2013 Willamette Baseball Season Outlook

Bearcats Return Eight of Top 10 Hitters

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

SALEM, ORE. -- It's an exciting time for the Willamette University baseball team, as the Bearcats get set to start the 2013 season with six returning starters in the field. In addition, two starting pitchers return, along with the three most experienced relief pitchers. Eight of the top 10 hitters are back. The roster features talent and depth at every position.

Willamette opens the season on Friday, Feb. 8, when they will take on Hendrix College (Ark.) in McKinney, Texas, at 6 p.m. CST/4 p.m. PST.

The Bearcats will continue their Texas trip on Saturday with a doubleheader at Austin College, starting at 1 p.m. CST/11 a.m. PST. The season-opening trip will conclude on Sunday, when WU battles Centenary College (La.) in McKinney, Texas, at 10 a.m. CST/8 a.m. PST.

Willamette will benefit from its returning starters, as well as from a quality freshman class with players who can compete right away at many positions. The roster provides Head Coach Aaron Swick, now in his fifth season, with plenty of versatility and depth throughout the lineup.

Even so, the Bearcats need to replace the contributions of six graduating seniors from a year ago.

Mitch Rowan (OF, Cotati, CA/Rancho Cotate HS) completed his Willamette career by leading the 2012 team with a .342 batting average, 11 doubles, 10 home runs, 34 runs scored and 40 RBIs. He was 10 for 10 on stolen bases. Rowan was named Second Team All-West Region and Second Team All-Northwest Conference.

Rowan earned fourth place on WU's all-time list with a .356 career batting average. He achieved 144 hits, scored 103 runs and achieved 123 RBIs during his career. He ranked third at WU with 27 career homers and was fifth in RBIs. He was 26 of 28 on career stolen base attempts.

Dylan Summers (C, Lake Oswego, OR/Lakeridge HS) ranked second on the team with a .340 batting average. He finished his career on a roll, recording a hit in 19 of his last 20 games, including a 13-game hitting streak. He batted .413 during those 20 games. He earned First Team All-NWC honors.

The next eight top hitters from 2012 have returned, led by senior center fielder Tyson Giza (Salem, OR/Sprague HS), who hit .329 last spring. Sky Kelley (Sr., OF, Portland, OR/Jesuit HS) hit .325 and Ben Petersen (Sr., C, Rocklin, CA/Rocklin HS/Butte College) batted .320.

Kelley and Tommy Kawamura (Jr., IF, Renton, WA/Lindbergh HS) were chosen Honorable Mention All-NWC. Kawamura, who played shortstop in 2012, led the team with 36 games started and hit .279, while attaining a .952 fielding percentage and a team-high 108 assists.

With significant experience returning on offense, the Bearcats look for success at the plate this season. A year ago, WU finished second in NCAA Division III with 0.95 home runs per game (35 in 37 games). The Bearcats also ranked 21st in the nation in walks with 190 and ranked 38th in stolen bases per game (80 stolen bases, 2.16 avg.).

Willamette was 14-23 overall last season, including 9-15 in the NWC (6th place). The Bearcats played the 18th most difficult schedule in Division III according to Boyd's World.

"We only lost two everyday players from a team that scored a lot of runs," Swick said. "Our team speed and defense have both improved significantly. We have a ton of talent offensively, and great depth at each position. The pitching staff is young,b ut has a competitive edge and throws strikes."

INFIELD

The infield should be a strength for the Bearcats this season. WU has several returning starters, plus a group of skilled newcomers.

At first base, Brandon Chinn (Jr., Salem, OR/Sprague HS) and Corbin Bennett (Fr., Tustin, CA/Foothill HS) are the top contenders to start for the Bearcats. Chinn played in 23 games with 17 starts last season. He earned a solid .985 fielding percentage and ranked second on the team with 124 putouts.

Gordie Clary (Fr., Vacaville, CA/Vacaville HS and Tyler Olson (So., Yuba City, CA/Yuba City HS) will provide depth at first base.

Kawamura, who played shortstop last season, returns to second base, where he saw action in 36 games (33 starts) as a freshman in 2011.  Last year, he ranked third on the team with 30 runs scored, and went 9 for 10 on stolen bases. Also set to contribute at second base is Tanner Oates (So., Sparks, NV/Spanish Springs HS).

Joining Kawamura as a starter in the middle of the infield will be freshman Matt Hirsch (Edmonds, WA/Meadowdale HS). According to Swick, Hirsch and Kawamura have the potential to be the top infield duo in the Northwest Conference.

Hunter Gallant (So., Rescue, CA/Ponderosa HS) is slated to start at third base. Gallant batted .279 as a freshman last season. He played in 36 games with 34 starts, and finished the season with eight doubles and three homers.

"Hunter got better every week while playing a ton as a freshman (at second and third)," Swick noted. "He hit .390 in his last 10 games."

Austin Hagarty (Fr., IF, Roseville, CA/Woodcreek HS) and Shea Harrison (Fr., IF/RHP) will give the Bearcats versatility and quality depth throughout the infield. Both players can contribute at several infield positions.

OUTFIELD

Willamette has significant speed and athletic ability throughout the outfield.

Giza and Kelley are returning starters for the Bearcats. Giza will be a four-year starter for the Bearcats in center field, where he can cover lots of ground. In addition to hitting .329, he smacked 10 doubles, scored 32 runs and achieved 23 RBIs. Kelley's .325 average was enhanced by his 13 extra-base hits. He drove in 24 runs.

Tosh Semlacher (Jr., OF, Gold River, CA/Jesuit HS), who played and started mostly at third base last year, will move to left field this season. Semlacher batted .272 in 2012, while scoring 20 runs and going 13 for 14 on stolen bases.

"Tosh has transitioned really well to the outfield and he is a threat in multiple ways offensively," Swick said.

Also challenging for starting positions will be Rolenn Himuro (So., OF, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) and Peter Davis (Fr., (OF/RHP, Portland, OR/Jesuit HS). Himuro hit .279 last year, while scoring 16 runs.

"I envision us giving up less hits this year because of the speed in the outfield," Swick commented.

Andrew Wilson (So., OF, Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS), who hit three home runs in 19 games played as a freshman, and Bryan Afzali (So., OF, Manhattan Beach, CA/Mira Costa HS), who saw action in 12 games, will provided quality depth behind the outfield starters.

CATCHING

Petersen missed part of the 2012 season due to injury, but platooned behind the plate, contributing in 19 games with 13 starts. He brings experience this season to the Bearcats' group of catchers.

"He has done a great job of leading the pitching staff, and offensively he has been making great strides in practice," Swick said.

Tiras Koon (So., Honolulu, HI/Iolani School) also played catcher a year ago, and hit .265 at the plate. Brad Breier (So., Torrance, CA/South HS) also will contend for playing time behind the plate.

DESIGNATE HITTER

The Bearcats will fill the designated hitter position during each game with one of the top players who is not starting at his primary position. Top contenders for the designated hitter role when not playing in the field are Koon, Peter Davis and Bennett.

PITCHING

Willamette returns two of the three primary pitchers from last year's starting rotation. They are Brandon Simon (Sr., RHP, Los Angeles, CA/Pacific Hills School) and Peter Hoffman (So., RHP, Hayden, ID/Lake City HS).

Simon finished the 2012 season with a 4-5 record and 24 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched. Hoffman achieved a 5.17 earned run average and struck out 32 batters in 54 innings.

Several pitchers, including newcomer Albert Garcia (Fr., LHP, Broomfield, CO/Broomfield HS), will battle for the third spot in the Bearcats' starting rotation.

The WU bullpen will feature Parker Johnson (Sr., RHP, Carlsbad, CA/La Costa Canyon HS) as the closer, along with returning relief pitchers Henry Harrison (Sr., LHP, Nevada City, CA/Nevada Union HS) and Zach Holcomb (So., RHP, Bellevue, WA/Newport HS). In addition, a group of talented newcomers are ready to contribute on the mound.

Harrison finished with a 2.92 ERA last spring in a team-high 13 appearances, while Holcomb attained a 3.21 ERA in eight appearances.

Top newcomers include Jordan Ramp (Fr., RHP, Sherwood, OR/Sherwood HS/Saddleback College), Evan Giddings (Fr., RHP, El Cerrito, CA/St. Mary's HS), Nate Balk (Fr., RHP, Everett, WA/Cascade HS), Jackson Watt (Fr., RHP, Rocklin CA/Whitney HS) and Travis Wilson (Fr., LHP, Orangevale, CA/Bella Vista HS).

Field players who are also strong pitchers are Galen Duff (Sr., IF, Spokane, WA/Gonzaga Prep), Peter Davis and Shea Harrison.

Depth at pitcher will be supplied by Garrett Davis (Jr., RHP, Marysville, WA/Pilchuck HS) and Jake Jones (Sr., RHP, Wilsonville, OR/Wilsonville HS).

"Anytime you can return two-thirds of your rotation and three of your most experienced relievers you have a good foundation for success," Swick said.

Sky Kelley hit .325 last season with eight home runs and a .700 slugging percentage.

Sky Kelley hit .325 last season with eight home runs and a .700 slugging percentage.