Feb. 16, 2011
RUSTON - With each spring comes a new beginning. For the Louisiana Tech baseball program, this spring marks the beginning of an opportunity to contend for a conference championship and a slot within an NCAA Regional.
The Bulldogs welcome back 20 letterwinners and seven position starters from a 2010 squad that finished 27-30 while shattering four school records for hits (697), runs (484), doubles (141) and RBI (441). Of the returning starters, four were named all-WAC performers last season highlighted by first team selection, Mark Threlkeld.
"I like our experience that we have coming back," said ninth-year head coach Wade Simoneaux. "Not only with the 20 lettermen returning, but we also have some guys that were injured that didn't even get to play last season that are going to come back and help us immensely."
In total, seven position starters and seven pitchers that saw at least 15.0 innings of work last season return in what is one of the more veteran lineups within the conference. With five seniors on the squad, coach Simoneaux likes the Bulldogs' chances for the upcoming season.
"I like our veterans that we have in our lineup, and I like the veterans that we have coming back on the mound," said Simoneaux. "We have some really good freshmen that came in and will have to be patient so that we can find them a spot to give them all a taste of college baseball. The team will be ready to compete. They will be in the best shape of their life when the season starts and they'll be ready to go."
The Bulldogs return five players who started at least 24 games in the infield last season. Entering the season, the corner infield positions appear to be the most set in stone as juniors Mark Threlkeld and Alex Williams will anchor the corners.
As a returning first team all-WAC performer, Threlkeld will start the season at the hot corner for the Bulldogs. After a breakout sophomore season that saw the Monroe native belt 14 home runs while driving in a team-high 62 runs, the slugger is expected to fill a role in the heart of the Tech batting order.
After a strong summer in the Northwoods League followed by an impressive Fall World Series that saw Threlkeld drive in 13 runs, hit three home runs and total 12 hits for a .429 average, the junior was named preseason all-WAC by both Baseball America and Perfect Game USA. According to Baseball America, Threlkeld ranks as the third-best draft-eligible prospect in the WAC while Perfect Game tabbed him as the fourth-best prospect in the conference.
Opposite of Threlkeld on the diamond is 2010 second team all-WAC selection, Alex Williams. As Tech's first basemen last season Williams hit .343 while tallying 74 hits, 17 doubles and 11 home runs. Defensively, Williams had a .982 fielding percentage last season which ranked second on the team amongst everyday position players. The 6'6 lefty projects to fill a slot in the middle of the batting lineup for Tech.
Defensively, the biggest question mark rests with the middle infield. Last year the two positions combined to yield 35 of Tech's 92 errors on the season.
Sophomore Taylor Terrasas is projected as the opening day second basemen after seeing time at short during the Fall World Series. Last season Terrasas started 24 games as a freshman and hit .360 with 15 RBI and 15 runs scored. A native of Santa Fe, Texas, Terrasas totaled eight errors last season in 82 chances for a .902 fielding percentage. His numbers during the fall were consistent with his production last season.
With perhaps one of the strongest arms in the infield, junior Ashton Hughes is expected to start at shortstop. Offensively, the left-handed hitter had 41 hits and 30 RBI last season to hit at a .320 clip. Despite his strong arm and quick bat, the biggest question mark for Hughes remains with his glove as he committed a team-high 21 errors last season in just 153 chances.
Joey Ford who started 48 games at second base last season is expected to see a majority of his playing time at center field while playing spot duty at second. Freshman Ryan Gebhardt, a native of Monroe, La., has come on strong during fall and winter workouts and is expected to contribute as a key reserve in the middle infield.
Junior Kyle Roliard is the lone returning starter for Tech and is projected to begin the season at left field. Last season the native of Spring, Texas, led the team with a .988 fielding percentage as he only committed one error and his eight assists marked the most by an outfielder. Offensively, the lefty scored 59 runs, had 76 hits, 16 doubles and 30 RBI while hitting boasting a .330 batting average.
As a second team all-WAC performer at second base last season, senior Joey Ford began to make the transition to center field during the Fall World Series and has continued the transition throughout spring practice. On the offensive front, there is no question to Ford's abilities as he is Tech's best returning hitter after turning in a .371 batting average last season. In addition, Ford had 79 hits, 14 doubles, three home runs and 48 RBI. The fifth-year senior committed just four errors last season and ranked second on the team with a .982 fielding percentage.
Rounding out the outfield starters will be senior Will Alvis in right. Last season Alvis hit 13 home runs, 11 doubles and drove in 41 runs while hitting .308. During the Fall World Series, the senior hit .522 and drove in seven runs while belting four home runs. Defensively, Alvis was flawless in 16 chances in right field during the Fall World Series.
Although he is projected as the starting DH, junior Justin Gordey will factor into the outfield rotation this season.
The Bossier City native shared center field duties as he played in 38 games while starting 19 in the outfield last season. During conference play Gordey batted an incredible .486 in 16 games played with nine of his 16 RBI coming against conference foes. Defensively, Gordey committed just one error last season.
During the Fall World Series Gordey spent his time leading off for the Blue Team. With a .586 on-base percentage, Gordey had 12 hits including three doubles and one home run. More importantly, he was patient at the plate as he drew five walks.
What cannot be overlooked was his effectiveness on the base paths. With the new bats this season, speed is key and Gordey provides that. With his position at the top of the lineup and his ability to reach base at a high percentage, it will only for guys like Threlkeld, Ewing and Alvis to drive him in.
Anchoring the backstop this season is senior catcher and 2010 ESPN The Magazine's Academic All-American third team honoree, Clint Ewing.
Entering the season, Baseball America and Perfect Game USA tabbed the senior standout as preseason all-WAC. As a three-year letterman, Ewing will command the Tech pitching staff while providing a spark in the middle of the Tech lineup.
Defensively, Ewing started 51 games behind the plate last season while throwing out 16 base runners. In terms of offense, he ranked third on the team in batting average (.350), second in slugging percentage (.605), third in RBI (49) and fourth in home runs (11).
Providing relief for Ewing late in games and during double headers will be a pair of talented freshman.
With the addition of volunteer assistant coach Brent Porche tutoring the backstops, true-freshman Tyler Qualls is expected to see significant playing time with Jacob Derouen filling in as the third catcher.
"(Tyler Qualls) is going to be right there with Ewing catching and sharing time," said Simoneaux. "Tyler has really stepped in and shown some tremendous skills behind the plate and has done a good job behind the plate and offensively."
Counteracting the stout offensive numbers that were put up last season was a pitching staff that allowed 625 hits, 71 home runs, 283 walks with a staff ERA of 7.33 while allowing opposing batters to hit at a .315 clip. However, a total of seven scholarship arms missed significant time last season due to injury.
Because of the setbacks, a total of 17 Bulldogs saw action on the mound with nine pitching 15.0-plus innings. Of those 17 pitchers, 11 are expected to be significant contributors for the 2011 season.
At the front of the rotation sits sophomore Trevor Petersen who was named by Perfect Game USA as the third-ranked prospect in the WAC in the 2012 draft class. Last season the 6'2 righty posted a team-high five wins. Statistically, Petersen posted a 6.81 ERA, 28 BB and 42 K in 72.2 innings of work.
Filling in as the number two starter for the Bulldogs is Mike Jefferson. Selected by the New York Mets in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Jefferson ranks as the seventh-best draft-eligible prospect in the WAC by Perfect Game USA. The lefty turned in four wins last season, including one complete game, and his 69 strikeouts was a team-high. However, Jefferson was hindered by his team-high 59 walks. During the Fall World Series, Jefferson flashed his potential as he significantly cut down on his walks.
In terms of the bullpen, Caleb Dudley and Will Alvis will anchor down the back end of games for Tech this season. Last season Dudley made 23 relief appearances and he notched a team-high two saves in 52.2 innings of work while striking out 36 batters. Alvis saw action on the mound late and the season and became a guy who consistently threw strikes as he fanned 25 batters in 25.2 innings of work.
During the fall, Mike LeBreton and Josh Barrett had a combined 4-0 record with a 2.74 ERA allowing only seven runs while fanning nine batters in 23.0 innings of work. Both are expected to be significant contributors out of the pen and during midweek series.
Also factoring into the bullpen will be sophomore Dan Breazeale who is making the transition from a dual player to a pitcher only. Referred to by pitching coach Brian Rountree as a "Bulldog", Breazeale is expected to see key innings on the mound in addition to transfer Jamie Gilley and freshman Marc Picciola.
If the Tech arms can cut down on walks, this season can be special.
"It's good to have experience. We are capable of having four or five guys make all-conference again this season," said Simoneaux. "The freshmen have showed me that they are tough enough to compete. They are going out there every day and they are holding their own. We have eight to 10 freshmen that could be in the mix either on the mound, on defense or offensively. I am looking forward to seeing those kids develop."
Tech opens the 2011 season this Friday at 6 p.m. as the Bulldogs host Southern Illinois as part of the Louisiana Tech Baseball Classic. For information on season tickets, visit www.LATechSports.com
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