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Air Force Season Preview Part 1

Optimism is running high with the Air Force baseball program as the Falcons begin their 53rd season in 2009. With the return of eight starters, two weekend starting pitchers and several key members of the bullpen, head coach Mike Hutcheon envisions his most successful season yet as he enters his sixth year at the helm. Joining the team in 2009 are 12 talented freshmen whom have shown the ability to contribute immediately.

Despite sending out a team predominantly of freshmen and sophomores, Air Force went 18-33 in 2008, an improvement of 10 wins from 2007. The Falcons led the nation in triples per game (.63) and for the first time since 2003, won Mountain West Conference series when they took two-of-three games from BYU and UNLV.

“The biggest thing I notice with our team this year is our attitude and expectations towards success,” Hutcheon said. “Our staff and our team has an attitude and outlook that we can and will win games.”

In addition to the big conference series wins, Air Force had several signature wins in non-conference play. Air Force defeated Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., for the program’s first-ever win over a SEC Conference opponent. Just a week later, the Falcons toppled Ohio State for a win over a Big 10 Conference team. The big wins have carried over into 2009 as the Falcons have raised expectations.

“Winning games against big-name conference schools like Mississippi State and Ohio State were certainly confidence-boosters for our guys,” Hutcheon said. “Defeating those teams proved to our guys that we could compete with teams and we were able to carry some momentum over into our conference slate. As we earned series wins over BYU and UNLV, our guys are starting to believe that they can compete in MWC play and confidence and expectations of winning have carried over as we head into this year.

Anchored by team captains Jake Petro and K.J. Randhawa, the Falcons feature a veteran team with experienced starters at nearly every position. Petro is a three-year starter and is in his second year as a team captain. Randhawa is a two-year starter at shortstop and is the leader of the Falcon defense. During the off-season, the two have been instrumental in keeping the team focused towards improving and instilling a winning mentality and an expectation of success.

“Our team leadership has been excellent,” Hutcheon said. “The way Jake and K.J. go about practices, lifting and games on a daily basis has been a big boost to our mentality and expectations. These two have done a great job of keeping the team focused and pointed in a positive direction. Jake and K.J. are two big reasons why I am confident in the direction our team is headed this year.”

The Schedule

The 2009 schedule features a challenging mix of non-conference and conference opponents.

“The non-conference schedule will challenge and help prepare us as we enter an always-tough MWC slate,” Hutcheon said. “The Service Academies Classic will give us an early glimpse of where we are and the road trips to Charleston, S.C., Cedar City and Orem, Utah will provide us with some solid competition. Northern Colorado, Colorado Christian and the Colorado School of Mines also provide us with some tough, in-state rivals that will help us prepare for conference play.”

The Falcons open the season at the Service Academies Spring Classic n Millington, Tenn., taking on Navy, Kansas and Memphis.

The Falcons then head to Charleston, S.C., to play four games in three days at Charleston Southern, Feb. 27-March 1. After a home game vs. Colorado Christian on March 3, the Falcons play back-to-back doubleheaders at Southern Utah, March 6 & 7 in Cedar City, Utah.

After a mid-week game at Northern Colorado, March 10, the Falcons open Mountain West Conference play with a three-game set at New Mexico, March 13-15. The Falcons then host CCU again on March 17, before starting a Spring Break trip that will feature nine games in 10 days.

The Spring Break trip starts at UNLV with a three-game series in Las Vegas, March 20-22. After a day off, the Falcons play six consecutive days, starting at Presbyterian (March 24), then Savannah State (March 25) and closing with a four-game set at the Citadel (March 26-29).

The Falcons host the Colorado School of Mines on April 1, then head to Utah Valley for a pair of doubleheaders, April 3 & 4. Air Force returns home to host Northern Colorado on April 7 before a three-game set at BYU, April 9-11.

The Falcons then play a mid-week doubleheader on Wednesday, April 15, against Creighton at Rosenblatt Stadium, home of the College Baseball World Series in Omaha, Neb. The Falcons return home to host TCU in a three-game set, April 17-19 (Tentativley scheduled to be played at Security Service Field, home of Colorado Rockies AAA Affilate Colorado Springs SkySox, in Colorado Springs).

Air Force hosts Northern Colorado on April 21 and then a three-game home set with UNLV, April 24-26. The Falcons then head to UNC on April 28, then host a three-game set vs. Utah, May 1-3.

Air Force closes out the regular season when it travels to San Diego State, May 8-10, then return to host New Mexico, May 14-16.

The 2009 Mountain West Conference Baseball Championship, hosted by TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, runs from May 19-23.

“The Mountain West Conference is loaded from top to bottom and every game will be important,” Hutcheon said. “One of our goals, as it is every year, it to make the Conference tournament. I feel that this team has the talent and abilities to do so. This is an exciting time to be a part or Falcon baseball.”

Air Force Baseball

2008 Record: 8-33
MWC Record: 4-24/7th
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 20/8
Starters Returning/Lost: 8/2
Pitchers Returning/Lost: 7/3
Newcomers/Pitchers: 12/6

Notable returning pitchers:
Jr. RHP Alex Truesdale (3-6 W-L, 6.73 ERA, 97.2 IP, 58 K)
Sr. RHP Jake Petro (1-8, 7.46, 66.1, 49)
Jr. RHP Michael Ruvolo (5-4, 6.26, 41.2, 24, 4 SV)

Notable returning hitters:

Jr. 1B Addison Gentry (.289 Avg., 19 2B, 6 HR, 46 RBIs)
Jr. DH Matt Alexander (.306 Avg., 7 HR, 45 RBIs)
So. OF Nathan Carter (.312 Avg., .430 OBP, 10 3B, 19 SB, 51 R, 30 RBIs)
Jr. OF Daniel Walker (.303 Avg., .505 SLG, 7 3B, 18 R, 17 RBIs)

Notable defensive standouts:
Jr. SS K.J. Randhawa (.954 FLD Pct., 162 assists, 36 DPs)
So. C Parker Mayo (.992, One error in 123 chances, threw out 10 of 30 stolen base attempts)
So. 3B Vai Schierholtz (.941, 47 assists, 17 putouts)
*2008 team tied school record with .957 fielding percentage.

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