{{ article.title }}

Veteran Squad Breeds Optimism

Jan. 30, 2007

SPOKANE, Wash. - Gonzaga University head baseball coach Mark Machtolf has every right to be excited about the 2007 season. Not only does the fourth-year head coach have a solid group of returning veterans, but the team will also open play at a great new facility, Patterson Baseball Complex and Washington Trust Field.

"I am excited about this team," said Machtolf. "This squad really has a chance to do well, especially with the chemistry the team has. They have fun when they are around each other but they also possess a strong sense of competitiveness, which I think will result in a good year for the program."

This season, the Zags will call the Gonzaga campus home for the first time in nearly three-and-a-half years. The 2007 season marks the inaugural year of play at Patterson Baseball Complex and Washington Trust Field. The new home of Bulldog baseball is a state-of-the-art facility that also incorporates an old-time baseball feel.

The new stadium includes 1,300 theater-style seats with classic brick detailing. Major League amenities include a state-of-the-art infield, a professional candle lighting system and authentic home and visitor dugouts with underground passages to full-service clubhouses.

"For the first time in three-and-a-half years we are going to be able to actually play a home game," said Machtolf. "Avista Stadium (Gonzaga's home for the past three seasons) was as good as it gets for a home away from home. I feel from a competitive standpoint, being on campus is going to help us out a lot."

Added to the excitement for this season is the return of 16 veterans, including five starters and four pitchers. The Zags, who are striving for their fourth winning season in the past five years, finished 2006 with a 29-24 record.

"We have a lot of experience returning this season," added Machtolf. "Mainly, we have a lot of veterans on the mound, which will benefit us greatly. In addition, we have gained talented first-year players that are going to be able to make an immediate impact."

Anchoring the group of veteran pitchers will be All-West Coast Conference honorable mention honoree Brandon Harmon. Last season, Harmon was used primarily as the closer, earning a 3.25 earned-run-average in 26 appearances while posting three saves. This season, the Zags will utilize the junior in a different capacity.

"Harmon will serve as our top starter," Machtolf commented. "I think he is our best competitor. He is one of the best team players ever to wear a Gonzaga jersey."

Joining Harmon in the expected Gonzaga starting rotation will be Clayton Mortenson. The senior posted a 5.89 ERA with a team-high 54 strikeouts in 2006.

"Mortenson has as good of stuff as anyone," said Machtolf. "With a year of experience with our program under his belt, I expect him to make big strides this season."

Other strong candidates for starting roles will be Cory Powell and Bobby McEwen. Powell posted a 3.66 ERA, earning three saves last season. McEwen recorded a 5-1 record in 47.1 innings of work in 2006.

"Powell and McEwen both have the stuff to be effective in the West Coast Conference," Machtolf added. "Both of them are expected to be strong assets once conference play starts in March."

Stepping into the closer role for Gonzaga this season will be Matt Fields. Fields saw limited relief work last season as a freshman, earning two saves and a 0-1 overall record in 22.1 innings. After making, what Machtolf calls, huge strides during the past year, he is confident Fields will succeed in the closing role.

"Fields has put in a lot of work over the past season," said Machtolf. "He has really made great improvement on the mound and I'm excited to see what kind of stuff he will have this season."

Senior Josh Monroe, junior Shawn Wayt and sophomore Chris Highmark will add depth to the pen, while sophomore CJ McClure and freshmen Chris Griffith and Jeremy Stumetz will be looked upon to provide middle relief.Monroe returns to Gonzaga for his final season as he looks to improve on his 12-12 career record and 4.63 career ERA. Wayt, who is transitioning to a pitching role, started 28 games in left field for the Zags in 2006. Highmark joins Gonzaga from Brigham Young University, where as a freshman he struck out five of the seven batters he faced in two innings during his lone appearance of the season.

During his rookie campaign, McClure posted a 4.85 ERA and a 3-0 record in 15 appearances. Griffith, a two-time All-Southern Region honoree in Arizona, and Stumetz, an All-State selection from Richland, Wash., will be the new faces for the Bulldogs in the pen this season.

Behind the plate for the Bulldogs will be senior Dustin Colclough. Colclough produced a solid campaign in 2006, recording a .304 average with 41 hits and 20 runs scored. Backing up Colclough will be sophomore Tyson Van Winkle and newcomer Daniel Isaacson.

"Colclough had a great year at the plate last season," said Machtolf. "Between his bat and the arm strength of Van Winkle, I think we have a strong corps of catchers."

The infield will be anchored by senior Aaron McGuinness, who will get the starting nod at shortstop for the fourth straight year.

"McGuinness has done an outstanding job stopping balls at short," commented Machtolf. "He has solid defensive abilities and has continued to show improvement at the plate over the years."

Third base will be covered by All-WCC second-team selection Darin Holcomb. Holcomb returns to the hot corner after a sophomore campaign in which he produced a .338 average. He also tied for second on the team with 48 runs scored, 77 hits and a team-high 57 runs-batted- in.

Evan Wells, who redshirted last season after transferring to Gonzaga from Lassen Community College, is expected to earn the starting job at second base. While at Lassen, Wells posted a .307 average, including hitting at a .348 clip during conference play to earn first-team All-Golden Valley Conference honors.

Moving from designated hitter to first base this season will be 2006 Freshman All-American Ryan Wiegand. The sophomore finished his outstanding freshman campaign third on the team with a .335 average, hitting one home run and knocking in 45 runs. Wiegand started 51 of 52 games last season enroute to earning All-WCC second-team honors.

Adding depth to the infield will be sophomores Mike Terry and Alex Parrott, as well as junior Brian Winston. Terry is expected to back-up Wiegand at first. Winston, a transfer from Community Colleges of Spokane, and Parrott are both expected to step into utility roles for both the infield and outfield.

The outfield will feature a handful of new faces this season and will be a dogfight for the three starting positions. Transfers Ben Greenslitt and Michael Rhodes; redshirt Mark Castellitto, and freshman Mark Ellis are all expected to vie for time in the outfield.

Rhodes, who is a frontrunner for the starting centerfield job, joins Gonzaga for his first season after transferring from Glendale Community College, where he stole 66 bases and earned All-Arizona Community College Athletic Conference first-team accolades.

The starting job in left field is a battle between Ellis and Castellitto. Ellis, a native of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, was a member of the 2006 Canadian Junior National Team that won a bronze medal at the World Junior AAA Championship in Cuba. Castellitto redshirted for Gonzaga last year after coming to Spokane from Poway High School in San Diego.

"Both Ellis and Castellitto swung the bat really well during the fall season," said Machtolf. "Whichever one of them doesn't end up as the starting left fielder will easily step into the designated hitter role."

Right field will feature Lower Columbia Community College transfer Greenslitt. The left-handed batter in the projected lineup, Greenslitt joins the Zags following a stellar career at Lower Columbia , in which he led the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges Western Division with a .429 average in 2006. For his efforts, he was named to the first-team for both the All-Western Division and All-NWAACC.

The 2007 squad will face a tough slate of competitors. Six opponents who participated in the 2006 NCAA Tournament - including defending national champion Oregon State University - highlight the schedule, which also features 19 regular-season home games at Patterson Baseball Complex and Washington Trust Field.

"Our schedule is one of the toughest ever," said Machtolf. "We are going to see tough competition that will make us better and prepare us for the West Coast Conference season."

Gonzaga will then defend its title at the Coca-Cola Spring Training Classic in Surprise, Ariz., Feb. 16-18. The Zags will open the classic against OSU, followed by games against the University of Missouri and Arizona State University, both of which advanced to the NCAA Tournament a season ago. The Sun Devils' season ended in the Regionals, while Missouri fell in the Super Regionals.

The Bulldogs will open their home season March 15 against RiderUniversity.

The Zags will face a tough road conference schedule, having to travel to face both 2006 regular-season WCC co-champions Pepperdine University and the University of San Francisco, both of which participated in the NCAA Tournament. The Zags will also travel to the University of Portland and Santa Clara University.

"Our conference opponents are getting tougher each season," said Machtolf. "Last season was the first time our league had three teams selected to the NCAA postseason. That's a big accomplishment. It really goes to show that the teams that are traditionally near the top of the standings are getting better, and so are the teams that have been traditionally lower. It goes to prove that there are no longer any easy weeks during the conference season."