Bearcats Bring Plenty of Experience into 2011 Baseball Season

Seven of Eight Starting Fielders Return, Plus DH and Three Starting Pitchers

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- The 2011 Willamette University baseball team has returning players at seven of eight field positions, along with the designated hitter and all three primary starting pitchers. As a result, Head Coach Aaron Swick and the Bearcats are excited about the start of the season.

In fact, the Bearcats graduated only one senior at the end of the 2010 season. Nearly everyone else on the team has returned. Willamette ended last year with a 16-22 overall record, including 12-12 in the Northwest Conference, as the Bearcats tied for fourth place. WU went 8-4 in its final 12 NWC games.

Last year, Willamette frequently started four or five freshmen. As the season progressed, the freshmen adapted well to the college game and made major contributions to the team. Now, they have a full year of experience behind them and are ready to be even more valuable in 2001.

In addition to plenty of experience, the Bearcats form a very cohesive group that supports each other and shares goals for the season. All of the players have worked hard since last year and have benefited from better-than-normal weather during preseason workouts.

“We have great depth and athleticism at every position,” Swick said. “Pitching has improved significantly. I think we have an opportunity to do great things.”

INFIELD

Doug Bloom, a senior who is a former First Team All-NWC selection, will start at shortstop. All of the other infield positions are very competitive.

Bloom hit .250 and scored 33 runs last season. He also was successful on 15 of 17 stolen base attempts and led the team with 125 assists. Bloom owns a .290 career batting average and has scored 108 runs in 116 games played for the Bearcats.

“Doug has been an ironman for us at shortstop,” Swick noted. “He has incredible abilities in the field and at the plate and does a great job of leading our team while on defense."

Returnees Galen Duff (So., 2B), Tim Schilf (Jr., 3B) and Michael Oliver (Jr., 1B) have experience, but will be challenged by several newcomers. Freshmen Tommy Kawamura at second base and Brandon Chinn and Scott Arn at first base are talented infielders who will battle for playing time. Tosh Semlacher (Fr.) is a key newcomer who will compete for playing time at multiple positions.

In 2010, Schilf played in 28 games, while Duff saw action in 27 games and Oliver contributed during 24 games. Oliver batted .288 during the season. Duff achieved a 1.000 field percentage with 31 putouts and 55 assists. Schilf started 20 games and was 6 for 7 on stolen bases.

Providing depth on the infield will be returning player Kyle Kirwan (So., 1B) and newcomers Tenny Pitsch (Fr., 1B), Kevin Lyman (Fr., 3B) and Alex Lavery (Fr., 3B).

OUTFIELD

The Willamette outfield features plenty of talent and depth. All three starters return, along with quality back-up players.

Providing the most experience is senior left fielder T.C. Lee, who has played in 111 games, with 107 starts in his career. Lee was named First Team All-NWC in 2010 after hitting .389 with 15 doubles, one triple and three home runs. He tied for the team lead with 22 walks and was 11 of 15 on stolen bases.

Lee has an impressive career batting average of .351 and hit at least .320 in each of the past three seasons. His career statistics also include 87 runs, 87 RBIs and 30 doubles. He ranks second all-time at WU with 22 home runs.

“T.C. is a legitimate threat every time he steps in the box and has been a huge part of our offensive success the last two years,” Swick commented.

Mitchell Rowan, who started at designated hitter and saw action in right field in 2010, was chosen First Team All-NWC. He also was selected First Team All-West Region by D3baseball.com and was a First Team Preseason All-America pick prior to the current season.

“Mitch has been extremely impressive in his first two years,” Swick said. “Every time goes up to the plate we know he is going to give us a quality at bat.”

Last year, Rowan led the Bearcats with a .403 batting average. He was 13 for 13 on stolen bases, belted 13 doubles and blasted 12 home runs. He led WU with 412 RBIs and 41 runs scored.

Tyson Giza in center field and Sky Kelley in right field were named Honorable Mention All-NWC as freshmen last year. Giza achieved a .288 batting average, while stealing 14 bases. He played in 37 games and recorded 115 putouts on defense. Kelly saw action in 31 games and batted .374, with 29 runs and 24 RBIs. He earned a 1.000 fielding percentage.

Eli Kass (So.) started at second base last season to gain lots of experience. He has moved to the outfield this season. Adam Reid, a junior, will provide depth.

CATCHING

Max Stepan, a senior this season, was named Second Team All-NWC in 2010. He played in 33 games with 29 starts, and batted .345 for the Bearcats. He belted five home runs and 12 doubles, while driving in 29 runs and scoring 27 times. He also achieved a .959 fielding percentage.

“Max gives us great energy and attitude behind the plate. He has learned how to handle our staff and will also be a key part of what we do offensively,” Swick said.

Dylan Summers, now a junior, played in 21 games and had 15 starts a year ago. While platooning with Stepan, he hit .281 on offense and earned a .988 fielding percentage behind the plate.

Stepan and Summers have both improved their skills and are ready to work with the pitching staff. Depth at catcher will be supplied by senior Ross Knutsen.

PITCHING

Chris Torgerson (Sr., RHP) and Devin Grindy (Sr., RHP) return for Willamette after being the team’s top two starters last season. They combined for a total of 33 appearances, including 21 starts.

Torgerson led the team in wins and finished with a 6-4 record. One of his wins was a 7-0 complete-game shutout of conference power Pacific Lutheran University. He completed the year with a 6.52 earned run average in 58 innings pitched. Torgerson was chosen Honorable Mention All-NWC.

Grindy topped the pitching staff with 64 innings on the mound. He achieved a 6.61 ERA and a 3-4 overall record, while striking out 27 batters with only 14 walks.

“Both of these guys (Torgerson and Grindy) are gamers. They love to compete,” Swick said. “Their experience will definitely play a big part in our staff having success this season.”

The third regular starter will be one of several talented pitchers for the Bearcats.

Jake Jones (So., RHP) returns after pitching 11 times with eight starts as a freshman last spring. He threw a total of 35 innings and ranked second on the team with 21 strikeouts.

Also competing for a starting spot are two transfers and two returning players who worked from the bullpen in 2010. The transfers are sophomore Jamie McCaffrey and junior Ryan Smith. McCaffrey played one season at Clackamas CC, while Smith competed for two years at the University of Redlands (Calif.).

The relievers who may earn a spot in the starting rotation are Parker Johnson (So., RHP) and Blake Paisley (Jr., RHP). Johnson appeared in 15 games last season, earned two saves and gave up just one home run in 19 innings. Paisley pitched in 12 games for the Bearcats a year ago. He struck out nine batters in 16 2/3 innings.

Brandon Simon (So., RHP) returns as a leader in the bullpen. During his freshman season last spring, he tied Johnson for the team lead with 15 appearances. Simon pitched his way to a 3-0 record and a solid 4.61 ERA. He allowed just one homer in 27 1/3 innings pitched.

Additional help in the bullpen will be provided by a mixture of returning and new players. Experienced pitchers include Andrew Wyman (Sr., RHP) and Nate Bender (Sr., RHP). Newcomers are Garrett Davis (Fr., RHP), Matthew Shea (Fr., RHP), Nathan Shea (Fr., RHP) and Henry Harrison (Fr., LHP).

SCHEDULE

Willamette will play a challenging schedule.  The Bearcats are set to open the year with a four-game series against Simpson University in Redding, Calif. One week later, WU will play several games in the Los Angeles area, taking on Chapman University, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Pomona-Pitzer and Occidental College.

The schedule also includes a full round-robin of Northwest Conference games. The Bearcats will play a three-game series against each of the other eight teams for a total of 24 games in NWC play. Linfield College, which placed third in NCAA Division III last season, is the preseason favorite to repeat as the NWC champion. Willamette was picked fourth in this year’s NWC Preseason Poll.

Mitchell Rowan batted .403 in 2010 with 13 doubles and 12 homers.

Mitchell Rowan batted .403 in 2010 with 13 doubles and 12 homers.

Doug Bloom is in his fourth season as a starter for the Bearcats.

Doug Bloom is in his fourth season as a starter for the Bearcats.