Baseball Preview: Utah Valley Wolverines

Cal State Fullerton started their season with one of the toughest road trips any team might be making this season by going down to Gainesville to play the Florida Gators, who were ranked #1 in every major poll going into the season, and holding their own in playing three hard fought games and losing the first two before winning the third one.

 The Titans were looking to take the momentum from the last game of that series into their home opening series with another ranked team, the #15 TCU Horned Frogs.  TCU had been a thorn in the side of previous Titan teams at Goodwin Field by winning the two previous series the teams had played at Fullerton in 2009 and 2010.  Fullerton turned things around this time by winning an entertaining series in three tightly played games to win their first series in the Rick Vanderhook era.

As often happens in Friday games when the best starters for each team are usually pitching, the first game of the series was a pitchers' duel.  TCU's Andrew Mitchell was outstanding in striking out twelve Titan hitters over the first five innings but was taken out after reaching his pitch limit around 100 pitches and left trailing 1-0 after an RBI groundout by Carlos Lopez when he beat the throw to first to avoid a double play.  It looked like Dylan Floro might be able to make that run stand up as he had a two-hit shutout going after seven innings.  TCU rallied for three runs on four hits in the eighth inning and held on after the Titans scored a run in the bottom of the ninth to win 3-2.  Preston Morrison picked up the win for the Horned Frogs with three shutout innings in relief of Mitchell.

It looked like the offenses were ready to break out on Saturday after Derek O'Dell hit a HR for TCU in the top of the first and Fullerton scored two runs in the bottom of the first when Anthony Hutting and Richy Pedroza had RBI singles and the bases were loaded before the Horned Frogs got out of the jam when a runner was thrown at home trying to score on a wild pitch.  The 2-1 lead for the Titans would hold up until the eighth due to some very good pitching from freshmen Kenny Mathews (5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and Koby Gauna (3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K) before TCU scored an unearned run to tie the game.  Fullerton rallied in the bottom of the eighth for two runs on an RBI single by freshman Jesse Jenner in his first appearance in a Titan uniform to drive in Pedroza after his second hit of the game and an RBI groundout by Michael Lorenzen.  The Horned Frogs tried to put together a rally in the top of the ninth against Lorenzen when he walked the first two hitters and gave up a single before getting a strikeout and a double play ball to finish off the 4-2 win and get his second save for Gauna's second win.

The first pitch for Sunday's game was at 11:00 a.m. due to TCU having to catch a flight back to the Dallas area after the game, a factor which came into play at the end of the game.  TCU scored two runs in the first inning off of freshman J.D. Davis in his first pitching appearance.  Fullerton came right back when Lorenzen doubled for his first hit of the series and Lopez singled him in.  The Titans tied the game in the second when Keegan Dale singled and Pedroza doubled him in.  After the Horned Frogs scored in the third to take a 3-2 lead, Fullerton took what looked like an insurmountable 11-3 lead after scoring nine runs on only five hits in the fourth inning when the wheels fell off for TCU and they committed four errors in the inning.  The Titans loaded the bases on a single and two SAC bunts that were mishandled for errors and Lorenzen drove in two runs on a single up the middle to give Fullerton the lead.  Lopez drove in a run with a single and the Titans scored another run when Hutting was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.  After Pedroza scored on a wild pitch, Austin Kingsolver drove in another run on a grounder to first that was misplayed for another error.  Dale drove in two more runs on a liner that the CF came in on and dove for but the ball skipped by him for a triple and Lorenzen finished off the scoring with his second RBI single of the inning.  TCU cut the lead to 11-7 in the top of the fifth when they rallied to score four runs and continued to put the pressure on the inexperienced Fullerton bullpen when they scored once in the sixth and two in the seventh to cut the lead to 11-10.  It looked like the Horned Frogs would tie the game or take the lead in the eighth when their first two hitters doubled and singled.  The next batter hit a grounder to third and the lead runner was tagged out at home after a rundown that allowed the runners to advance to second and third.  After an intentional walk, the next hitter struck out on a pitch in the dirt for the second out and as catcher Casey Watkins was retrieving the ball after it got behind him, the lead runner broke for the plate and Watkins threw him out as freshman reliever Willie Kuhl, another player making his first appearance in a Titan uniform, applied the tag for the final out of the inning.  Fullerton failed to score for the fourth straight inning in the bottom of the eighth but they took enough time in doing so because the inning ended at 2:16 and there was a travel curfew for the game with no inning being allowed to start after 2:15 and the Titans ended up holding on for dear life and winning 11-10 in eight innings in the deciding game of the series.  The hitting leaders for Fullerton were Lorenzen with four hits and three RBI, Dale with three hits and three RBI and Lopez with three hits and two RBI.

After all of the craziness of Sunday's game, things were much more normal in the two midweek games at Goodwin Field with Fullerton defeating San Diego State 3-0 on Tuesday and LMU 6-2 on Wednesday as the Titans won their third and fourth games in a row to improve to 5-3.  The middle relievers who have often struggled for Fullerton in the early part of the season were outstanding as they held San Diego State to only three hits and struck out ten batters and followed that up by allowing only two runs on six hits to LMU. 

Dave Birosak started against San Diego State, throwing one inning, and was followed by Dimitri DeLaFuente (3 IP), Tyler Peitzmeier (2 1/3 IP) and Willie Kuhl (2 1/3 IP) and Lorenzen came in to get the final out for his third save after the Aztecs got runners to second and third with two outs.  Lorenzen led off the first with a single and was driven in by Davis with a two out single to give Fullerton a lead they would never give up.  The Titans scored their second run in the fifth inning when Kingsolver started the inning with a bunt single and Lorenzen drove him with an RBI single.  Fullerton scored the final run of the game when Lopez led off the sixth inning with a single and was driven in by freshman Matt Chapman on an RBI single, his first hit as a Titan.  Lorenzen led the offense with three hits along with a run and an RBI.

LMU scored first on Wednesday with a run in the second inning and Fullerton tied the game in the bottom of the third when Lorenzen doubled, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored when the catcher threw the ball away trying to pick him off.  Scott Harkin hit a HR for LMU in the top of the seventh and the Titans tied the game in the bottom of the inning when Kingsolver bunted for a hit, was balked to second, moved to third on a single by Matt Orloff for his third hit of the game and scored on another balk.  Fullerton broke open the game in the eighth with four runs as they once again took advantage of some shaky defense by the Lions.  Pedroza singled to lead off the inning, Chapman was hit by a pitch, Kingsolver walked, Orloff hit a squibber that the pitcher threw away that scored a run, Dale beat out a bunt that scored another run, Lorenzen drove in the third run of the inning on a groundout to SS and Hutting drove in the final run of the inning with another bunt single.  Koby Gauna started for the Titans and threw five solid innings, allowing one run on four hits, and Christian Coronado gave up one run in 3 1/3 innings before Lorenzen finished things off by getting the final two outs.

Fullerton is looking to increase their winning streak as they finish up their homestand this weekend against Utah Valley.  The Wolverines have dominated the Great West Conference over the last two seasons but have gotten off to a slow start this season after losing series at Seattle and Nevada, with a midweek game at Arizona in between those series, as they play their first eighteen games on the road.

Utah Valley Wolverines

  • Current Record – 2-5
  • Overall Record in 2011 – 34-22
  • Conference Record – 22-2 (1st – regular season) 
  • Post-Season – None   
  • 2011 RPI/ISR – 208/179
  • Strength of Schedule – 2012 – Non-conf 90, Overall 264.  2011 – Non-Conf 88, Overall 237
  • Pre-season ranking – None
  • Predicted conference finish – 1st by the Great West coaches, Baseball America, Perfect Game and Easton College Baseball today

2011 Summary and 2012 Preview

Utah Valley has been the bully of the Great West Conference since the conference was formed in 2010 and has taken advantage of a conference that includes bottom rung teams such as Chicago State, NJIT, NYIT, Houston Baptist, Northern Colorado and North Dakota by going 56-4 against those opponents.  The Wolverines were only 18-35 as an independent in 2009 but went 42-17 in 2010 with a 26-2 conference record (30-2 including the conference tournament) and they followed that up by going 34-22 last season and were 22-2 in conference games (26-2 including the conference tournament).  Utah Valley has only gone 20-35 against non-Great West opponents the last two seasons and their only non-conference series wins in the previous two seasons were against Sacramento State last year and Southern Utah in 2010.  Utah Valley's season ended the past two seasons with their conference tournament because the Great West Conference doesn't have an automatic bid.

Utah Valley was in a bit of rebuilding mode last season after losing many of the players off of their 2010 team but this year they are very experienced and have seven position players returning who started last year and another who was all-GWC in 2010 but was a medical redshirt in 2011.  The Wolverines also return five of their seven leaders in innings pitched, including their two best starting pitchers and their closer.

Utah Valley has had one of the better offenses in the country over the last two seasons, ranking in the top fifty nationally in scoring, AVG, SLG, 2B and 3B as they bludgeoned GWC pitching.  The Wolverines were explosive two years ago when they hit over .370 with 79 HR's and averaged over ten runs per game before the BBCOR bats slowed them down last year.   They will run some, don't bunt much and prefer to let their hitters take care of things on offense.

Utah Valley had three pitchers with ERA's under three last season and all three are back – their two best SP's and their closer.  The Wolverines pitching staff isn't deep because they only had one other pitcher with an ERA under 5.00 despite playing in a bad conference.

Utah Valley has gotten off to a slow start at 2-5 after losing two out of three games at Seattle, losing a midweek game at Arizona and losing the first two games at Nevada before winning the final game of the series.  Utah Valley is hitting .280 and averaging almost six runs per game (about what they did against non-conference opponents in 2011) but has scored four runs or less in three of their games.  The Wolverines pitching staff has also pitched about as well as they did against non-conference opponents in 2011, which isn't a good thing because their ERA then was 6.62 and this year it is 7.07.  Utah Valley only allowed three runs in their two wins but gave up at least six runs in each of their five losses and teams are hitting .314 against them.

Offense

  • Park Factor according to Boyd's World – 126 from 2008-2011 (increases offense by 26%).  Utah Valley is almost 5000 feet above sea level.  Dimensions are 305-427-408-388-312, which means lots of HR's down the lines and lots of 2B's and 3B's to the alleys.
  • Batting Average – .280.  2011 – .306 overall – .282 in non-conf games/.341 in conf games
  • Runs Per Game – 5.9.  2011 – 6.9 overall – 5.4/8.4  
  • Home Runs – 2.  2011 – 31 overall – 15/16
  • Stolen Bases – 3.  2011 – 59 – 26/33
  • Slugging Percentage – .381.  2011 – .438 – .409/.466
  • Walks – 30.  2011 – 219 – 108/111
  • HBP's – 5.  2011 – 69 – 29/40
  • Strikeouts – 49.  2011 – 329 – 180/149
  • Sac Bunts – 4.  2011 – 36 – 18/18

Lineup listed by expected batting order

3B – SR #2 Jake Rickenbach (RH – Medical redshirt in 2011. '10 – .390/.483/.570, 6-39-2, 88 runs – most in the country in the regular season).  .241/.253/.448, 1-3-0 in seven games.  All-GWC in 2010.

LF – JC transfer #31 Sean Moysh (Both).  .344/.364/.438, 0-2-1 in seven games.

RF/CF – SR #12 Billy Burgess (RH – '11 – .320/.374/.440, 4-36-9.  '10 – .310/.378/.534, 9-67-8).  .346/.438/.462, 0-4-1 in seven games.  Started the first four games in CF and the last three games in RF.  2nd team All-GWC in 2011.  Pre-season All-GWC.  Only walked 14 times in 2011.

DH – SR #25 Austin Heaps (LH – '11 – .339/.413/.493, 3-38-1.  '10 – .338/.430/.492, 3-35-2).  .182/.357/.327, 0-3-0 in seven games. 

1B – SR #33 Goose Kallunki (RH – '11 – .311/.365/.428, 4-60-1.  '10 – .370/.405/.610, 10-66-1).  .385/.452/.385, 0-7-0 in seven games.  2nd team All-GWC in 2011.  Pre-season All-GWC.  Led team in RBI in 2011.  Good plate discipline (21/21 BB/K ratio).  Large man at 6'5", 235 lbs.

SS – JR #6 Kai Hatch (RH – '11 – .335/.379/.442, 2-33-11).  .333/.345/.444, 0-5-0 in seven games.  1st team All-GWC in 2011.  Pre-season All-GWC.  Led team in SB in 2011.  Good contact hitter (17 K in 2011).

C – SR #13 Alex Exon (RH – '11 – .301/.440/.522, 4-29-1).  .313/.421/.438, 0-2-0 in four games.  2nd team All-GWC in 2011.  Part of a platoon with Soph #18 Court Zollinger (RH – .205 in 88 AB's) and JC transfer #44 Taylor Berg (RH).

CF – FR #3 Jordy Hart (RH).  Started last three games (1-10, SB).  One of best HS recruits in Utah last year.  Very good speed.  JR #11 Willie Pratt (Both – '11 – 212/.383/.279, 0-7-4) started the first four games in RF.

2B – JR #1 Cole McWhorter (RH – '11 – .320/.414/.440, 4-23-10.  '10 – .336/.410/.538, 3-19-3).   1-16 first six games, took Sun game off at Nevada.  2nd on team in SB in 2011.

Defense

Fielding % – .972 in 2012 (7 errors).  '11 – .971 – 62 errors.  Good defense up the middle.  McWhorter and Hatch committed only 12 errors in 2011.  Rickenbach played SS in 2010 (22 E's) and has moved over to 3B.  Kallunki has limited range at 1B and committed 10 E's in 2011.  Good range in CF and RF when Hart and Burgess are out there.  Burgess has a good arm.

Stolen Base Attempts – 12-16.  Runners are only 2-6 against Exon and 10-10 against his backups.  Runners were 35-45 against Exon and 29-37 against Zollinger in 2011.

WP's/PB's Allowed – 4.  48 in 2011.  Exon is solid at blocking pitches, other two are below average.

Pitching

  • ERA – 7.07.  2011 – 4.74 overall, 6.62 in non-conf games/3.16 in conf games
  • BA – .314.  2011 – .292 overall, .308/.278
  • HR – 3.  2011 – 17, 12/5
  • BB – 23.  2011 – 215, 128/87
  • K – 36.  2011 – 286, 130/156

Starters

FRI - SR #16 Jeremy Gendlek (RHP - '11 - 7-3, 1.71 ERA, 14 apps, 10 GS, 90 IP, 82 H, 25 BB, 36 K, .253 AVG, 4 HR, 3 HBP, 2 WP, 5-12 SB).  2011 GWC Pitcher of the Year.  6-0, 0.70 ERA in 7 GS vs. GWC teams and 1-3, 3.08 ERA in 7 apps (3 GS) vs. non-conf opponents.  Upper 80's fastball and a good slider, good control.  

2012 starts - Lost at Seattle (5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K) and losy at Nevada (6 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 K).

SAT - JR #30 Blake Krahenbuhl (RHP - '11 - 7-2, 2.65 ERA, 15 GS, 85 IP, 68 H, 30 BB, 60 K, .223 AVG, 5 HR, 7 HBP, 3 WP, 11-17 SB.  '10 - 9-1, 5.22 ERA, 17 apps, 11 GS, 79 IP, 83 H, 15 BB, 57 K, .267 AVG, 10 HR, 8 HBP, 3 WP, 2-8 SB).  1st team All-GWC in 2011 and 2nd team All-GWC in 2010.  4-1, 1.58 ERA in 7 GS vs. GWC teams and 3-1, 3.89 ERA in 8 GS vs. non-conf opponents.  Good control.

2012 starts - Won at Seattle (5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K) and lost at Nevada (2 2/3 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 1 K).

SUN - JC transfer #8 Adam Gunn (RHP - '11 - 10-2, 1.90 ERA, 15 GS, 76 IP, 75 K in JC ball).

2012 starts - ND at Arizona (4 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) and won at Nevada (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K).  GWC Pitcher of the Week for his start at Nevada.

Relievers

Closer - SR #37 Josh Swenson (RHP - '11 - 1-2, 2.38 ERA, 19 apps, 6 SV, 34 IP, 31 H, 22 BB, 26 K, .244 AVG, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 4 WP, 7-8 SB).

2012 - 2 apps, 1 2/3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, .286 AVG, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 0 WP.

SR #26 Preston Olson (RHP - '11 - 3-0, 5.26 ERA, 16 apps, 5 GS, 53 IP, 67 H, 32 BB, 44 K, .310 AVG, 0 HR, 9 HBP, 5 WP, 10-10 SB).  4.25 ERA vs. GWC teams and 7.41 ERA vs. non-conf opponents.

2012 - ND in start at Seattle (5 1/3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K) and save at Nevada (2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K). 

SR #17 Ryan Chadwick (RHP - '11 - 5-3, 4.10 ERA, 22 apps, 2 SV, 37 IP, 36 H, 13 BB, 22 K, .257 AVG, 1 HR, 7 HBP, 5 K, 1-3 SB).  2.00 ERA vs. GWC teams and 6.05 ERA vs. non-conf opponents.

2012 - 0-0, 3 apps, 4 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, .267 AVG, 0 HR, 0 HBP, 0 WP).

JC transfer #20 Jeff Barto (LHP).  0-0, 3 apps, 6 1/3 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, .304 AVG, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 0 WP.  Only LHP to appear in a game.

Other six relievers combined stats - 0-2, 21.86 ERA, 10 apps, 7 IP, 13 H, 18 R, 17 ER, 7 BB, 5 K, .433 AVG, 1 HR, 5 HBP, 0 WP.

Outlook

Fullerton has played one of the strongest schedules in the country in the first two weeks season with series against Florida and TCU while Utah Valley is stepping up in class significantly this weekend after series at Seattle and Nevada.

Fullerton's offense has struggled to get going this season but this could be a good opportunity to get back on track this weekend against a Utah Valley pitching staff that has allowed at least six runs in each of their losses.

Fullerton's pitching staff has started to put things together in allowing three runs or less in four of the five games during this homestand.  Utah Valley will swing the bats and has the potential to put some runs up on the board but they haven't faced pitching of the caliber that they will be facing this weekend.

Fullerton is a prohibitive favorite this weekend and the Titans should win at least two games in this series and they would probably be disappointed if they didn't win all three games.