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Countdown to Opening Day: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Feb. 18, 2009

With six position players returning that hit .300 or higher a season ago along with a freshman All-America pitcher, two senior starting pitchers and one of the top recruiting classes in the country the Gonzaga University Bulldogs are primed to make a run at a West Coast Conference baseball championship in 2009.

"We have a good group of veterans back, one of the best offensive teams we have had," said sixth year head coach Mark Machtolf. "Our mix of proven veterans along with our solid incoming class will go along ways in our success this season."

With 15 additions to a Bulldog team that has posted back-to-back 30-win seasons the past two years for the first time since 1981-82, this year's team enters the 2009 season with something that the past Bulldog squads have lacked, pitching depth.

"We are going to be more balanced this season," said Machtolf. "The biggest impact our incoming class will have will be the depth they will provide us on the mound. We have some good young quality arms that will help us eat some innings in the non-conference schedule and they will assume bigger roles in WCC play later in the year."

The Bulldog pitching staff will be led by two veterans in Matt Fields and A.J. Proszek who return to Gonzaga for their senior seasons after leading the team with 12 and 10 starts, respectively, last season.

Fields will assume the Friday night role after he developed into one of the team's most consistent pitchers for the Bulldogs last season, winning four of his last five starts and finishing fourth in the WCC with eight wins.

"Matt is coming off of solid season for us last year," said Machtolf. "He threw in every weekend series and gave a chance to win every one of his starts. He brings some very valuable WCC experience back to our staff and we will look to him to be a very solid Friday night starter for us this season."

The rest of the weekend starting staff will be made up of Proszek, returning sophomore Cody Martin or highly touted incoming freshman Ryan Carpenter. Martin will get a chance to earn a starting spot after he produced one of the best freshman season's in Gonzaga history last season. Martin set the school record with nine saves, earned Freshman All-America honors and posted a team-best 2.80 ERA. Proszek will provide some leadership and also will bring back some WCC experience after he allowed three or fewer earned runs in four WCC starts last season. Carpenter, one of the top high school pitchers out of Arizona, will also get a chance to earn a spot in the weekend rotation in first collegiate season.

Cody Martin headlines the pitching staff as he set a school record with nine saves last season

"Martin has shown great durability for us and will get a chance to earn a spot in our weekend rotation," said Machtolf. "Proszek is one of our veteran guys that had solid summer and fall seasons and like Fields, brings some starting experience to the 2009 staff. Carpenter also had a strong fall season for us and will get a chance to pitch on the weekends for us this season."

Senior C.J. McClure, sophomore Reedy Berg and incoming junior transfer Steven Ames will all get a chance to start in the mid-week games. Each arm brings something different to the Bulldog staff and the player that does not earn the start that particular game will be the first to come out of the bullpen.

"We will have a number of guys that will get a shot to start on the mound for us this season. We will have the most depth in the bullpen as we have had in a long while. The guy that doesn't earn the start on a given day will provide some great depth to our bullpen," said Machtolf. "Trying to find innings for each of these guys will be a good problem to have."

Junior Jeremy Stumetz and incoming junior transfer Jacob Hiatt will handle the late the inning duties for the Zags. Stumetz returns after making 19 appearances last season and Hiatt joins the club after setting a Walla Walla Community College school record with 15 saves in his two seasons.

"Jeremy brings some experience to the back end of our bullpen this season. He is a veteran presence that is poised and has shown the ability to come into a game, throw strikes and attack hitters," said Machtolf. "Hiatt also brings some late-inning experience to our staff and he will get a chance to pitch the closer role for us this season."

Incoming freshman Andy Hunter, an All-State selection in Arizona, will be a two-way option for the Bulldogs both in the bullpen as a right handed pitcher and/or have a chance to earn at-bats either as a designated hitter or in the outfield.

Max Manix and Kyle Adkins both return after redshirting last season and each showed potential in the fall. Both will be looked to for middle-inning relief. Sophomore Andrew Danner along with newcomers Tyler Olson and Ryan Leahy are all left-handed throwers that add to the bullpen depth. Freshmen Danny Alig and Jacob Brown will provide some right-handed pitching depth.

Redshirt junior catcher Tyson Van Winkle elected to return to school after being selected in the 39th round by the Houston Astros in last June's Major League Baseball amateur draft. Van Winkle will provide great defense behind the plate, handle the pitching staff well and also bring a consistent bat to the middle of the order."Tyson had a solid year for us last season and has continued to improve his offense every year," said Machtolf. "He is great defensively, one of the top catchers in the conference and really works well with our pitching staff."

Seniors Grant Kveder and Anthony Synegal will also see some time behind the plate or in the designated hitter spot throughout the season. Both are veteran players that bring some pop to the lineup and both can step in for Van Winkle. Kveder handled multiple roles for the Bulldogs last season hitting .322 while making 24 starts in right field and 23 at catcher in his first season for the Zags. Freshman Joe Driver will also provide some more depth for the Bulldogs behind the plate.

"Kveder brings a ton of skills back to our club this year, he will provide some depth for us behind the plate," said Machtolf. "Synegal will provide senior leadership. He had a solid fall season for us and if he's not behind the plate that day, he will provide some pop at the plate either as a designated hitter or in a pinch-hit role."

In the infield, three players return that made at least 50 starts and hit at a .316 clip or higher last season. Senior first baseman Ryan Wiegand will once again anchor the middle of the order after posting a WCC-high 63 RBI, a team-high 11 home runs and a team second-best .365 batting average last season.

"Wiegand has been one of the best WCC hitters if not the best all around hitter the past two seasons," said Machtolf. "He has continued to improve every year. He can hit for average, hit for power, he uses all fields and can hit in the clutch."

Senior second baseman Evan Wells also returns on the right side for the Zags. Wells earned All-WCC honorable mention a season ago after posting a .331 batting average and scoring 50 runs in the leadoff spot.

"Evan has been Mr. Reliable for us since he moved into a starting role two seasons ago, "said Machtolf. "He is a solid leadoff hitter, one of the most consistent in the conference. He puts together good at-bats and plays flawless defense up the middle."Senior Jason Chatwood will make the move from shortstop to third base with the addition of highly-touted freshman Ernesto Ortiz slated to open the season at short.

"We feel very comfortable that Jason will make the move from shortstop to third base with no problems," said Machtolf. "He takes his very good set of skills over there and his veteran experience really solidifies the left side of the infield. He brings energy with him to every at-bat and will look to him to continue to spark the club."

A four-time All-Region selection out of Phoenix, Ariz., Ortiz will be the Zags opening day shortstop and serve as the team's second leadoff man and hit in the bottom spots of the order.

"Ernesto will get a chance to play right away for us at shortstop," said Machtolf. "He had a great summer playing in a tough college summer league, he plays solid defense and we will look to him to turn the lineup over and ignite the offense throughout the season."

Junior outfielder Brian Yardley will provide some infield depth after producing one of the best fall seasons on the team, positioning himself to get some at-bats this season. Freshmen Nick Carrillo and Andy Hunter along with junior college transfer Cameron Edman are all young strong hitters that also provide great depth around the infield and will get a chance to increase their role for the Bulldogs.

Drew Heid will add consistency to the Zags' offense as he ranked fifth in the league with a .386 batting average

In the outfield, one of WCC's premiere players in centerfielder Drew Heid returns for his junior season after earning All-WCC accolades last season after producing the WCC's fourth highest batting average (.386) and second-best batting average in conference games (.478). Heid will team up with Wiegand to form one of the WCC's most dangerous middle of the order combinations.

"Heid is coming off an impressive season. Heearned MVP honors in his summer league (West Coast Collegiate League) and has continued to work as hard as ever," said Machtolf.

In the corner outfield spots, Kveder will see the majority of time in right field and fellow senior Mark Castellitto is the leading candidate to start in left. Castellitto will also spend time at the designated hitter spot as incoming freshman Royce Bolinger out of Arizona is expected to see time in both corner outfield spots.

"Kveder and Castellitto both proved that they could handle the bat last season and we will rely on their WCC experience to help this club," said Machtolf. "Castellitto will be our power bat from the right side and will bring some balance to our lineup. Bolinger is good strong kid and will also provide some power in the bottom half of the lineup."

Returning redshirt freshman Chris Sturdivant brings great speed to the Bulldog outfield and will be a weapon on the base paths. Two junior college transfers in Kyle LaHonta and Ryan Morales both bring some veteran experience to the roster and will provide some solid depth in the outfield.

The 2009 schedule includes seven teams ranked in pre-season polls, including five squads that participated in the 2008 NCAA tournament. Two early-season tournaments in Arizona will have the Zags matchup with such teams as the University of Nevada, Notre Dame University and two games with pre-season 10th ranked University of Missouri. The first week of March, the Zags will take part in the Palm Springs Tournament that will see Gonzaga face two tough teams out of the Big-12 Conference in Oklahoma State University and Texas Tech University as well as UC Riverside out of the Big West Conference and West Coast Conference foe University of San Francisco.

"We take pride in putting together a tough schedule each year. Our schedule will test us early and often and will prepare for us for WCC play later in the year," said Machtolf. "Each of the early-season tournaments are going to be a lot of fun, but the Palm Springs tournament will be special because teams from the Big-12, Pac-10, Big West and WCC will all be on display."

Overall, Machtolf is cautiously optimistic in his outlook for the 2009 season.

"We have the tools this season. We have the veteran lineup. We have experience on the mound and a very talented incoming class that provides depth and energy at each position," said Machtolf. "We expect to go out and compete each time we take the field and continue to work towards winning a WCC championship.