We are extremely excited about heading into the WAC with a veteran offense and some quality arms for 2013. Last year was the third straight season we improved in the win column, and now it is time for Seattle University Baseball to take the final step toward being a contender within the WAC.
This 2012 fall, and our preparation for the WAC, is a very important time for our program. The key for the fall is to find our best lineups through competition. We are two-deep in every position for the first time in our short history, but we lost the majority of our weekend starting pitching from last year, so the fight for innings in the spring will be the area most focused on this fall.
We've added 11 new student-athletes to our roster this year, with nine of those being true freshman. Our new offensive players in this class will add much more speed than in the past. We will be inching closer to a true pressure offense to accommodate the new bats meeting NCAA approval. Austen Brand (Tacoma, Wash.), Landon Cray (Chimacum, Wash.), Chase Fields (Ontario, Ore.), Connor Moore (West Richland, Wash.), and Chris Jaeger (Carmel, Calif.) all have run 6.7 seconds or better in the 60-yard dash. Their ability to put pressure on defenses, along with the offense we have back, should make us a more dangerous offense this season.
Returning to the line-up is last year's team MVP, sophomore Brian Olson (Black Diamond, Wash.). Olson hit .276 and drove in 18 runs while holding a .985 fielding percentage behind the plate. Competing with Olson behind the plate will be Brand and redshirt junior Steve Kirbach (Kirkland, Wash.), who ended 2012 batting .238. Kirbach will also continue to play the outfield as well.
The infield will have returners and newcomers competing for a starting spot. First base is wide open with the departure of seniors Jace Sloan and Riley Tompkins. Senior Zach Aaker (Ravensdale, Wash.) who hit .255 with three doubles in a utility role last season will compete with sophomore Grant Newton (Bend, Ore.) who has moved from third base over to the other corner. Newton ended his freshman campaign by hitting .247 with 2 doubles and 10 RBI's. Utility infielder Nick Latta (Tacoma, Wash.) will also get some reps as a righthanded-hitting first baseman. Latta finished 2012 with a .213 batting average and had three stolen bases.
The middle of the diamond has many different combinations that can be used. Redshirt junior Cullen Hendrickson (Auburn, Wash.) returns to the diamond after only playing in 10 games in 2012 due to a season-ending injury. Hendrickson was hitting .286 with 2 doubles and 3 RBI's before going down. Hendrickson, along with sophomore returner Eric Koenig (Auburn, Wash.), will battle for the second base position. Koenig hit .194 as a freshman and saw time at third base as well.
Shortstop is the most important position on the field and the Redhawks return two veterans at the position in Latta and senior Nate Roberts (Silverdale, Wash.). Roberts hit .233 as a junior with 18 RBI's and had a fielding percentage of .930. Incoming freshman Jaeger looks to get right in the middle of the competition with Roberts, who also plays third base, and Latta, who defended the diamond with a .950 fielding percentage in 2012. Freshmen Cash McGuire (Kent, Wash.) and Ben Ruff (Fife, Wash.) with come in and fight for innings at both third base and second base. The beauty of our infielders is many of them can play multiple positions. This gives us tremendous options throughout a game, so we will have many guys working all over the field.
The outfield returns the team's leading hitter in redshirt junior Ryan Somers (Sammamish, Wash.). Somers led the Redhawks with a .297 batting average and had 35 hits, including seven extra-base hits, before going down late in the season after 39 games. Redshirt senior Bryndon Ecklund (Elma, Wash.) looks to rebound from an injury-plagued 2012 where he hit just .226 with 16 RBI's. Sean Narby (Auburn, Wash.), who hit .164 as a junior, along with Kirbach will both compete with Somers and Ecklund for the corner outfield positions.
With the loss of graduated centerfielder Marcelino Morales, who played in 46 games last season, the greatest competition will be in center field. Newcomers Cray and Fields give the Redhawks a right-handed and left-handed bat at the position with a lot of speed. Narby will also compete for the quarterback position of the outfield, as will Moore, who had four grand slams this past summer. Josh Kutz (Seattle, Wash.) will focus his attention this season on being the designated hitter for the Redhawks. Kutz hit .150 last season but shows signs of much-needed power.
The mound is where the Redhawks need some guys to really step up. With the loss of Brandon Kizer and Seafth Howe, Seattle U loses 177 innings which were gobbled up by those two seniors in 2012. Add in the loss of freshman starter Grant Gunning (Snohomish, Wash.), who was leading the Redhawks in ERA through his first 37 innings last year at 2.68, and the scenario equals opportunity. Gunning will not pitch in 2013 due to Tommy John surgery which ended his season in 2012.
Sophomore Garrett Anderson (Kennewick, Wash.) had seven starts in 2012 and posted a 5.66 ERA with a team-leading six wins. Sophomore Jake Chutney (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) and redshirt senior Evan Ewing (Spokane, Wash.) each had a start in 2012, but neither picked up a win. Chutney posted a 7.36 ERA, while Ewing ended the season at 4.67.
The bullpen will be led by senior right-hander Eric Yardley (Richland, Wash.). Yardley was mainly in the closer role last season for the Redhawks and responded with a 2.49 ERA and five saves. Sophomores Mason Stidham (Star, Idaho) and Kyle Doyle (Covington, Wash.), along with redshirt senior Blaine Jones (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.), bring experience to the mound for the Redhawk pitching staff. Stidham ended his freshman year with a 7.50 ERA, Doyle was at 5.25 and Jones a career-best 3.38.
Newcomers who are looking forward to making an impact in the program include four lefthanders and four righthanders. Lefties ready to make a mark are redshirt junior Andrew Olson (Enumclaw, Wash.), who comes back after missing last season and should contend right away for a rotation spot on the weekend. Redshirt freshman Bret Hartnett (Kent, Wash.) used last season to refine his skills and had many quality innings this summer.
Incoming freshmen Will Dennis (Saratoga, Calif.) and Moore each had good summers as well and should contend for innings this spring. The righties include Skyler Genger (Kent, Wash.), who won a state championship last spring with McGuire. Ted Hammond (Shoreline, Wash.) and Ruff both bring fastballs that reach 90 mph. Talor Okada (Archbishop Murphy HS) rounds out the pitching staff and should add pitch ability to the ballclub.
Our program and alumni have been hard at work to enhance all of our facilities and get us up to speed with Division I expectations. We built two new dugouts and bullpens at Bannerwood Park, while the city enhanced the park with all-new lighting. The city also added new drainage in the outfield and created room behind the home dugout for new batting cages.
Our schedule is once again tough and will prepare us for the WAC in 2013. Our schedule is once again balanced between home games and road games, and we are excited for our team and fans to see us play high quality institutions. Home games against the likes of Portland, UW, Oregon State, Oregon, BYU and others, complimented by road series against top teams like Santa Clara, Long Beach State, and Cal Poly, should challenge us greatly as we look to win the WAC title and advance to the NCAA Tournament.