Jan. 22, 2002
The UC Santa Barbara baseball team enters the 2002 season with hopes of duplicating their record breaking 2001 season with another trip to the NCAA tournament. However, with graduation and 10 players from last years team now playing professionally, the Gaucho coaching staff has plenty of holes to fill. Gone are seven All-Big West players, including their entire infield, and two All-West Region performers. Don't feel too bad, through, because Coach Brontsema and his staff return three All-American candidates in senior RHP James Garcia (3rd Team All-American, 2001), sophomore RHP Matt Vasquez (Freshman All-American, 2001), and junior Ryan Spilborghs (All-West Region, 2001). The incoming recruiting class of six pitchers and seven position players also has the coaching staff exited about the upcoming year.
"The quality of arms that we brought in," Brontsema says, "combined with what we have returning should counter balance what we may have lost in terms of our offensive output from last year."
The departure of 20 wins and 9 saves from three pitchers usually has a coach scrambling the next year, but head coach Bob Brontsema feels this year's staff could be deeper and better than the year before.
"We return two starters and two relievers that gave us quality innings last year. Added to that are some talented newcomers that we feel significantly enhance our staff and possibly make it better than last seasons."
The staff will be led by senior All-American candidate James Garcia. An All-American in his junior season, James led the Gaucho staff in wins (10), complete games (5), innings pitched (122), strikeouts (112) and batting average against (.229). Besides being a First Team All-Big West performer, he was named Big West Pitcher of the Week, twice. Following Garcia, will be 2001 Freshman All-American and hometown product Matt Vasquez. Vasquez will be expected to be one of the weekend starters after a sensational freshman campaign where he won five games, struck out 49 batters and walked only 19 batters in 68.1 innings pitched. He also posted the third lowest ERA (3.95) on the staff. Senior Jeremy Sugarman (4-1, 4.75) was effective out of the pen last year but could find himself in the rotation this year. Junior Transfer James Dayley (Utah Valley C.C.) has shown a power arm and a good breaking ball and could also find one of those spots. Matt Moran was thought to be the closer out of the pen, but a quality fall, and the emergence of junior lefty Sean Thompson (El Camino J.C.) could send Moran into the rotation. Freshman RHP Eric Posthumus (Hart H.S.) has a great future and will se quality innings out of the pen and could get some spot starts. Junior RHP Jared Edrosolan (Moorpark College) has "closer stuff", and will most likely be used out of the pen. Junior Transfer Kevin Miller (Cuesta College) was a JC All-American last year as a two-way player and because of a shortage of left handers could fill a large role out of the pen. The same could be said of red shirt freshman Mike Sutherland (West Torrance H.S.). Injuries cut the season short last year for senior Rob More (Utah Valley) and sophomore Keith Kelley (Walnut H.S.). If they can stay healty, they will compete for innings along with surprise walk-on's freshman Alex McRobbie (Sir Francis Drake H.S.) and sophomore Rich Sorenson (Dana Hills H.S.).
The Gauchos graduated the two catchers that caught every single inning for the Gauchos the last two seasons
Four candidates are battling for that position. Sophomore transfer Chad Ziemendorf (Mission College) has shown the defensive skills to be one of the better catchers in the league. Switch hitting junior transfer Nic Rodriguez (Coshise C.C., AZ.) has shown a good bat and a strong arm. Returning sophomore Taylor Vogt posseses a big league arm and big time pop in his bat. Injuries have slowed his progress, but a strong fall have the coaches encouraged. Freshman Josh LaGrotta (Canyon H.S.) will battle for time, but red-shirting seems likely.
"I like the ability that all these guys bring to the table." Coach Brontsema says, "the biggest thing will be how they adjust to the Division 1 level."
Who's on first, second and third? Good question, because for the last three and in some cases four years, head coach Bob Brontsema has written - Von Schell, Peshke, Molidor, and Bannon on his line-up card. With all of them now in proffesional baseball, Brontsema looks to his next crop of infielders to carry on their tradition.
"This group needs to make their own identity," says Brontsema, "It wouldn't be realistic to expect this group to put up similar numbers to last years group. If they contribute to their capabilities, though, they can be just as effective."
Freshman Chris Malec (Santa Margarita H.S.) had been the most consistent on offense and defense during fall practices and looks to have secured one of the infield positions. A battle for all spots still exists, however. Malec is being pushed at second base by junior Blair Havens and red-shirt freshman Matt Stevens. Shortstop is up for grabs as well, with senior Dave Licht and junior Josh Fulton (Univ. of Washington) battling it out. Licht has a little more game experience, but Fulton brings a little more speed and quickness to the line-up. Either could end up second if needed.
Third base should come down to a battle between sophomore Nate Sutton and freshman Matt Wilkerson (Santa Margarita H.S.). Sutton has more experience and a quality bat. Wilkerson, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, had great size, power and arm strength. He could see some time at first base, as well.
First base, as you might have guessed, is also up for grabs. Junior Josh McCanne (Orange Coast College) may have the inside track because he is more polished defensively than the other candidates. James Garcia had shown a powerful bat in the fall and could see time there when he isn't pitching. How quickly the infield unit gels will be one of the keys to the Gauchos success.
First team All-Big West outfielder and All-American candidate, junior Ryan Spilborghs leads an outfield that has two seniors, two juniors and two freshman. Spilborghs, a Santa Barbara H.S. product, batted .375 as a sophomore, including a school record 35 hitting streak. The ultimate team player, Ryan also set the single season school record for sacrifice bunts (13). His defense was as impressive as his offense, as he also threw out six runners trying to take extra bases. Senior Andy Campanella should fill the center field position. A four-year contributor with speed and great instincts, the coaches are looking for a break out year from Campanella. Senior co-captain R.J. Smith returns for his fourth campaign looking to provide the needed spark on offense. The versatile Smith can play any position on the field. J.C. All-American Kevin Miller (Cuesta College) brings a potent bat to the line-up, and when he's not pitching could be in left field, first base, or at designated hitter. The two Gaucho freshman have both been very impressive during the fall. Santa Barbara High School's Gabe Mann may be the fastest Gaucho since Jerrold Rountree (1988-91). Meanwhile, C.J. Cook (Mater Dei H.S.) has swung a hot bat during the fall. Both could see quality innings off the bench or as starters.
"Our pitching looks to be our strength, "recapped Brontsema. "Since we have so many new faces, I would expect us to get better and better as the season progresses."