Photo by David Roura
The 2016 baseball season was a huge success as the Wolverines won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, and with it a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Despite many new faces, this year’s team looks to reload and prove that it is a legitimate contender to repeat for the conference championship.
One of the first things that jumps out about this ball club is the youth and number of new personnel. Of the 34 players on the roster, 17 are newcomers, including 10 true freshmen. The other seven new arrivals are junior college transfers. The incoming players have the task of replacing the production of eight departed seniors from last year’s squad.
It will to take time to get in rhythm as this club seeks to define roles and establish an everyday lineup. UVU will begin the season playing 18 of its first 22 games on the road, a difficult task for even a veteran squad. If the Wolverines can come away from that stretch with a .500 record, it would bode well for the rest of the season. Last year, UVU opened the season playing 14 of its first 21 on the road, finishing with a respectable 11-10 record, helping them achieve a 37-23 mark on the season.
Several offensive producers from last season are returning. Junior first baseman Stone Ramsey had the third highest batting average on the team in 2016, batting .324 while collecting five extra-base hits and 17 RBIs. Senior Outfielder Justin Erlandson hit .302 with eight doubles in 50 games last season, starting in 44 of them. He was also a threat on the basepaths with eight steals. Senior catcher Zac Willis led all UVU underclassmen with six home runs. This year’s squad will hopefully improve on last year’s power numbers and run production, which will take some pressure off the pitchers.
The pitching staff won’t be lacking talent. Senior Patrick Wolfe was solid for the Wolverines last season as he threw 72 2/3 innings and struck out 60 batters. Juniors Jackson Cofer and Jake Mayer have a lot of experience against WAC hitters as they pitched 76 and 78 innings last year, respectively. Mayer posted an 8-2 record and both pitchers struck out more than 50 batters.
Pitching and defense go hand in hand. Head coach Eric Madsen said his biggest concern heading into the season with so many new players is how the Wolverines stack up defensively.
“We lost a lot of position players, which means the defensive side is lost,” Madsen said. “That’s what worries me about the pitching is that our defense might not be as good. Our pitching has a chance to be really good just because we have returners. So much of that relies on what we do defensively.”
This year, like every year, the team will spend a difficult first month on the road. With Madsen, the Wolverines are led by a veteran tactician who has consistently put a winning product on the field during conference play. This year should be no different.