It seems as though the baseball season wants to start already with how warm the weather has been recently. The baseball season is getting what it wants, as the Utah Valley Wolverines start the season Feb. 17 at Seattle University.
Five of Utah Valley’s returning players averaged a .311 batting average or better, with a combined runs-batted-in (RBI) total of 219. Sixty of those RBI’s came from returning senior Goose Kallunki, who also led the team with a .407 batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP). Kallunki says that he’s ready to get started again this season and has high hopes for his team.
“We’ve got a lot of the same hitters and we got one of our other good hitters back that we didn’t have last year,” Kallunki says. “We got a really good pitching staff this year, too.”
Head coach Eric Madsen says that a “really good” pitching staff might be an understatement.
“I think [this pitching staff] has got a chance to be our best staff ever,” Madsen says. “We’ve got more depth and more leadership. I think it’s definitely got the chance to be the best staff here. It’s exciting.”
The pitching staff includes Jeremy Gendlek, who was named the 2011 Great West Conference Pitcher of the Year with a 1.71 earned run average (ERA) and a 7-3 record, as well as Blake Krahenbuhl who struck out a team high of 60 batters last season.
Both of these pitchers are coming back this year alongside UVU’s record-holding saves leader in a single season, Josh Swenson. The bullpen that included Swenson last year combined for 14 saves. The full staff averaged a 4.74 ERA as opposed to their opponents’ 5.74 ERA.
Although the Wolverines are losing one of their best bats from last year in Chris Benson, they have a flurry of hitters that can take over a ballgame. Six players hit over a .300 batting average last season and five other players were on base over 40 percent of the time. Last season Utah Valley scored 386 times, compared to 286 runs from their opposition.
UVU also has some speed on the bases as last season they completed 75 percent of their steal attempts to get into scoring position. Starting infielder Kai Hatch had 11 steals out of 12 attempts. Hatch also had four of Utah Valley’s 19 triples.
There are a few new faces on the Wolverine roster including infielder Cole Butcher. The true freshman looks to make an impact after prepping at Brighton High School and being a three-time All-Region selection. He also earned the team Silver Slugger award and he looks to do the same damage here at Utah Valley.
UVU has a history of starting their season with a strong non-conference preseason, and this season they will do the same by starting on the road in non-conference play against Seattle University in a three-game set.
Although statistically Utah Valley has not had the best record in non-conference play (12-20 last season), Madsen says non-conference play is essential to their season and their success.
“We want to get into the postseason,” Madsen says. “If we don’t play a tough preseason and find a way to win those games, there is just no way to play in the postseason.”
When it comes to conference play, last season, UVU’s record was 22-2 and they went on to win the Great West Conference Championship.
By Alex Rivera