Baseball | Thursday, February 6, 2014
Bearcats Seek Continued Success during 2014 Baseball Season
Seven of the Top Eight Hitters Return for the Bearcats
SALEM, ORE. -- After earning sole possession of third place in the Northwest Conference by winning nine of their final 11 games in 2013, the Willamette University Bearcats are ready to continue their success in 2014. The Bearcats return seven of the top eight hitters from a year ago, along with the starting pitcher who led the team with seven victories.
Heading the list of returning players are infielder Hunter Gallant (Jr., Rescue, CA/Ponderosa HS) and starting pitcher Peter Hoffman (Jr., RHP, Hayden, ID/Lake City HS).
Gallant led the Bearcats with a .365 batting average in 2013, while scoring 30 runs and recording 29 RBIs. He also topped the offensive chart with 15 doubles.
Hoffman achieved a 7-4 record and a 3.18 earned run average on the mound. He pitched a team-high 85 innings, struck out 60 batters and allowed 23 walks. He limited opponents to a .196 batting average.
At the end of the season, Hoffman was chosen Second Team All-NWC. Gallant was one of eight Bearcats who received Honorable Mention All-NWC recognition.
Willamette finished the year with a 20-20 overall record, including a 13-11 mark in the NWC. The Bearcats went 17-12 in their final 29 games. Willamette's schedule was ranked as the 10th-hardest in NCAA Division III according to Boyd's World.
It was the third time in the past five years that Willamette won at least 20 games. In addition, it was the fourth time in five seasons that the Bearcats achieved at least a .500 record in NWC action.
The 2013 season begins this weekend with a four-game series at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in Claremont, Calif. The Bearcats and the Stags will play one game on Friday, Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. (PST), followed by a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 11 a.m., plus a single game on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 12 p.m.
Willamette's schedule features three games against each of the other eight Northwest Conference teams. The Bearcats will open NWC action at John Lewis Field on Sat., March 1 with a doubleheader against Pacific Lutheran University, followed by one game against the Lutes on Sunday, March 2.
Hoffman leads the pitching staff following his outstanding sophomore season. His efforts will be important as the Bearcats work to replace 180 innings on the mound, including 111 1/3 innings by starters who were seniors last year.
Parker Johnson went 3-2 with a 3.07 ERA over 44.0 innings, while Brandon Simon finished 5-4 with a 5.61 ERA in 67 1/3 innings. Johnson tied for seventh on WU's all-time list for appearances with 47. Simon tied for fifth with 19 career wins and was eighth all-time with 46 appearances and 31 starts.
Joining Hoffman as starters this season will be Tyler Olson (Jr., RHP, Yuba City, CA/Yuba City HS), Evan Giddings (So., RHP, El Cerrito, CA/St. Mary's HS) and Albert Garcia (So., LHP, Broomfield, CO/Broomfield HS).
Olson missed the 2013 season due to injury. As a freshman in 2012, he achieved a 3-3 record with a 5.87 ERA and 27 strikeouts while pitching 30 2/3 innings. Giddings also battled injuries last season and pitched just 1 1/3 innings.
Garcia made nine appearances and started eight games for Willamette a year ago. He was 2-4 in 29 2/3 innings. He showed the potential to be extremely effective. As he gains experience, he should develop into a quality left-handed starter.
The WU bullpen will be anchored by Garrett Davis (Sr., RHP, Marysville, WA/Pilchuck HS) and Jackson Watt (So., RHP, Rocklin, CA/Whitney HS). Davis pitched in 13 games -- mostly as a closer -- and went 1-0 with two saves and a 4.91 ERA. Watt threw 19 1/3 innings as a freshman last spring.
Also contributing in relief will be Shea Harrison (So., UT, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS), Matt Jepsen (Fr., LHP, Fallbrook, CA/Fallbrook HS) and Eland Tsubata (Jr., LHP, Honolulu, HI/Iolani School.
Harrison registered a 3.00 ERA and four strikeouts in nine innings in 2013, while Tsubata saw limited action in 2012 before missing 2013 due to injury. Jepsen pitched at Fallbrook High School in California.
Depth will be provided by Jordan Ramp (So., RHP, Sherwood, OR/Sherwood HS/Saddleback College), Nate Balk (So., RHP, Everett, WA/Cascade HS), and Gordie Clary (So., 1B/LHP, Vacaville, CA/Vacaville HS).
"We don't have a wealth of collegiate experience on the mound, but this group has quality stuff and will compete very inning," WU Head Coach Aaron Swick said.
Brad Breier (Jr., Torrance, CA/South HS) and Tiras Koon (Jr., Honolulu, HI/Iolani School) will share the starting duties behind the plate. Each finished last season with a .969 fielding percentage, and both can provide power on offense.
Breier hit .330 in 2013 while playing in 30 games with 28 starts. He ranked second on the team with 13 doubles, and also contributed 18 runs and 23 RBIs. Koon batted .292 in 22 games (16 starts) last year. He has seen action in 55 games with 45 starts over the past two seasons.
Also challenging for significant playing time at catcher will be Jeff Kepple (Fr., Woodinville, WA). He was chosen Second Team All-State while playing for Eastside Catholic High School). Adding depth behind the plate are Ian Smith (Fr., Sammamish, WA/Skyline HS) and Paimon Jaberi (Fr., Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS).
Willamette's three team captains -- Gallant, Brandon Chinn (Sr., 1B, Salem, OR/Sprague HS) and Tommy Kawamura (Sr., INF, Renton, WA/Lindbergh HS) -- all play on the infield. Along with several other players, the give Willamette plenty of experience on the bases and at shortstop.
With so much quality depth, there are at least two players challenging for each starting position. An added bonus for the Bearcats is that most of the players can contribute at more than one position.
At first base, Chinn will compete with Clary and freshman Blake Lapire (So., UT, Vista, CA/Vista HS/Santa Ana College) for playing time. Chinn, who batted .316 last spring, including .354 in the NWC, has played in 88 games with 76 starts. He owns a .312 career batting average and a .990 career fielding percentage.
Clary saw action in 15 games as a freshman a year ago. Lapire was a First Team All-League player at Vista High School (Calif.) in 2011. He redshirted at the University of California-San Diego in 2012 and played at Santa Ana College in 2013.
Gallant and Kawamura will battle for the starting position at shortstop. Gallant started all 40 games in 2013 and has played in 76 games with 74 starts over the past two seasons. He has earned a .328 career batting average.
Kawamura missed all but six games last spring with a leg injury. In 2012, he batted .279 with 30 runs scored.
Austin Hagarty (So., INF, Roseville, CA/Woodcreek HS) and Harrison are the top candidates to start at second base. Hagarty hit .268 during his freshman season in 2013, while playing in 29 games with 25 starts. Harrison saw most of his action as a pitcher last year.
Third base will be fielded by Ty Wyatt (Fr., INF, Keizer, OR/McNary HS) or Devin Bales (Jr., UT, Graham, WA/Grays Harbor College). Both are new to the WU program, but Wyatt was First Team All-Conference at nearby McNary High School, while Bales played at the junior college level the past two seasons.
The Bearcats will benefit from plenty of speed and athletic skill in the outfield.
Tosh Semlacher (Sr., Gold River, CA/Jesuit HS) moves from right field to center field this season. During 2013, he achieved a .304 batting average and was successful on 14 of 16 stolen bases. He blasted five doubles and five homers, to go along with 34 runs and 34 RBIs.
Semlacher has played in a total of 105 games for the Bearcats, including 97 starts. He has recorded 110 hits, 77 runs and 68 RBIs in his career. He is tied for sixth all-time at Willamette with five triples. He is 28 of 34 on career stolen bases.
Receiving consistent action in left field and right field this season will be four players.
Rolenn Himuro (Jr., Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) hit .279 last year while playing in 25 games (20 starts), before sustaining a season-ending injury. He was leading the team with a .372 batting average in NWC play prior to his injury.
Andrew Wilson (Jr., Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS) played in 22 games and started 15 contests in 2013. Bryan Afzali (Jr, Manhattan Beach, CA/Mira Costa HS) competed in 15 games last year. Bales will likely see playing in the outfield in addition to contributing at third base.
Nearly all of the players who are challenging for starting positions can fill the designated hitter role for the Bearcats. One of them who isn't starting in a particular game will be the designated hitter. This versatility will give Swick plenty of flexibility as he put together the lineup each day.