Bearcats Open Season This Weekend at John Lewis Field; Senior Laden Squad Looking For Big Season

SALEM, OR — Playing a quarter of their games against teams who played in the Division III Regional Championships last season, the Willamette University men’s baseball team has a tall order to improve on last year’s 17-19 record.

The Bearcats kick off their season Saturday with a doubleheader against Western Baptist College beginning at 11 a.m.

Coach Matt Allison, now in his second season, likes a senior laden team that has great depth. Better speed and team chemistry that’s “better than any team I have ever coached before.”

That chemistry starts at the coaching level. With Allison and Pitching Coach Ron Rakowski firmly entrenched, look for new assistant coaches Gib Gilmore, Colin Griffin and Travis Shull to provide tremendous knowledge and encouragement to the Bearcats.

Catcher and center fielder Ken Halpin, one of the team’s seniors, said the entire coaching staff has given the team a big boost. “We know what they expect of us. And while it is hard to lose the playing abilities of Colin and Travis, we’re really fortunate to have their character and personality on the bench with us.”

Gilmore, the father of Bearcat players Brian and Kelly Gilmore, “is a perfect compliment to the other coaches. His passion and enthusiasm for the game are contagious, and he is adding a lot to our program,” said Allison.

Look for plenty of exciting changes on the field, too. The team is much deeper than last year’s version, especially in the pitching ranks and the outfield.

On the mound, the Bearcats return last year’s Second Team All-Conference pitcher, Zach Vande Griende (7-3, 2.73 ERA). Jeff Jensen is back again as well, looking to improve on his 5-6 record from a year ago.

The Bearcats also bring back Drew Herbert (3-1) and a much-improved Jeff Ross. Along with that core, Allison is high on several of his transfer students and freshmen. Steve Johnson, a transfer from Utah Valley and Adam Beebe from Hartnell Community College bring another pair of quality arms to the program.

Freshmen Ty Sundley has a great arm. And the football-kicking duo of Matt Biococca and Clint Moran, will again team up on the Bearcat baseball roster.

Senior Halpin and freshmen Lee Ecklund will split catching duties.

At first base, John Cox has shown strong improvement with the bat and glove. He’ll be backed up by Ty Erickson.

Matt Johnson moves from third to second base and will be counted on to provide speed and defense. He’ll be backed up by sophomore Ryan Peterson.
At shortstop, Matt Rasmussen takes over for Griffin. He’ll be backed up by freshman Kyle Wood.

Third base duties will be handled by the team’s best returning hitter, Dane Woldseth. Woldseth, who played second last season, hit .348 last season.

In the outfield, Halpin will play center field when not catching. Allison said seven other players will all get a shot at playing the outfield. Those players include Brian Gilmore, Kelly Gilmore, Nick Nottingham, Adam Holden, Colin Young and Sean Anderson.

“All eight bring something different to the table… and all eight will get a chance to play,” said Allison.

Offensively, Allison said he needs production from Cox, Johnson, Halpin and Brian Gilmore. “Those guys have to produce runs for us to have success.” But the line-up will be solid. “Even our 7,8 and 9 hitters will produce for us this season,” said Halpin. “We’re going to be solid all the way through the line-up.”

The Bearcats will play an extremely difficult schedule. Pre-season poll show Linfield at No. 5 in the country and George Fox is No. 15. Plus, the Bearcats will play No. 2 Chapman and No. 25 Cal State-Hayward early in the season. Whitworth and University of Puget Sound will also be tough competition.

“We’re a better team than last year,” said Allison. “But we’re playing a much tougher schedule. These early season games are going to be important to us as we learn how to win close games. That’s going to determine how successful we are this season.”

In the end, it may just be that chemistry will take the Bearcats to the next level.

“I think the seniors on this team want this season to be a memorable one, not just for themselves, but for the whole team. I see it in their work ethic… I see it at practice… and I see it in the locker room. Now we have to see if we can produce it on the field.

Matt Allison

Matt Allison