Countdown to Opening Day: Saint Mary’s Gaels

FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE

JR OF Kyle Jensen returns as the leagues best hitter after going for a .421 batting average last season
JR OF Kyle Jensen returns as the league's best hitter after going for a .421 batting average last season

Head coach Jedd Soto enters his sixth season at the helm of the Saint Mary’s baseball program with his sights set on propelling the Gaels into the national spotlight. With a loaded squad of seasoned starters and a host of younger talent pushing for playing time, the 2009 team is now in prime position to stake their claim as a WCC power in both this season and for years to come. In Coach Soto’s estimation, “This is the deepest squad, both on the mound and in the field, that I have ever had the opportunity to field in my tenure at Saint Mary’s.”

Pitching:

JR RHP Scott Schneider headlines the pitching staff after leading the team in wins (5) and strikeouts (63)

This Saint Mary’s team is replete with power arms stocking both the starting staffs and bullpen, providing the Gaels with one of their most complete staffs in years. Headlining the group of returning weekend starters is senior workhorse Brian Justice, who bounced back from injury in 2008 to post a 4-4 record while leading the squad in innings pitched with 77.1. Scott Schneider, a junior from San Diego, stepped away from his duties as an everyday position player and posted some of the Gael’s finest outings in 2008 en route to a team-high five wins. Schneider’s front line stuff and command will provide stability for the Gaels and bolster confidence in the team’s ability to win regardless of the opponent, as evidenced by his 4-2 victory over eventual College World Series participant Stanford. Junior lefty Anthony Aliotti continues to develop on the mound and will be looked upon to clinch series victories on the back end of the weekend rotation. The sophomore trio of Taylor Reid, David Small and Dorsey Ek all possess high end stuff, featuring live fastballs and excellent secondary pitches that should allow them to compete for mid week starts from opening day onward. Also vying for starts on the mound is freshman Nathan Gonzalez, whose pure stuff ranks among the best on the team. While injuries plagued the Gaels’ bullpen in 2008, Brandon Berl, Justin Kuks, Jimmy Munill and a healthy Tony Selden will likely serve as the primary stoppers out of the bullpen in the year to come. With the added depth to the rotation, Soto has the luxury of converting Berl, his Saturday starter from a year ago, to the closer role. Also competing for innings out of the pen will be a talented group of underclassmen, including sophomore Alex Schmarzo and hard-throwing and consistent newcomers Kyle Barraclough and Markus Melgosa.

Catchers:The always steady field general Ryan Mulligan returns after another successful campaign as the Gaels’ primary backstop. Mulligan posted a .329 average hitting primarily out of the two-hole in coach Soto’s lineup, where he utilized his advanced feel for the strike zone to work deep into counts. The junior backstop drew a team-high 28 walks while striking out only 15 times in 149 at bats in 2008. Junior Thomas Chadwick provides an excellent bat and much needed depth at the catcher position. Toby DeMello joins the team as a stalwart defender, and will likely serve as the primary backup for Mulligan. Sure handed freshmen backstops Jordan Heil and Riley Heinzer will also contend for time behind the dish.

Infielders:

JR IF Anthony Aliotti was second on the team in doubles (15) after hitting .303 for the season

The smooth fielding Anthony Aliotti returns to anchor the unit at the first base position after an impressive sophomore campaign which saw his power numbers increase across the board. Aliotti collected 33 RBI, the second highest total on the team, while hitting at a .303 clip on the strength of 13 doubles. Junior Michael Cipolla started 23 games for the Gaels in 2008, mostly at third base, and will likely move up the middle to vie for time at second base in 2009. Cipolla is an excellent athlete who has honed his offensive repertoire to provide another viable threat for Coach Soto with runners in scoring position. Redshirt freshman Greg Ditmer has been chomping at the bit for a chance to play at Louis Guisto Field. The power hitting righty from nearby Danville, CA projects as a solid option at the corner infield, and will compete for innings right out of the gate. The slick fielding Daniel Alcaire, who appeared in 32 games in 2008, will likely see his role with the Gaels expand in 2009. Alcaire has the quickness and arm strength to patrol the middle infield, and the sophomore has worked hard in the off-season to improve his plate discipline to garner more at bats. Freshman Chris Murphy joins the Gaels after a remarkable prep career at Arcadia High School in Phoenix, AZ. Murphy possesses the range and arm strength to patrol the short stop position along with excellent bat control at the plate, and will likely vie for the spot in the everyday lineup. Freshman Troy Channing, a power hitting right-hander will also strive for a spot at the hot corner after being named First Team All-East Bay and team MVP following a monster senior year at Foothill High School. Channing decided to forgo the professional ranks to join the Gaels, after declining to sign with the Seattle Mariners as their 40th round selection. Rounding out the infield in 2009 are junior college transfer and consummate utility player Drew Fisher, hardworking sophomore Michael Gastelum, and quality freshmen Mark Anderson and Ryan Amerongen.

Outfield:
Headlining the Gaels’ stellar outfield is 2009 Brooks Wallace Player of the Year Candidate Kyle Jensen, who returns to Moraga after a torrid 2008 campaign in Gael pinstripes. The junior outfielder, who possesses raw power to every part of the ball park, clubbed out a Saint Mary’s College single season record .421 batting average, while pacing the team in doubles (17), home runs (13), and RBI (52). Jensen appears poised to improve upon his fantastic 2008 season in which he was named to a Rivals.com Second Team All-American, ABCA/Rawlings All-American First Team (All-Western Region) and West Coast Conference All-Conference Team. Jensen’s exceptional speed and strong throwing arm will allow him to patrol the gaps at Louis Guisto from the center field position. Sophomore Justin Fazio exploded onto the scene for the Gaels in 2008, garnering selections to both the WCC All-Freshman Team as well as the Third Team All-Ping Freshman squads. The left handed hitting outfielder slugged his way to a .379 average and a .978 OBS in his 23 starts, serving as a both a terrific table setter and run producer for Coach Soto, earning himself a starting spot in the corner outfield. Senior speedster Cory Miller returns to the Gaels after an impressive 2008 season in which he hit .327, while pacing the club with 12 steals. Primarily used as a leadoff hitter, Miller produced 14 multi-hit games while patrolling in center field with above average range and instincts. The senior will continue to contend for innings in the Gael’s loaded outfield, particularly against right handed pitchers. Senior Ryan Young, freshman Donald Collins and junior Conor Larkin will push for innings in right field as well, particularly against left handed pitchers.

Schedule
A difficult slate of games awaits the Gaels in 2009, which includes 29 games at the friendly confines of Louis Guisto Field. Six of the Gaels’ 2009 opponents have garnered a spot in the Collegiate Baseball Preseason Top 40, highlighted by a match up on March 3 with Stanford who sits at fifth in the nation to start the year. Opening day will feature the University of Oregon’s first baseball game since 1981, as the Ducks travel down the coast to Moraga for a series from February 20-22. The WCC championships will take place on May 22-24.