By Nate Sanchez
The ’Runner baseball team took the field again on Friday, Jan. 24 for their first practice of the year. The ’Runners opened their practice to the media for questions as they prepared for their opening series against the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee on Feb. 14.
’Runner baseball will have an all-new look for the upcoming season after losing six players to the Major League Baseball draft. With 10 freshmen joining the squad, the major factor in repeating last season’s success for Head Coach Bill Kernen and returning players is experience.
“We’re happy for the guys who were able to move on and play professionally,” said Kernen. “As far as filling in for them, that’s not that easy. We’ve got 15 new guys and we’ve got major pitching that we’ve lost.”
“We’ve got a lot of new guys this year and they’ve caught on really quick and I think we’ll have a great team this year,” said senior left-handed pitcher Taylor Aikenhead.
“I know we have the talent to be able to do that, but whether we’re a team that can do that is the question,” said Kernen.
Among those returning to this year’s team is senior shortstop Oscar Sanay. In the offseason, Sanay won a good amount of awards for his exploits on the field. As a junior, Sanay was named first team All-Conference and second team preseason All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Sanay led the ’Runners in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
“We’ve brought in some good guys, these guys can play,” Sanay said. “They just need experience. You can’t teach that.”
The ’Runners, who won the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title, were eliminated from contention for postseason play by the University of Texas in San Antonio, which left a bad taste in the ’Runners’ mouths. Now the WAC has restructured its playoff format, and the ’Runners now look to take advantage of it.
“The format is realistic with the double-elimination and the top two seeds get a bye,” said Kernen. “Last year it was ridiculous for a one-bid conference to use pool play. So now at least a team will have to beat us twice.”
Despite losing pitchers Jeff McKenzie, Jonathan Montoya and Scott Brattvet, pitching does not seem to be a concern for the ’Runners.
“Pitching’s always been good here and that’s gonna continue on this year,” said Aikenhead. “We work harder than anyone else and we’re just gonna let that translate onto the field.”
“We want to try and overcome the ‘rebuilding year’ mentality,” said Kernen. “I think we’re going to be a good team but we don’t want to be just a good team, we want to be the champions.”
With a 37-22 record last year, the ’Runners have big shoes to fill left by their former, now-professional teammates. They look to continue their success this year with a new class of players and a core of veterans to provide leadership on the field.