Bruins Hope to Return to Playoffs in 2012

More news about: George Fox

 NEWBERG, Ore. – After missing out on the NCAA Division III National Tournament each of the last two years, the George Fox University Bruins hope to return this season to the baseball playoffs, in which they participated eight times from 2000-2009, behind a pitching staff that may be the deepest in team history and another solid defense effort.

 “We will probably go 10 or 11 deep on the mound,” projects head coach Marty Hunter, who enters his fifth season at the Bruins’ helm with a 113-54 (.677) record.  “Our defense should be stellar again, particularly on the infield, though our whole outfield will be new.  Offensively, we should be improved, with a little more punch and more team speed.”

 The Bruins are coming off a 26-13 record in 2011 and a tie for third place in the Northwest Conference with a 14-10 league mark.  Last year’s squad posted a fine 3.59 earned run average on the hill, batted .317 as a team, and posted a .975 fielding mark that led the nation, the third time the Bruins have done that in the past nine seasons (also in 2003 and 2005, setting a D-III record that still stands in 2005 with a .979 fielding average).

 Pitching

 The Bruins return six pitchers from last year, led by First Team All-Conference and Third Team All-West Region ace RHP Brian Ranta (Sr., Clackamas, Ore. / Rex Putnam HS), who was 8-2 with a 2.40 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 93.2 inning.  RHP Clay Gartner (So., Clovis, Calif. / Clovis East HS) is expected to handle the No. 2 chores after going 3-4, including a late-season win over NAIA power Lewis-Clark State College, with a 3.99 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 65.1 innings.

 “Brian is a control specialist with three good pitches who gives us a consistent effort every time out,” notes Hunter.  “Our team really believes we have a chance to win every time he takes the mound.  Clay showed what he is capable of by beating LC State in a well-pitched game and we want him to build off of that.”

 The third spot in the starting rotation is likely to go to newcomer RHP Tom Zarosinksi (Fr., Lake Oswego, Ore. / Lake Oswego HS), a red-shirt freshman who was a top recruit at Oregon State University last year.  Says Hunter, “Tom is a ‘live arm’ guy who was highly recruited.  He is very competitive and gives us more of a power arm in our rotation.”

 If the Bruins need a fourth starter, the leading candidate to fill that role is another newcomer, RHP Taylor Dunn (So., Lake Oswego, Ore. / Lake Oswego HS), a transfer from Clark College.  Two other transfers, RHP Taylor Hill (Sr., Sherwood, Ore. / Sherwood HS) from Hawai’i Pacific University and RHP Bobby Orozco (Jr., Oceanside, Calif. / Vista HS) from Yavapai College, may also get a start or two.

 “All three have the potential to be starters for us,” assesses Hunter, “and they may get opportunities to do that in our early tournaments, but right now they are projected to get a lot of work out of the pen.  None of them throw exactly the same, giving us a variety of styles and options.”

 Also in middle relief, Hunter can call upon returnees RHP Brian Davis (Sr., Renton, Wash. / Eastside Catholic HS), RHP Carl Mason (Jr., Woodburn, Ore. / North Marion HS), LHP Connor Harris (So., Sandy, Ore. / Sandy HS), and RHP Kyle Albertson (So., Marysville, Wash. (Marysville-Pilchuck HS).  Davis was 2-1, 4.38, with 34 K’s in 39 innings as both a starter and a reliever in 2011.  Mason went 2-1, 4.50 with 15 strikeouts in 12 innings, Harris had 3.00 ERA with six K’s in 15 innings, and Albertson had a 3-1 record, 5.32 with 10 K’s in 22 innings.

 “These veterans give us some depth in the middle that we can use to match up in specific situations,” says Hunter.  “Kyle has just gotten back from a shoulder injury - he didn’t throw all fall - so we’ll have to wait and see how much work he gets.”

 Two other solid candidates for middle relief are transfers RHP Eric Kittelson (Jr., Beaverton, Ore. / Aloha HS) from Mt. Hood Community College and LHP Jake Hanley (So., Mill Creek, Wash. / Archbishp Murphy HS) from Whitworth University.  RHP Spencer Eager (Jr., Bainbridge Island, Wash. / Bainbridge HS) and LHP Daniel Kephart (Jr., Tucson, Ariz. / University HS) have been honing their skills with the Bruins’ junior varsity program for the last two years and could be ready to contribute as well.

 Second Team All-NWC relief ace Jacob Brown is gone, taking with him a 2-2 record, a 3.03 ERA, and four saves with 19 strikeouts in 29.2 innings, so the Bruins will be looking for a new arm to finish games.  Mason and Hill are possibilities, though Hunter admits to leaning toward RHP Alex Keenum (Jr., Portland, Ore. / Jesuit HS), a transfer from Mt. Hood Community College, as the probable closer.

  Hunter is also high on three right-handed freshmen who could contribute quickly in Sean Eberhardt (Fr., Milwaukie, Ore. / Rex Putnam HS), Ian Buckles (Fr., Kent, Wash. / Kentridge HS), and Spencer Douglas (Fr., Wilsonville, Ore. / Wilsonville HS).  The rest of the staff is composed of freshmen righties who project well for the future: Micah Donor (Fr., Lakewood, Wash. / Steilacoom HS), Andrew Marquez (Fr., Portland, Ore. / Milwaukie HS), and Austin Strutz (Fr., Harrisburg, Ore. / Harrisburg HS).

 Catching

 Josh Rapacz (So., West Richland, Wash. / Richland HS) began last year as the starting catcher and batted .357 with seven RBIs before going down with an injury after only nine games last year.  He was replaced by Eric Gantenbein, who moved over from first and earned Second Team All-NWC honors as well as a West Region Gold Glove award.  With Gantenbein gone, Rapacz returns behind the plate after receiving a medical hardship season from the NCAA and hopes to pick up where he left off.

 “Josh is going to be a really good one for us if we can keep him healthy,” predicts Hunter.  “He is an outstanding defensive catcher with a strong arm and a solid bat who will probably hit third in our order.”

 The Bruins are very young behind Rapacz, though.  Austin Egger (So., Sauvie Island, Ore. / Scappoose HS) is the only other backstop with any college experience after a year on the JV team and a base hit in his only at bat in a varsity game.  Nick Benish (Fr., Poulsbo, Wash. / North Kitsap HS) is probably the best hitter among the new receivers, while Taylor Johnson (Fr. Tigard, Ore. / Tualatin HS) is a talented signal caller.  Sam Burns (Fr., Happy Valley, Ore. / Clackamas HS) rounds out the catching corps.

 Infield

 When shortstop Taylor Hunter (Sr., Canby, Ore. / Canby HS) suffered an early-season shoulder injury that reduced him to designated hitter last year, Derek Blankenship (So., Baker City, Ore. / Baker HS) moved from second to short and Zac Israel (So., Lake Stevens, Wash. / Lake Stevens HS) took over at second.  Hunter hit .326-1-24, Blankenship .268-1-17, and Israel .270-0-22.  Hunter, the coach’s son, will start the new season at second to protect his arm, with Blankenship at short and Israel the prime candidate to replace Second Team All-NWC and West Region Gold Glove third baseman Sam Stahl at the hot corner.

 “It’s a versatile infield,” notes Hunter.  “If Taylor’s arm is strong enough, he could move back to short, Derek has been working out at third and could go there, and Israel could shift over to second, since he’s played there before.  Wherever they are, the defense will be sound, and we expect some solid seasons at the plate from each of them as well.”

 Zack Miller (Jr., Aurora, Ore. / North Marion HS), a transfer from Clackamas Community College, and returnee Zach Hegelmeyer (So., Crescent City, Calif. / Del Norte HS), who hit .250-0-2, will provide capable infield depth.  Dustin Turin (So., Sandy, Ore. / Sandy HS), who went .000-0-1, is the only other infielder with any experience.  Newcomers to watch for the future include Ian Skiles (Fr., Milwaukie, Ore. / Rex Putnam HS), Drew Walters (Fr., Gladstone, Ore. / Gladstone HS), and Michael Hirko (Fr., Bend, Ore. / Bend HS).

 Over at first base, Danny Clifford (So., Canby, Ore. / Canby HS), a transfer from Mt. Hood Community College, is expected to replace the graduated Jay Kirchhofer.  Says Hunter, “Danny gives us a strong bat in the No. 4 hole and should give us some pop at that position.”

 Derek Dixon (So., Vancouver, Wash. / Columbia River HS), who batted .286-0-2 with four hits, all doubles, after coming up from the JV squad, will also vie for playing time at first as well as handling designated hitter duties.  John Mountz (Sr., Prineville, Ore. / Crook County HS) split duties at first base with Kirchhofer after Gantenbein moved to catcher, batting 189-0-2 primarily as a defensive replacement, a role he will likely reprise this season, and ranking 37th nationally with nine sacrifice bunts.

Others who could see duty at first are transfers Kyle Kirwan (Jr., Hillsboro, Ore. / Glencoe HS) from Willamette University and Stephen Ossey (Jr., Portland, Ore. / Central Catholic HS) from the College of the Desert.  Kirwan may be used as a relief pitcher as well, while Eberhardt is also capable of moving from the mound to first.

 Outfield

 Fans will need their scorecards to identify the Bruin outfield in 2012, as all of last year’s starters have graduated: First Team All-NWC and West Region Second Team right fielder Dan Winterstein and All-NWC Second Teamers Nate Hickok in center and Derek Aldrich in left.

 Speed merchants Matthew Zeller (So., Milwaukie, Ore. / Rex Putnam HS), who hit .063-0-0 in limited time as a rookie, and Jared Chase (Jr., St. Helens, Ore. / St. Helens HS), a transfer from Mt. Hood Community College, are battling for the job in center.  Line-drive hitter David Greenstein (Sr., Oregon City, Ore. / Clackamas HS), a transfer from Hawai’i Pacific University, and returnee Todd Nagamine (Jr., Kaneohe, Hawai’i / Mid-Pacific Institute), who went .191-0-5, appear targeted for left.  In right, Hunter likes the bats of Timothy Williams (Jr., Oceanside, Calif. / Guajome Park Academy), who hit .333-0-0, and switch hitter Emmett Ackerlund (Jr., Newberg, Ore. / Veritas HS).

 “Actually, the outfield could be some combination of any of those six,” says Hunter.  “Matthew and Jared can both really go and get the ball; it’s just a question of how well they will hit.  David could be our No. 5 hitter behind Clifford, but ‘Nags’ has stepped up his game and done everything to deserve a shot.  Timmy and Emmett have been swinging the bats well.”

 Other flychasers who could contend for playing time include Mitch Main (So., Bainbridge Island, Wash. / Bainbridge HS), who hit .22-0-0 and is moving from the infield to the outfield, and Ryder West (So., Medford, Ore. / Cascade Christian HS), who played for the junior varsity team last year.

 Summary

 “Our pitching depth is one of the best it has been, which should enable us to make the matchups we want when necessary,” says Hunter.  “Our defense will be solid again, and offensively, we hope to make good use of our overall team speed.  We should also have a bit more power than last year.  The best thing for us is that we have competition for every spot, which has brought out the best in everyone, and enough versatility that we can make moves we couldn’t make last year.”

 Schedule

 The heart of the Bruins’ schedule is the 24-game Northwest Conference slate that will determine the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  The Bruins have made eight post-season appearances since becoming eligible for the NCAA playoffs in 2000, winning the national championship in 2004, and would enjoy a return to the West Regionals, which will be hosted this year by Linfield College just 14 miles down the road in McMinnville, Ore.

 The Bruins will also participate in three regular-season tournaments, including the Guardian Plumbing, Heating,& Air Conditioning Tournament in Lewiston, Idaho, on Feb. 10-12, to open the season.  Their first game will be on Friday, Feb. 10, against the University of British Columbia at 10:00 a.m.

Other tournaments the Bruins will compete in are the Arizona Desert Classic in Anthem, Ariz., on Feb. 16-19, and the Linfield Tournament on May 4-6.  The Bruins also have a three-game series in Orange, Calif., against Chapman University, last year’s national runner-up and a pre-season No. 2 pick in the nation, on Feb. 25-26.and enough versatility that we can make moves we couldn’t make last year.”

 Schedule

 The heart of the Bruins’ schedule is the 24-game Northwest Conference slate that will determine the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  The Bruins have made eight post-season appearances since becoming eligible for the NCAA playoffs in 2000, winning the national championship in 2004, and would enjoy a return to the West Regionals, which will be hosted this year by Linfield College just 14 miles down the road in McMinnville, Ore.

 The Bruins will also participate in three regular-season tournaments, including the Guardian Plumbing, Heating,& Air Conditioning Tournament in Lewiston, Idaho, on Feb. 10-12, to open the season.  Their first game will be on Friday, Feb. 10, against the University of British Columbia at 10:00 a.m. 

Other tournaments the Bruins will compete in are the Arizona Desert Classic in Anthem, Ariz., on Feb. 16-19, and the Linfield Tournament on May 4-6.  The Bruins also have a three-game series in Orange, Calif., against Chapman University, last year’s national runner-up and a pre-season No. 2 pick in the nation, on Feb. 25-26.

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