched well in the past and pitched well this summer, so he’s one guy that we will count on. We also have to add in Abbruzza and Peterson, both of whom are coming off arm trouble but are getting healthy. The other guys are all new. A couple of them are going to have really significant roles; we just have to see who emerges here in the next couple weeks. Eli pitched really well since the start of the summer and we had him pitch all fall and the start of the spring. He has a chance to get those mid-week starts if he throws well. Same with Wells. There’s guys who have to prove themselves in the bullpen a bit. Once they do, they’ll get opportunities.”

Position Players

As stated above, the vast majority of starts in the field will come from returning players. Wood, Gunsolus, and Brown each started all 55 games last season while Cory LeBrun made 49 and Sinatro 41. Gunsolus will once again man the hot corner at third base, Brown will patrol right field, and Wood will bounce between second base and left field. LeBrun figures to be the main first baseman, while Sinatro will see extensive time behind the plate and as the designated hitter.

Not every starter will have played last year, however. Redshirt junior Dustin Breshears will take over at shortstop after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA transfer rules. The North Bend, Wash., native played a year at St. John’s before moving closer to home for last season. Another transfer, Justin Jacobs could see a lot of time at second when Wood is in the outfield, and Frost figures to be the Zags’ everyday centerfielder, only moving onto the mound late in the game.

“In the field we’re very old,” Machtolf said of his position players. “Now we will have a couple newcomers that will get a chance to play right away, but other than that everybody has gotten innings in the past. It’s nice to have some guys that are a bit older. It’s a different feeling than last year.”

Thanks to an extra year of experience and a wealth of incoming players – there are 12 newcomers on the team, plus two more who are coming off redshirt seasons – Machtolf and the rest of the staff will have plenty of flexibility to get the best matchups and defensive players on the field. The depth of the squad is most evident in the catching position as Gonzaga carries four catchers, two of which will see extensive starting time. Joey Harris figures to see the most starts with the gear on, but Sinatro and his strong right-handed bat will play nearly every day between the designated hitter and catching roles. Throw in sophomores Troy LaBrie and Lucas Gately, and the Zags have a wealth of experience behind the plate.

WCC Preseason Polls

The Zags were voted fourth in the recent WCC Preseason Coaches poll, earning 56 points. Loyola Marymount came in at No. 1 with 77 points and six first-place votes, while defending conference champion Pepperdine came in at No. 2 with 72 points and three first-place nods. Just above GU at No. 3, San Diego picked up 63 points and one first-place nomination. Pacific sits 11 points behind Gonzaga for fifth, then BYU, Santa Clara, San Francisco, Saint Mary’s and Portland round out the poll.

Also announced Wednesday was the All-WCC Preseason team. Two Zags earned a spot on the All-WCC squad as both Wood and Bailey were selected for the honor. Both players picked up All-WCC honors after the 2014 season as well.

Outlook

The combination of depth and experience Gonzaga brings to the table leaves Machtolf excited for the upcoming year. The Zags are the only team to have made both iterations of the WCC Baseball Championships, and the 12th-year skip likes his team’s chances to extend that streak to three, hopefully this time taking it a step further.

“I like the makeup and the leadership of our team,” said Machtolf. “We have some older kids who will lead us in the right direction. They’re a good group with good team chemistry. We’ve won the league twice in the last five years and now, with the options we have all over the field, we feel good about getting back in there and regaining the league title.”

Gonzaga will start the fight to take back that title on February 13th with a 10:00 a.m. game against Utah Valley. That game and the three other contests that make up the Zags’ opening weekend will all take place at Matador Field in Northridge, Calif.


Gonzaga Article Link (http://www.gozags.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=26400&ATCLID=209887224)