Entire Starting Infield Returns for Bearcat Baseball in 2009

By Samantha Post, Athletics Communications Student Writer and
Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- Willamette University baseball players and coaches are excited about the 2009 season. The Bearcats have a great mix of returning veterans and young players. Five returning starters anchor the infield, while several newcomers will play key roles in the success of the team.

The combination of veterans and newcomers includes many talented players. They are capable of creating offense from the top of the lineup to the bottom.

Interim Head Coach Aaron Swick is in his first season leading the Bearcats, but it’s not his first season with the team. He was an assistant baseball coach at Willamette in 2006 and 2007, before serving as an assistant coach at South Dakota State University last year. He also was an assistant coach with the Green Bay Bullfrogs of the Northwoods League the past two summers.

Willamette achieved a .308 team batting average last season and returns seven of its top 10 hitters. The Bearcats led NCAA Division III in home runs per game (1.65 avg.), after blasting 66 homers in 40 contest. WU ranked 25th in the country in team slugging percentage (.518) and also achieved 66 doubles, nine triples and 114 extra-base hits.

Senior first baseman Kyle Stalker is back to lead the team on offense. He ranked first in Division III in home runs per game last spring with 22 homers in 39 games (0.56 per game). He finished second in the nation in runs batted in per game (1.62) and was seventh in slugging percentage (.844).

Stalker was named Northwest Conference Player of the Year and was chosen Third Team All-America by the American Baseball Coaches Association. He established WU single season records for home runs and runs batted in (63). He also holds the school record for career home runs (36).

Sophomores will offer significant support on offense this year, with shortstop Doug Bloom, leftfielder T.C. Lee and catcher/designated hitter Max Stepan all hitting over .320 as freshmen last season.

Bloom was chosen First Team All-NWC after hitting .333, earning seven doubles, scoring 39 runs and stealing 16 bases on 20 attempts. He led the Bearcats with 111 assists.

Lee received Second Team All-NWC recognition last spring. He hit .320 and his 10 home runs trailed only Stalker in the Willamette lineup. Lee pounded out six doubles and tied for second on the team with 34 RBIs.

Stepan provided a solid combination of hitting and defense. He batted .343 for the ‘Cats and earned seven home runs in 70 at bats. He achieved a .671 slugging percentage on offense and supplied a .990 fielding percentage behind the plate.

With solid offense and hard work, Willamette expects to compete for the Northwest Conference title this year. The Bearcats will play each of the other eight NWC teams in a four-game series. In addition to conference play, the ‘Cats will travel to California to play California State University-East Bay and Menlo College.

WU was 20-20 last season, including 16-15 (5th place) in the NWC. The Bearcats split four games against perennial power George Fox University and won one of three games against regional rival Cal State-East Bay.

The Bearcats will open the season at CSU-East Bay for a three-game series Feb. 20-21 (new dates due to expected weather). Willamette and East Bay will play one game on Friday starting at 2 p.m. (PST) and will play two games on Saturday at 10 a.m. WU is scheduled to play a total of 10 road games before opening the home slate with a doubleheader against George Fox on March 14 at 12 p.m.

Pitching

Of all the innings pitched last year, 65% were thrown by graduating seniors. As a result, the majority of the 2009 pitching staff is young. Even so, WU’s pitchers possess the necessary tools to be successful. Kelsey Nakata (Sr., RHP), the only returning starter, is projected to anchor the rotation this year. His career earned run average is 4.22, which ranks him ninth on the Willamette all-time list.

Other projected starters are Devin Grindy (So, RHP), Ryan Hood-Taylor (So, RHP) and Chris Torgerson (So, RHP). Each saw several innings on the mound last season.

Other key contributors to the pitching staff will be Scott Martin (Jr., RHP) and Jack McGee (Sr. RHP). Martin, a middle reliever, threw 17 innings and had a 5.71 ERA in 2008. McGee remains the Bearcats’ closer, after recording four saves last season. He will continue to share playing time at third base. Last year, he batted .288 to go with 56 assists on defense.

Several members of the team will provide pitching depth, which every NWC team needs to play four games each weekend. Senior Colin Clark, sophomores David Stott, Andrew Wyman, Stephen Branch, Quinn Humphries and Nate Bender, and freshmen Blake Paisley and Casey Spink will provide additional support in relief of WU’s starting rotation.

Catching

For the first time in recent history, Willamette returns both starting catchers from the previous season. Dan Maslanik (Sr.) will be the starter when the season opens. He has handled the pitching staff well throughout his career. Stepan will see action behind the plate and will contribute to the offense as a designated hitter when he isn’t catching.

In 2008, Maslanik hit .279 and was consistent on defense, as he finished the year with a .992 fielding percentage. Stepan’s .343 batting average ranked third on team. Maslanik and Stepan combined to throw out 10 base stealers during the season. Dylan Summers (Fr.) and Ross Knutsen (So.) will provide depth for the Bearcats at catcher this year.

Infield

The Bearcats return starters throughout the infield. In addition to the catcher, other returning starters are Stalker at first base, Ellis Webster (Sr.) at second base, Bloom at shortstop, and the senior tandem of McGee and David Tufo at third base.

McGee and Tufo bring different tools to the lineup, but both know how to help the team succeed. Michael Dearborn (So.), Jake Atwell-Scrivner (Sr.), Mike Oliver (Fr.) and Tim Schilf (Fr.) will contribute to the depth of the infield.

Webster made 76 putouts and contributed 78 assists last season. He combined with the other infielders to help the team register 38 double plays and one triple play. Bloom, Webster, and Stalker combined to turn the triple play in a game against Whitworth on March 30, 2008.

Outfield

Willamette graduated Sean Anderson and Colin Young from the outfield. Both produced solid performances on offense and on defense. Anderson hit .388, was named First Team All-NWC, and pounded out eight homers among 24 extra-base hits. Young batted .31 and connected for nine home runs.

Lee returns to anchor the outfield following his All-NWC rookie season a year ago. He showed power at the plate. With his .320 average, he was one of seven ‘Cats to hit over .300.

Michael Rierson (So.) will start in center field after appearing in 23 games and posting a .284 batting average in 2008. In addition to pitching, Clark will challenge for playing time in the outfield. Also contributing as outfielders will be freshmen Adam Reid and Mitchell Rowan.

Kyle Stalker pounded out 22 home runs, earned 63 RBIs and was chosen NWC Player of the Year last season.

Kyle Stalker pounded out 22 home runs, earned 63 RBIs and was chosen NWC Player of the Year last season.

David Tufo played in 32 games with 26 starts last year.

David Tufo played in 32 games with 26 starts last year.

Doug Bloom hit .333 and stole 16 bases as a freshman in 2008.

Doug Bloom hit .333 and stole 16 bases as a freshman in 2008.

Kelsey Nakata was 3-1 last season with a 4.50 ERA.

Kelsey Nakata was 3-1 last season with a 4.50 ERA.

Dan Maslanik achieved 106 putouts and a .992 fielding percentage behind the plate last year.

Dan Maslanik achieved 106 putouts and a .992 fielding percentage behind the plate last year.

Jack McGee hit .288 on offense, recorded 56 assists on defense and earned four saves as a pitcher in 2008.

Jack McGee hit .288 on offense, recorded 56 assists on defense and earned four saves as a pitcher in 2008.

T.C.

T.C.