Two-time GWC champions eye postseason run.
Training days have come and just about passed for the Wolverine baseball team as they prepare for a month-long road trip to get the 2012 season underway. Their first game is set for the Feb. 17 against Seattle University, the program that was selected to join the Western Athletic Conference instead of UVU.
Conference expansion fever took hold last summer as programs from all across the nation took stock of their situation and contemplated making the jump to the greenest grass they could find. For the Wolverines that dream fell short not once but twice. The first time for the entire program and the second rejection came when UVU applied to join the WAC for baseball only.
For head coach Eric Madsen, it’s all about extending the season.
“We’d like to be in a power conference, at least one with an automatic bid to the tournament,” Madsen said. “But we can only do what we can do and control what we can control. It would make things a lot nicer to know that if we won our conference we’d be guaranteed to make the postseason.”
Playing in a non-automatic qualifying conference poses some challenges in putting together a non-conference schedule. The Ratings Performance index (RPI) crunches the numbers on wins and losses as well as strength of schedule among other things. The number from equation goes a long way into influencing voters and national rankings.
“We do that (tough scheduling) because we’d like to make the post-season,” Madsen said. “We do that by our RPI, rankings, and people choosing us. If we don’t play and win those tough games there’s no chance for us to make that tournament. We’re kind of forced to be on the road. It would be nice to be at home but to play those teams we have to do it on the road, that’s just part of the fight we have.”
Playing on the road right off the bat can have its advantages as well. Even with the mild Utah winter this year, a road trip to play Cal-State Fullerton doesn’t seem so bad this time of year. Senior first/third baseman Goose Kallunki is looking forward to the change.
“It’s kind of exciting,” Kallunki said. “We’re itching to get out of here and get going, it’s better to have it at the first of the year than late. We prepare to play the top [teams] because we feel that’s where we want to be. It doesn’t matter if our conference games are as tough as our non-conference games because we want to be the best team to take the field at all times.”
Winning and high expectations breed excitement, and this year’s team has plenty of both. The Wolverines take the diamond this year with a huge target on their back as they look to defend their back-to-back conference championships.
“I like our club, I think we have a good club,” Madsen said. “That’s our goal (three-peat as conference champions), I don’t know that it’s going to be easy but it’s what we are trying to do.”
The high expectations this season come in the form of pitching. Senior righty Jeremy Gendlek returns as Great West Pitcher of the Year after notching a 7-3 record to compliment a 1.71 earned run average (ERA). Madsen is looking forward to not only Gendlek’s contributions but also those of the whole staff.
“We have really good depth on the pitching staff this year,” Madsen said. “We’ve got good leadership and I think we have a chance to be the best staff we’ve had. It’s exciting.”
By Jonathan Boldt