February 20, 2008

UCSB Baseball Features 12 Returning Letterwinners and Several Talented Newbies

Feb. 20, 2008

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Turning to a trio of senior position players and a young starting staff, the UCSB baseball team looks to improve upon a disappointing 2007 campaign. Returning 12 letterwinners and losing nine, the Gauchos have a promising combination of experience and youth in 2008.

The Gauchos return six starters to the field from a year ago, including seniors Patrick Rose, Mike Zuanich, and Chris Fox. The trio accounted for 34% of the runs scored, 33% of the team's hits, 29% of all homeruns, and 32% of all RBIs in 2007. With four returnees in the infield, the Gauchos look to be strong up the middle both defensively and offensively. Junior transfers John DeAlba (Santa Barbara CC) and Eric Oliver (Orange Coast College) come in to fill the shoes of departing seniors Mario Lewis and Robbie Blauer in outfield and first base, respectively.

Sophomore Mike Ford heads the starting staff in 2008 after an impressive freshman year. From there, the Gauchos will look to redshirt freshman Mario Hollands and senior southpaw Chuck Huggins to round out the rotation. With three unique styles of pitching, Head Coach Bob Brontsema feels strongly that the Gaucho rotation matches up well with the other Big West pitching staffs. Out of the bullpen, fifth-year senior Michael Martin, junior Matt Wade, and sophomore Clayton Edwards should share the bulk of the load. A trio of junior transfers and a pair of talented freshman will be summoned in the late innings as well. With the combination of a veteran coaching staff, a healthy mix of experience and youth in the field, and an improved attitude, look for the 2008 Gauchos to be in the mix in the always-tough Big West Conference.

PITCHERS

The UCSB pitching staff will lean on its youth as only three of the Gaucho's 15 pitchers have senior status. Although the staff is young, Pitching Coach Tom Myers feels confident that pitching will still be the strength and key to the Gauchos success.

"Our overall depth [in the pitching staff] will give the coaching staff several options with the condensed schedule in the ultra-competitive Big West," said Myers.

Having lost 28 of their 54 starts with the departure of Steve Morlock, Brian Tracy, and Jeff Braun, the Gauchos look towards a pair of youngsters to head the staff. Ford, who picked up Freshman All-American accolades, will begin the year as the Friday starter. Ford, named to the preseason Wallace Watch List, provides stability at the top having started 13 games last year, which tied for first on the team. From there, the Gauchos turn to Hollands. Hollands, recently ranked the No.5 prospect in the Alaska Summer League, pitched brilliantly over the summer for the Peninsula Oilers. Senior lefty Chuck Huggins looks to get the nod in game three, after starting eight games in 2007. By running out a hard throwing right-hander in Ford, followed by a pair of deceptive southpaws in Hollands and Huggins, the Gauchos will attempt to change their look over a weekend series.

"We are excited about our starting three pitchers for our weekend rotation. All three have different styles and will compliment one another. We are confident we will match up very well against all opponents with the likes of Ford, Hollands and Huggins," Myers said.

Ford led the team in innings pitched (82) and in strikeouts (68) en route to becoming only the second freshman in Gaucho history to lead the team in strikeouts since Barry Zito did so in 1997. The Scottsdale, Ariz. native looks to improve upon his stellar freshman year.

Hollands went 3-1 in seven starts with a 3.47 ERA over the summer for the Peninsula Oilers. In 33.1 innings pitched, he allowed a mere 22 hits, while striking out 25 and surrendering only 13 walks. Although expectations are high, Brontsema thinks the youngster has what it takes.

"Mario has great potential that we think he will display over the course of this year and beyond. We anticipate him being a big part of our success," Brontsema said.

The Gauchos lost three relievers in Bryan Fleming, Justin Aspegren, and Justin Segal, but return with a strong core still intact. With the departure of Segal, the Gaucho career appearances leader (108), the bullpen will need to find a closer. The 2008 team still has a strong core of returning pitchers and new faces to provide situational help for the Gaucho pitching staff. Returning RHP's, Martin, Wade and Edwards will be called upon in crucial situations with Martin and Edwards sharing the role of closer.

"Losing a pitcher of Segal's caliber will be tough to replace due to his mentality and durability as one of the top relievers in Gaucho history," said Myers.

Wade and Brown accounted for 54.2 innings last year and will be two of the most reliable arms out of the bullpen for UCSB. If returning fifth-year senior Michael Martin can prove he has fully recovered from a shoulder injury that shelved him last year, he should play a pivotalrole in the Gauchos success.

The core of the new pitchers joining the Gaucho pitching staff is very talented with RHPs Jason Roenicke (Cuesta College), Jesse Meaux (Glendale HS), Greg Davis (Edison HS), Zach Samuels (DeAnza JC), and Pat McIntyre (Modesto JC). Myers is confident in using Roenicke as a closer and Meaux, Davis, and Samuels as swingmen with McIntyre being a go to guy in tough situations.

Kyle Brown, in addition to Brandt Hill and Anthony Martin, who both benefited from redshirt experience last year, will be summoned in situational roles with Kyle Brown having the ability to close games.

CATCHERS

The Gauchos start the year with four catchers vying for playing time behind the plate. The experienced duo of fifth year senior Matt McColgan and last year's starter, junior Chris McMurray, will be joined by incoming junior transfer David Klein (Santa Barbara CC), and local freshman product Bryce Tafelski (Santa Ynez HS). McMurray will top the depth chart to start the season, showing full well last year his ability to handle a starting staff, produce offensively, and defend the running game.

McMurray started 42 of the 43 games he played in last year, hitting .264 with 20 runs and 19 RBI. The Mission Viejo, Calif. native had separate four and five-game hit streaks from Mar. 14 to Mar 18, and from Apr. 27 to May 5. Defensively, the backstop recorded 229 putouts in 287 chances, fielding an impressive .986. He gunned down 38 of 69 attempted base stealers, a 55% success rate.

"We feel that Chris is as good a catch and throw guy as there is out there," Bob Brontsema said.

McColgan returns from an injury plagued year in 2006 and a redshirt campaign in 2007 to provide the Gauchos with experience behind the dish. In 2006, McColgan hit .208 with two doubles, a homer, four runs scored, and 11 RBI.

"A healthly McColgan gives us another strong defensive catcher with great leadership qualities," Brontsema stated.

Junior transfer David Klein had a stellar year for the Santa Barbara City College Vaqueros en route to a WSC North Championship. Klein played in 42 games, tallying a .342 batting average with 33 runs scored, 12 two-baggers, two homeruns, 29 RBI, and a lofty .437 on-base percentage. Klein will likely backup McMurray on the depth chart.

Santa Ynez High School product Bryce Tafelski rounds out the catching corps. Tafelski hit .451 with 10 doubles, eight homeruns, and 39 RBI as a senior. The team MVP was selected First Team All-League and First Team All-County his junior year as well. In addition to playing baseball, the Los Olivos, Calif. native played basketball and football.

"Bryce has shown in the Fall that he can really throw and with the emergence of his bat, he should be a big part of our future success," said Brontsema. Klein provides UCSB with a left-handed bat off the bench, in addition to being a saavy backup catcher.

INFIELD

The 2008 Gaucho infield returns three starters from last year's squad. The loss of Big West First Team selection Robbie Blauer will be felt, but the Gaucho infield is experienced and battle-tested. Led by fourth year senior Patrick Rose, who split time between second and third base last year, Brontsema feels confident in the infield's abilities.

Rose will be an important part of the Gaucho's success, after having an impressive 2007 season. The unquestioned leader of the team hit .312 with eight doubles, a triple, two homeruns, and 20 RBI. The Laguna Niguel, Calif. native finished fifth on the team in total bases (69) and provided stability in the Gaucho infield, shifting from third to second base after starter Matt Valaika went down due to injury.

"We love the energy and intensity Rose brings to the field everyday. We look to him to have a big senior year," said Brontsema.

Up the middle the Gauchos return shortstop Shane Carlson and second baseman Matt Valaika. Carlson started off slow in 2007, but caught fire in the second half, finishing the season with a .272 average, 47 hits, 30 runs scored, four triples, and 21 RBI. Carlson totaled 12 multi-hit games in 2007, with five three-hit games. In addition, Carlson set a personal season-high mark with a four-hit game on May 25. Brontsema is toying with the idea of moving Carlson to second base to begin the year, switching spots with sophomore Matt Valaika. Sophomore Gunnar Terhune is also making a position swtich, moving to second base and competing with Carlson and transfer Steve Cook for the keystone position.

"We are looking to find the combination up the middle that gives us the most consistent and best defense," said Brontsema.

Valaika put together a solid freshman season before suffering a hand injury on May 12. The second baseman was the only freshman starter in '07, hitting .244 with eight doubles, two triples, a team-high six long balls, and 27 RBI. Valaika finished with 16 extra-base hits, good for second on the team. Brontsema calls Valaika his best fielding middle infielder, and has high hopes for the sophomore's second year.

"Matt was a good shortstop in high school so we don't think this transition will be a big deal for him," Brontsema stated.

Junior transfer Eric Oliver will get the early season nod at first base. Having had the bulk of the offensive production come from first base last season in the form of Robbie Blauer, Oliver has big shoes to fill. Just like his predecessor, Oliver comes to UCSB after sharing great success at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif. Oliver batted .354 in 46 games for the Pirates with eight doubles, six homers, 41 RBI, and a solid OBP of .451. He tied the OCC record for most hits in a game, going five-for-five against Santa Ana on April 12, 2007.

Returning junior Robbie Cummings, junior transfers Cook, and Bryce Lefebvre round out the Gaucho infield.

Cummings hopes to return to his freshman year form when he played for Wesleyan College in Oaklawn, Ill., and looks to be the second option off the bench at more than one infield spot. Cook (Santa Barbara CC) and Lefebvre (Scottsdale CC) provide the Gaucho infield with experience up the middle, and at first base, respectively. Cook hit .340 with eight homeruns and 49 RBI while playing second base for SBCC. Lefebvre, a native of Scottsdale, Ariz. was a First Team ACCAC DII selection, batting .314 with 11 homeruns, 45 RBI, and 13 doubles in '07.

OUTFIELD

Anchored by center fielder Chris Fox, the Gaucho outfield looks to be a strong point of the squad in `08. Joining Fox in the outfield are returning senior Mike Zuanich, junior Brian Gump, and incoming junior transfer John DeAlba (Santa Barbara CC). The outfield should provide the bulk of the Gaucho's offensive attack this year.

Fox, a Big West honorable mention selection in 2007, provided consistent offensive production for the Gauchos last year out of the leadoff spot, and looks to do much of the same this year. The slick-fielding center fielder finished the season within the top five on the team in eight different offensive categories: batting (.328, 2nd), at-bats (204, 2nd), runs (40, 1st), hits (67, 2nd), doubles (11, 2nd), homers (3, 4th), RBI (30, 3rd), and total bases (87, 2nd). Fox also lead the team in stolen bases with 14 successful swipes in 21 attempts.

Mike Zuanich tops the depth chart in left field and returns to the Gauchos after a stellar junior campaign. The Torrance, Calif. native batted cleanup the majority of the year, playing in a team-high 54 games. Zuanich added 35 runs, nine doubles, five long balls, and 38 RBI en route to batting a solid .295 from the right side of the plate. His numbers were good enough to place him in the top three on the team in nine offensive categories: batting average (.295, 4th), at-bats (193, 3rd), runs (35, 3rd), hits (57, 3rd), doubles (9, 3rd), triples (1, 3rd), homeruns (5, 2nd), RBI (38, 2nd), and total bases (83, 2nd).

"Both Chris and Mike had solid years last year and we'll look to them this year to lead and produce like you hope seniors would," Brontsema said.

In right, Brontsema hopes to use a platoon of Gump and DeAlba. Gump returned to the Gauchos after an impressive freshman year to prove to be one of the team's most reliable players off the bench. The lefty from Westminster, Calif. should see considerable playing time in a number of different roles, after hitting .228 with three doubles and seven RBI in `07. DeAlba comes to UCSB after having an extraordinary season with the Santa Barbara City College Vaqueros. The local Goleta, Calif. product was awarded the MVP of the Western State Conference, hitting .362 in 42 games with 50 runs scored, seven doubles, six triples, 11 homeruns, 49 RBI, and 32 stolen bases in 37 chances.

"John had a real good fall and should find himself at one of the corner outfield positions, while Brian's speed and defensive abilities make it tough to keep him out of the line-up. If his offensive production plays out in the season like it did in the Fall, it will be a huge lift," Brontsema said.

A promising trio of freshman provide the Gauchos with youth in the outfield. Redshirt freshman, Mark Haddow, is joined by newcomers Lance Roenicke (Chino Hills HS), and Chris LoPiccolo (Monterey HS).

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