January 23, 2007

2007 Gaucho Baseball Preview

Jan. 23, 2007

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

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With an experienced pitching staff that includes seven senior arms, a young and talented infield and key new additions, look for the 2007 UCSB baseball team to finish near the top of the heap in the competitive Big West Conference.

After injuries riddled the preseason starting rotation in 2006, UCSB (26-28 overall, 9-12 in the Big West Conference) was forced to call upon new and unfamiliar arms to get the job done. As a result, 25 of the Gauchos' 54 starts were made by a pitcher who was not on the 2005 roster. This year, the Gauchos look ready to get back on the winning track through dependence on both experienced and newly acquired sluggers as well as the arms of both their returning veteran pitchers and fresh fireballers eager to show their stuff. Head Coach Bob Brontsema says the team will "rely heavily on the returning senior arms on staff for starts, especially those of Morlock and Martin, who were slated to be two of three weekend starters in 2006, Jeff Braun, Brian Tracy and Bryan Fleming." Even in the competitive Big West Conference, the Gauchos look to be in the mix for their first postseason bid since 2001.

Santa Barbara returns six starters to the field, highlighted by the return of senior first baseman Robbie Blauer. Sophomore backstop Chris McMurray and infielder Shane Carlson will also return after strong freshman campaigns, culminating in a Big West Honorable Mention selection for McMurray behind the dish. Senior Matt McColgan, UCSB's starting backstop to start the 2006 campaign, will also return after rehabbing an ailing knee that sidelined him early last season. Senior Mario Lewis provides the leadership in the outfield, returning for his second stint as the Gauchos' right fielder. Joining him after a stellar year filling in and then earning the starting nod in the outfield along the way is sophomore Brian Gump. On the mound, the Gauchos return three of their weekend starters from last year's squad and, as previously mentioned, two more who were slated to be starters in 2006 before injury. Seniors Steve Morlock, Jeff Braun and Brian Tracy will aim to provide quality starts for the Gauchos, while fellow seniors Bryan Fleming and Michael Martin are also expected to see starts throughout the year. Seniors Justin Segal and Justin Aspegren, along with sophomores Matt Wade and Clayton Edwards and a host of first-year Gauchos will be summoned to deliver quality innings out of the bullpen.

Pitching

Head Coach Bob Brontsema and Pitching Coach Tom Myers return all but one starter from last year. In addition, with the return of right-handers Morlock and Martin, UCSB will have the chance to run an experienced senior arm to the hill at the start of each game in 2007. As a result, pitching is expected to be the biggest strength of the Gauchos this season. With UCSB returning 74 percent of the innings pitched from last year, Brontsema will be able to use experienced arms in times of need. With two of the three weekend starters returning, Brontsema will reinstate Steve Morlock into the first weekend spot and throw Jeff Braun in game two. In game three, Brontsema will go with either Brian Tracy, Bryan Fleming, Michael Martin or possibly Mario Hollands and then have a strong bullpen to be called upon late in the game.

"Pitching will be our key to success throughout the year," Brontsema said. "We have as much depth on our staff as we have ever had, and having Steve [Morlock] and Mike [Martin], who were slated as weekend starters last season, is going to be a huge boost."

After turning in some of the best numbers on the 2005 squad, Steve Morlock is expected to return to his dominant ways in 2007. The right-hander posted an even 7-7 record with a 5.83 ERA in 97.1 innings pitched in 2005. In that year, he led the Gauchos in games started (17) and wins (seven). In addition, the Kentfield, Calif. native ranked second on the squad holding opponents to a .276 batting average.

Brontsema is also expecting big things from senior left-hander Jeff Braun. Braun, a transfer from Pierce College who earned the Saturday spot halfway through last season, is slated to be the Gauchos' Saturday starter for the second consecutive year. Jeff is coming off a strong performance this past summer, helping his team (Santa Barbara Foresters) to a 2006 NBC World Series Championship. The Valencia, Calif. native had an outstanding half-season for UCSB, earning the victory in his first outing by tossing eight innings in a 12-1 win over Hawaii-Hilo on March 31. On top of that, Braun turned in at least five innings in all nine of his starts, averaging 6.11 innings per outing en route to a 2-2 record and an ERA of 3.11. Seniors Brian Tracy, Bryan Fleming and Michael Martin will most likely all have shots at filling the third starter position in Brontsema's weekend rotation. Tracy appeared in 17 games, starting 14 last season. The Presto, Pa. native posted a 3-7 mark with an ERA of 4.89 in 77.1 innings pitched.

Senior Justin Segal and sophomore Matt Wade are expected to be two of the more called-upon arms out of the bullpen for UCSB once again in 2007. Last year, Segal earned the Gaucho closer position early in the season and became the most reliable and effective arm out of the pen, saving seven games in 2006. Justin garnered Second Team All-Big West honors after a Gaucho record-setting season with 36 appearances, which was also tops in the Big West. The Calabasas, Calif. native also finished the year with a team and Big West-best 2.29 ERA in 55 innings pitched. Regarding Segal, Brontsema said, "Last year was a great year for Justin with his All-Conference nomination. He really stepped up, picked up a lot of the slack and became our go-to guy in tough situations. If Justin can repeat his performance from last year, our team will be in a much better position to compete." In 2006, Wade had a good freshman showing, finishing the season with 21 appearances, an ERA of 5.29 and a record of 3-0 in 34 innings pitched.

UCSB also has some fresh new pitching entering this season with the arrival of freshmen standouts Mike Ford, Mario Hollands and Forest Cannon. Ford (Scottsdale, Ariz.) will be called upon from the start out of the Gaucho bullpen as a strong right-handed pitcher. Hollands, a native of El Cerrito, Calif., is projected to be a Gaucho starter in the coming years, if not by this season. The left-hander earned multiple accolades in high school and should pan out as an outstanding hurler for the Gauchos this year and in the future. Cannon a right-hander is also expected to do great things not only this year, but in the future for the Gauchos. "Cannon is the reigning Idaho Player of the Year, and with a little development, he could be a big contributor out of the bullpen this season," Pitching Coach Tom Myers said. In addition to Wade, senior Justin Aspegren and sophomore Clayton Edwards will be called upon as quality right-handers out of the bullpen. Unlike last season, UCSB has multiple left-handed arms to be used out of the bullpen this year. Transfers Kyle Brown (Golden West College) and Chuck Huggins (Trinity University) and sophomore Anthony Martin will all be used as left-handed specialists out of the pen in 2007.

Catchers

In 2007 the Gauchos will have five different players competing for time behind the dish. Of those five, three (seniors Matt McColgan and Matt Anderson and sophomore Chris McMurray) are returning. Freshmen Cody Dee and Steve Domecus round out the rest of the Gaucho backstops. According to Brontsema, "The catching position is very deep...each player brings a couple different things to the table. Each of them can successfully step in and control the running game."

Senior Matt McColgan started the year as the Gaucho starting backstop in 2006 before suffering an injury that ended his season on April 17. In 18 games and 15 starts, McColgan batted .208 with two doubles, a homer, four runs scored and 11 RBI. In addition, Matt put together a four-game hit streak from Feb. 10 to Feb. 14.

Matt Anderson played in 28 games, starting 16, in 2006. The senior finished the season batting .167 with three doubles, a homerun, three walks, four runs scored and 10 RBI.

Sophomore Chris McMurray took over the starting backstop position after injuries ended McColgan's year. The sophomore stepped up nicely to fill the void, playing in 41 games and starting 28 as a freshman. After a standout season behind the plate for UCSB, he was awarded Honorable Mention All Big-West honors. McMurray finished the season hitting .293 with a double, a homerun, 12 RBI and 19 runs scored. The strong-armed backstop also put together a season-long seven-game hit streak from April 1 to April 18. "McMurray is very good overall and controls the running game well. He was very productive offensively last season, and we look for much of the same in 2007," Brontsema said.

Freshmen Cody Dee and Steve Domecus will also look for innings calling pitches this season. Dee was voted Second Team All-Miramonte League in 2005 before not playing for UCSB last year. The Moorpark, Calif. native was also a three-time Defensive Player of the Year recipient in high school. Dee played summer baseball for the Rockville Express in 2006, batting .250 in 29 games played and 26 starts with five doubles, a triple, ten walks, eight runs scored and ten RBI on the season. "Dee is a quality left-handed bat and a solid backstop," Brontsema said. Domecus, also a 2005 graduate, was an outstanding player in high school. Steve was selected First Team All-League as a junior and senior and guided his high school, Marin Catholic, to the 2004 NCS Championship.

Infield

Although it is young, UCSB's infield should be a strength of the team in 2007. With the return of senior first baseman Robbie Blauer, Brontsema feels that, "The young infield has someone to help guide them on the field." Blauer started 53 of 54 games for the Gauchos in 2006 and compiled an eight-game hit streak from March 30 to April 9 and an unbelievable ten-game hit streak from May 6 to May 21. Following the season, the Huntington Beach, Calif. native earned Second Team All-Big West honors after finishing the year batting .332 with 11 doubles, two homeruns, 30 walks, 29 RBI and 38 runs scored. Blauer really helped the offensive effort last season, tallying 16 multi-hit games, including 10 three-hit games. He also finished the season ranked second on the team in on-base percentage (.432) and walks (30), third on the team in average (.332), runs scored (38), RBI (29) and doubles (11) and fourth in hits (61) and total bases (78). UCSB hopes Blauer starts 2007 the way he finished 2006, when he raised his average from .278 to .332 in the last 13 games of the season.

Sophomore Shane Carlson also returns for the Gauchos in 2007. Last season Carlson got the starting nod in 38 of his 41 games played. The Stevenson Ranch, Calif. native finished the season batting .286 in 133 at bats while collecting five doubles, 21 runs scored and 19 RBI. Brontsema says he "looks forward to a great year from Carlson, and he hopes he has matured from the time and experience that he received last season."

According to Brontsema, junior Patrick Rose will also be "looked upon to step up and provide leadership in the Gaucho infield." Rose, who transferred to UCSB last year from the University of New Orleans, played in 34 games, 20 off the bench and 14 as a starter in 2006. Rose's 20 games as a sub were tops on the squad, but this year he is expected to start somewhere in the Gaucho infield. The product of Laguna Niguel, Calif. finished the 2006 season hitting .224 with two doubles, one triple, 11 walks, six RBI and 11 runs scored.

Two of UCSB's top recruits from a year ago, Matt Valaika and Gunnar Terhune, should also battle for innings in the Gaucho infield. Last year, Valaika, brother of former Gaucho Chris, finished an outstanding career at Hart High School in Valencia, Calif. Matt was a three-time First Team All-Foothill League selection in high school. The freshman batted .380 with a homerun and 16 doubles as a senior, .375 as a junior and had his best year in terms of average as a sophomore, batting .410 with one homerun. Terhune, an outstanding high school player in his own right, finished his four-year stint at Saint Augustine High School. The San Diego, Calif. native was a standout four-year varsity letter winner, batting .460 with 10 doubles and two homers while swiping 20 bags as a senior and .470 with 15 doubles, two homeruns and 25 stolen bases as a junior. Terhune received First Team All-Eastern League honors in his sophomore, junior and senior years, was selected First Team All-Conference, Union Tribune Team and First Team All-CIF as a junior and senior and was named Second Team All-State following his senior campaign.

Junior Scott Cohen and sophomore Robby Cummings round out the rest of the 2007 Gaucho infield. Cohen, who played for UCSB in 2005, is back in 2007 and is anxious to make a difference on the squad. Cummings transferred to UCSB this season after a stellar first year at Illinois Wesleyan College. The native of Oaklawn, Ill. batted .372 with eight doubles, six homeruns, 23 runs scored, 30 RBI, 10 walks and compiled a .562 slugging percentage in 2006. Cummings started 37 of 42 games for the Titans, ranking second on the team in batting average (.372), slugging percentage (.562) and homeruns (6). Following the season, Robby was named Second Team All-College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, Third Team All-Central Region and was tabbed "Top Newcomer" for the Titans.

Outfield

Anchored by the return of right fielder Mario Lewis, the UCSB outfield looks to be strong offensively and defensively in 2007. With Lewis penciled in to start in right and junior transfer Chris Fox to get the early season nod in center, the competition is heating up for the left field starting spot. Senior Clayton Shank, junior transfer Mike Zuanich and sophomores Brian Gump and Austin Hogans could all see time at that position.

Senior Mario Lewis played in 47 of UCSB's 54 games, starting 40 in 2006. The local product from Santa Ynez, Calif. finished the year batting .299 with seven doubles, two triples, one homerun, 19 runs scored and 24 RBI. In addition, Mario compiled 12 multi-hit games, including three with three or more hits. The right-hand hitting Lewis finished fifth on the team in hits (43), total bases (57), RBI and doubles and ranked second on the team in triples.

Chris Fox, a junior transfer from El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., hit .368 with 12 doubles, 42 runs scored, three triples, four homeruns, 21 walks, 26 stolen bases and 30 RBI as a sophomore. His numbers led the Warriors in virtually all offensive categories en route to a First Team All-South Coast Conference selection in 2006. In 2005, Fox batted .348 with eight doubles, two homeruns, 30 runs scored, four walks, nine stolen bases and 24 RBI.

Clayton Shank, a transfer from Sacramento City College in 2006, played well in limited action last season. He was the Gauchos' best pinch hitter, hitting .533 in such situations. In only 30 at bats, he batted .300 and connected for four doubles, three walks, an RBI and three runs scored. Mike Zuanich, also a junior transfer from El Camino College, batted .364 with 11 doubles, a triple, two homeruns, 22 runs scored, 21 RBI, 11 walks and 11 stolen bases as a sophomore in 2006. As a freshman, Mike connected for an average of .297 with 15 runs scored, six doubles, two triples, a homer, five stolen bases and 20 RBI. The Torrance, Calif. native earned Honorable Mention All-South Coast Conference honors after his freshman and sophomore years. "They looked very good in the fall, and we hope they can step in and provide some offense right away," Brontsema said about Fox and Zuanich.

Brian Gump had an outstanding freshman campaign for the Gauchos last season. The product of Westminster High School appeared in 49 games and started 36 on the season, finishing the year hitting .275 with four doubles, a triple, 16 walks, 16 RBI and 19 runs scored. In addition, Gump batted .375 in eight at bats as a pinch hitter. Always a team player, Brian had a team-high and single-season record 13 sacrifice bunts in 2006. Austin Hogans, a power hitter in limited at bats off the Gaucho bench last season, finished the year with a double, two homeruns, nine runs scored and nine RBI in 51 at bats. His two homeruns ranked third on the team in that category last season, and with more opportunities in 2007, Hogans is expected to provide pop from the right side of the plate.