Baseball enters 2011 season as ‘team to beat’

During his junior season, Kyle Beecher pitched 62.2 innings in 15 appearances and was named to Great West All-Conference Second Team.
Courtesy of UVU Athletics
The Wolverines will play four sets of series away before they open home play Mar. 17.

Last season saw the Wolverines finish with the Great West Conference regular season title and the GWC tournament championship. Also, they finished with a 42-17 record following a 14-game winning streak.

“You always hope that the way you end last season will carry over,” said UVU baseball Coach Eric Madsen. “I think knowing that you are a winner and that the way that we kind of taught ourselves to win last year will carry a lot of weight this year.”

With the winning momentum gained last season, the Wolverines look to this season with even higher expectations. Striving for not only the conference and tournament wins again, Madsen is taking it one step further.

“We’d like to find a way to make a regional, which is tough for a team like us,” said Madsen. “We’ve got to win early, and we’ve got to win a lot of games. Our goals are extremely high; maybe somebody would even say unrealistic, but we feel as a club that we can reach those.”

The Wolverines begin their season on the road in Texas where they will face Northwestern, Western Michigan and Texas Tech.

Starting the season on the road isn’t ever ideal for any team, but Madsen is confident with their schedule.

“We’re used to it,” said Madsen. “I definitely don’t think it’s an advantage, but I don’t know if it’s a giant disadvantage either. We prepare and you have to play the same no matter where you are at. We had a very good road record last year, so we’re hoping that that success continues as well.”

Utah Valley won’t begin home play until mid-March when they will host in-state opponent Southern Utah Mar. 17-19.

Madsen returns five seniors to his roster this season: pitchers Kyle Beecher, Zane Gray and Brock Sargent, along with Chris Benson at centerfield and Jake Rickenbach at short stop.

Beecher returns after a season where he was named to the Great West All-Conference Second Team, and pitched 62.2 innings in 15 appearances and started in 10 of them.

“He [Beecher] blossomed last year so we expect a lot of great things for him,” said Madsen. “Definitely the way that he pitched towards the end of the season last year is going to be a benefit for us because he really stepped up.”

Gray began at Utah Valley last season as a junior transfer from Salt Lake Community College. He led the team in innings, pitched with 87.2 and was the only Wolverine pitcher to throw a complete game.

“Zane pitched a lot of big games last year for us, started in some really big games and is definitely a guy that pitches and knows how to pitch and can keep us in games,” said Madsen. “He’s definitely another one on the mound that we expect big things out of.”

Sargent, the third senior pitcher returning for Utah Valley, redshirted his 2010 season due to injury.

“We’re really excited for Brock; he’s probably our hardest thrower on our staff,” said Madsen. “We look to him to really step us up where we’re returning so many guys that pitched for us.”

Benson’s junior season saw him named to the Great West First Team All-Conference after a season team-high of 14 home runs, 24 doubles, 11 triples, 15 stolen bases and leading the nation with 89 runs batted in. Madsen sees Benson’s senior season with great expectations.

“He’s [Benson] an unbelievable hitter and has been the whole time he’s been here,” said Madsen. “He’s a very, very good hitter; very good defensive center fielder for us. He has been kind of a mainstay for us in the middle of our lineup, and we really expect great things from him this year.”

Rickenbach enters his senior year after being named to the Great West All-Conference First Team at shortstop. His junior season saw him lead the nation in runs per game with 1.51, and he was ranked fourth in the nation in runs overall. His senior season will be off to a slow start due to an injury, but Madsen is confident that Rickenbach will have a stellar senior season.

“Jake’s had an injury that’s going to hold him back a little bit,” said Madsen. “He’s probably going to be out until at least the Arizona series, if not the Washington State series. He’s giant for us; he makes us go.”

Wolverine fans won’t want to miss a chance to watch UVU Baseball this season in Brent Brown Ballpark.

“I think that the baseball experience is great,” said Madsen. “We are a high run-scoring team. There is a lot of excitement on the field, the product out there is going to be good and our pitching will be good, so we’re excited about the prospect of winning a lot of games, which helps with fans.”

Last season as a junior, Jake Rickenbach finished the season with six home runs, 98 hits, 19 doubles, four triples, and 86 runs scored.
Courtesy of UVU Athletics

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