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2008 Gonzaga Team Preview

Spokane, Wash. After a disappointing end to an otherwise impressive 2007 campaign, the Gonzaga University baseball team is looking toward another strong run this season. Last year the Bulldogs enjoyed one of the most memorable seasons in the program’s history, including a 33-25 overall record. But the season ended with the Zags narrowly missing out on a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

This year Gonzaga is looking to rebound and continue its quest to earn a bid to the NCAA postseason. The Bulldogs return 18 letterwinners, including eight starters, from last years’ 33-25 squad. The 2008 roster is highlighted by four returning All-West Coast Conference honorees – Brandon Harmon, Jeremy Stumetz, Ryan Wiegand and Shawn Wayt.

“We have a solid mix of veterans and newcomers – both freshman and transfers – this season,” said fifth-year head coach Mark Machtolf. “Several guys are going to have to make an immediate contribution, but things should shake down quickly in the spring. Guys will step forward and help to fill the gaps for those we lost to graduation and the draft.”

Harmon, a two-time All-WCC honorable mention selection, is expected to bolster Gonzaga’s starting rotation this season. The senior is no rookie to the starting role as he started 16 games for the Bulldogs last season.

“Brandon brings back a ton of experience for us,” commented Machtolf. “He is one of the toughest kids on our squad and we expect him to be one of our top starters this season.”

New to a starting role this season will be junior Matt Fields. Fields, who put in time in the bullpen last season, posted a strong summer that should aid his jump to a starting position. Battling for the third weekend starter position will be Cory Powell, a returning redshirt, and A.J. Proszek, a transfer from Spokane Falls Community College.

The young Gonzaga bullpen will be anchored by Stumetz, a returning All-WCC freshman team member. As a freshman, Stumetz assumed the Zags’ closer role, ranking seventh in the conference with a team-leading four saves.

“Jeremy did a great job for us out of the pen last year,” said Machtolf. “We expect him to do the same this season as a mid-reliever or closer.”

Chris Highmark and CJ McClure will provide experienced depth to the pitching staff this season, as both juniors join Stumetz as the lone returnees to the Zags’ bullpen. Highmark, a left-hander, posted 25 innings of work out of the pen for the Bulldogs in 2007, while also adding innings with eight mid-week starts. McClure provided the Bulldogs with 37.1 relief innings in 2007 en route to a 3-0 record in 21 appearances.

In addition to the three veterans, Gonzaga will rely on a crop of newcomers to contribute immediately. Returning redshirts Jason Hallerman and Andrew Danner, as well as incoming freshmen Jake and Kyle Adkins, Reedy Berg and Cody Martin are all expected to see time on the mound for Gonzaga.

After losing the left side of the infield to graduation and the draft last season, the Zags’ infield will have an old, yet new look. Juniors Wiegand and Evan Wells will return to first and second, respectively, this season while veteran Bryan Winston will join the infield after serving as the Zags’ everyday right fielder in 2007. Joining the infield staff this season will be Jason Chatwood, a transfer from Colby Community College.

Wiegand, who could start at first base or designated hitter, was a unanimous all-conference selection last season and is Gonzaga’s top returning offensive threat after posting a .338 average in 2007 after hitting at a .330 clip as a freshman. The junior ranked second on the squad in hits (73), doubles (14), runs batted in (45), total bases (105), slugging percentage (.486) and on-base percentage (.425).

“Ryan is one of the best, if not the best, hitters in our conference,” added Machtolf. “He has posted outstanding numbers two years in a row and poses a strong threat in our line-up.”

Wells will serve as the Bulldogs’ starting second baseman and will continue to leadoff in the Zags’ batting order. Wells started all 58 games for the Bulldogs last season, posting a .983 fielding percentage while only committing one error during West Coast Conference play. At the plate the junior hit .274 with 43 runs scored.

“Evan did a great job in the top of the line-up last season,” said Machtolf. “He did a great job getting on base and setting the table for us last year. This season, we expect he will do the same.”

Chatwood is expected to get the starting nod at shortstop after piecing together a solid performance during the fall. The junior is new to Gonzaga this year after transferring from Colby Community College. During his community college career, Chatwood was a two-time All-Jayhawk Conference selection including a unanimous pick in 2007. Last season he was also a unanimous Regional Six infielder, a Gold Glove recipient and earned third-team All-America accolades.

Winston, who started 47 games in the outfield, is expected to be the Bulldogs’ starting third baseman. Prior to GU, Winston was a two-year starter at second base for Spokane Falls Community College

“Bryan provided us with great numbers at the plate last season,” commented Machtolf on the senior who hit .324 with 61 hits last season. “This season we will bring him back to the infield and expect another strong offensive and defensive showing from him.”

Providing depth in the infield this year will be a mix of old and new faces – senior transfer Marcus McKimmy, junior Alex Parrott, junior transfer Brian Yardley, sophomore Mark Ellis and redshirt freshman Bryan Barnes.

Tyson Van Winkle will return behind the plate this season after suffering an injury early last year that forced him to redshirt.

“Tyson had an outstanding summer,” added Machtolf. “He continues to improve offensively and also posses strong abilities defensively.”

Battling for time at catcher will be Anthony Synegal, a transfer from San Jose City College.

The outfield in 2008 will be anchored by Wayt, a returning unanimous All-WCC selection.

“Shawn had a great year last season,” said Machtolf. “He has a strong bat and along with his tremendous experience, we are excited about his potential this season.”

Wayt will serve as Gonzaga’s starting leftfielder. As a junior he posted a .341 average with 44 hits, including nine doubles.

Drew Heid, a new face to the Bulldogs this season, is projected to be the Zags’ centerfielder on opening day. In 2007, the sophomore played at Walla Walla Community College where he set a program record for single-season hits with 68.

Competing for time will be Michael Rhodes and Brandon Blank, who split duties in centerfield last season. Rhodes started 27 games in center in 2007, and led the Zags with 10 stolen bases, despite seeing limited time due to an injury. Blank started 29 games in center, including 20 of the final 21 games of the season.

“Michael is our biggest threat on the base paths,” commented Machtolf. “He is our fastest runner and will surely figure into our arsenal this season. Brandon stepped up for us last year and not only provided us with his strong defensively abilities but also came through with some big hits in key games.”

Right field will be patrolled by Grant Kveder, a newcomer to the Bulldogs. Kveder comes to Spokane from the College of Southern Idaho, where he was an All-American honorable mention honoree in 2007. Also contributing in right field will be McKimmy, who hit .346 at San Jose State University en route to earning second team All-Western Athletic Conference accolades last season.

“Marcus had a great year last season in a tough conference,” said Machtolf of the natural infielder. “Regardless of where he plays for us, he will provide the team with added strength in the lineup.”

Providing depth in the outfield for the Bulldogs will be veterans Ben Greenslitt and Mark Castellitto as well as newcomer Chris Sturdivant. Castellitto, who provided Gonzaga with some big hits in 2007, including a pinch-hit walk off two-run home run against Loyola Marymount University, is also expected to see time as the designated hitter.

Gonzaga’s road to a NCAA Tournament bid won’t be an easy one as the Zags’ schedule can be deemed one of the toughest in the nation. The Bulldogs will face five opponents who participated in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, including a two-game home series with two-time defending national champion Oregon State University. The schedule features 23 regular-season home games at Patterson Baseball Complex and Washington Trust Field. Last season, the Zags’ opened the new state-of-the-art facility by posting a 13-6 home record.

The Bulldogs will begin their quest for a West Coast Conference title on Feb. 22 when they open the 2008 campaign with a four-game series at No. 27 Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

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