2012 College Baseball Opening Weekend Preview
LA CROSSE, WI – The Midwest may still be covered by (some) snow, but college baseball is ready to start again around the country. February 17th will be the day that almost every NCAA Division I team will kick-off the season. Some future La Crosse Loggers will be involved in some of the premier match-ups of the weekend, including when the #25 ranked Cal State Fullerton Titans travel to Gainesville, Fla., to face the #1 Florida Gators.
The Titans new Head Coach Rick Vanderhook, and assistant coach for nearly 30 years, will have a tough test in his first action as a head coach in college baseball when the team takes on last year’s national runner-up Florida. Vanderhook could make the call to use freshman Matt Chapman, who will be joining the La Crosse Loggers this summer. If he does, Chapman could see some playing time in the infield in his first collegiate game ever against one of the best hitting teams in the nation. Not only can Florida hit (.307 team average in 2011), but they can pitch as well, shown by their team ERA of 2.95 last year. In this weekend’s three-game set, the probable starters for the Gators include Hudson Randall (2011: 11-3, 2.17 ERA, 73 K), Karston Whitson (2011: 8-1, 2.40 ERA, 92 K), and Brian Johnson (2011: 8-3, 3.62 ERA, 72 K). Chapman’s bat might be needed against such stellar pitching. As a senior at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif., Chapman hit .422 to follow his junior year campaign that was even better at a .429 batting average.
Bobby Juan and the Minnesota Gophers will open their season in the 2012 Big Ten/Big East Baseball Challenge that will be hosted in Clearwater, Florida. Ten teams from each conference will be competing. Minnesota has drawn the following match-ups for the weekend: vs. Louisville on Friday at 9:00 am, at St. John’s at noon on Saturday, and at South Florida at noon on Sunday. Most Coulee Region fans are quite familiar with the La Crosse Central alum Juan, who also played for the Loggers last season. Hopefully Juan can deliver like he did last year for the Lumbermen, when he hit for a .319 average in 144 at bats with 6 homeruns and 30 runs driven in. If he does, the Gophers could be a dark horse to be the Big 10 representative. BaseballAmerica.com predicts Minnesota to finish 3rd in the Big 10 (13-11, 25-24 overall), behind Purdue (14-10, 37-20) and Michigan State (15-9, 36-21 overall), but only by a slim margin in conference play.
Tyler Servais is going into his freshman season as a Princeton Tiger this weekend. Many fans from the area will also recognize his name. Tyler is the son of Westby native Scot Servais, who played an 11-year career in the big leagues. Tyler can play behind the plate and at 1B, which is the reason he could get some playing time this spring. Currently, he is stuck behind All-American candidate Sam Mulroy at catcher. Mulroy is considered the best athlete in the Ivy League, so Servais will have to find playing time when Mulroy is at DH. The Tigers are expected to win the Ivy League and head to the NCAA Baseball Championships again. Princeton opens the season at Florida Atlantic University.
TRIVIA QUESTION: What Aztec player's number will be retired on February 17 before San Diego State plays Washington? Hint: He was an All-American as a junior during the 2009 season when he compiled a record of 13-1 with a 1.32 earned run average. That season he struck out 195 batters in just 109 innings while walking only 19. (Answer will be available on Monday's weekend recap)
One other opening weekend series that Logger fans should draw attention to is the San Diego State Aztecs hosting of the Washington Huskies. There will be six future Loggers playing in the series, with the already announced Aztecs (TJ Kendzora & Steven Pallares) and four Huskies, including Zach Wright who played with the Lumbermen last year. Wright appeared in 11 games for the Loggers last summer and logged 54 innings in 9 starts with a 3.50 ERA and 2-4 record. Stay tuned for the rest of the Washington players to be publicized as the season approaches. Kendzora played summer ball last year for the Quincy Gems in Illinois. He made11 starts, and the right-hander went 8-0 with a 2.58 ERA and was named the team’s pitcher of the year. Kendzora will start this Sunday, February 19, and will look to improve on last spring when he went 3-2 with a 5.60 ERA over 35.1 innings. Unfortunately, neither team is expected to represent their conferences in the NCAA tournament, with San Diego State predicted to finish third in the Mountain West Conference and Washington to finish last in the Pac-12.
Staying in the Pac-12, the #14 ranked UCLA Bruins will open the season against Maryland. Highly touted freshman and future Lumberman, Kevin Kraemer, will be in a position battle at 2nd base with sophomore Kevin Williams. Kraemer was named as a top newcomer to the Pac-12 by BaseballAmerica.com and the 45th best freshman prospect in the nation. The Bruins will have a tough time getting back to the NCAA tournament, with five teams from the Pac-12 being ranked in the top-25 preseason polls. Going into the season, UCLA is predicted to finish third, behind #2 Stanford and #5 Arizona.
Another anticipated freshman and future Logger is Richard Prigatano, who will play his freshman year for the Long Beach State Dirtbags. Prigatano is the 14th best freshman prospect in the country according to BaseballAmerica.com, and his ceiling is extremely high after an amazing senior season in which he hit .494 and six homeruns. Sophomore Jake Stassi will rejoin the Loggers this summer and try to help the Dirtbags compete in the Big West Conference. Long Beach State will open the season against Virginia Commonwealth University.
For other information on opening weekend, read here. For the full listing of BaseballAmerica.com's Top 25, read here.
Other Notable Opening Weekend Series for Future Loggers
Boomer Collins, returning to the Loggers this year after playing with them in 2009, will open the season with Dallas Baptist against Southeast Missouri State.
Returning Logger Jordan Hazeltine and University of San Francisco will play at San Jose State.
Austin Bailey and University of San Diego will open at Sam Houston State.
Kyle Raubinger, Colin Welmon, and Loyola Marymount play UNLV.
Weekend recap will be posted Monday, with information on how your future Loggers did over the weekend with their collegiate teams!
Don’t forget, the Loggers will open their 2012 campaign on the road on May 30 when they travel to Wisconsin Rapids to take on the Rafters. The Loggers will kick off their 10th season of play at home on Saturday, June 2 when they play host to the Madison Mallards at 6:05 p.m. at The Lumber Yard. Stay tuned for the rest of the roster to be unveiled in the upcoming weeks.