Baseball

2011 LMU BASEBALL SEASON PREVIEW

Third-year Head Coach Jason Gill and the Lions begin the 2011 season on February 18.
Third-year Head Coach Jason Gill and the Lions begin the 2011 season on February 18.

Feb. 8, 2011

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -

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Third-year Head Coach Jason Gill took his first team of Lions to the 2009 WCC Championship series, narrowly-missing LMU's first berth into the NCAA Tournament since 2000. Last year, Gill's squad fell short of expectations, dropping to the bottom of the West Coast Conference - forcing a few changes in the program. Now sporting an entirely new support staff of coaches, Gill and the 2011 Lions will look to begin the ascent up the WCC standings this year.

2010 Season
LMU finished the 2010 season with a 23-33 overall record and a 5-16 mark in the WCC, placing eighth in the conference. The Lions dropped nine of their last 11 games, including seven of the last nine, in 2010. Freshman Matt Lowenstein proved to be a highlight of the season. The left-handed hitter seemingly had no trouble with the transition from high school into Division I baseball in 2010, garnering a pair of All-American selections. Lowenstein was named to Collegiate Baseball Newspapers' Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team, and also found a spot on Ping!Baseball's second team Freshman All-America squad. He became the 13th Lion player to be named a Freshman All-American, and the first since Angelo Songco in 2007. In addition to Lowenstein, who garnered West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All-WCC honorable mention team, two other Lions were also honored by the conference post-2010. Ryan Hawthorne and Chris Eusebio garnered All-WCC first team and honorable mention honors, respectively. For Hawthorne, the first-team selection was the first of his career after earning a spot on the All-Freshman team and an honorable mention selection in 2009. The selection marked the first time Eusebio had been honored by the WCC.

 

 

A New Staff
After the 2010 season, Gill decided to take the program in a different direction, luring a pair of faces from his past to LMU to begin their first stint as Lions. Arguably one of the best pitching coaches in the nation, Ted Silva decided to reunite with Gill in 2011, coming over from perennial-powerhouse UC Irvine. According to Gill, "Ted is considered one of the best pitching minds in the country, and has a winning attitude from which we can all benefit. He has the ability to get the most out of his players, and is recognized for his knack to develop not only quality pitchers, but also pitching staffs as a whole." No stranger to each other, Gill and Silva spent time as teammates on the Cal State Fullerton baseball team in 1994, helping the Titans to a 47-16 overall record and a College World Series berth. As coaches, the two reunited in 2005 and 2006 as part of a Fullerton staff that guided the Titans to a pair of Big West Conference championships, and a trip to the College World Series in 2006. Under Silva's direction, UC Irvine pitchers posted a combined 3.89 earned-run average the last three seasons, all of which included NCAA postseason appearances. In his first year, the Anteaters won the regional at Nebraska in 2008, and were three outs away from a trip to the College World Series, before host LSU rallied to win the Super Regional. UCI followed that successful season by winning the program's first Big West Conference title in 2009. Last year, UCI finished second in the Big West and was eliminated by host UCLA at the Los Angeles Regional. Developing some of the top pitchers throughout his coaching career, Silva opened his coaching stint as a volunteer assistant at Cal State Fullerton, helping the Titan staff log a national-best 2.73 ERA, the only team in the country under 3.00 in 2006. Moreover, he helped guide All-Americans and first-round picks Ricky Romero (2005) and Wes Roemer (2006) to Big West Pitcher of the Year selections. During his three seasons as UC Irvine's pitching coach, Silva watched four pitchers (Christian Bergman, Daniel Bibona, Scott Gorgen, Eric Pettis) on his staff haul away a combined 19 All-America accolades. In addition, Silva, who guided Gorgen to a Big West Pitcher of the Year selection in 2008, saw Bibona notch his second consecutive Pitcher of the Year selection in 2010, ensuring that he guided one of his pitchers to the elite award in all five seasons as a coach in the Big West Conference.

Gill also added Bryant Ward as an assistant coach in July of 2010. Gill, Silva and Ward all worked together in the Cal State Fullerton baseball program in 2005 and 2006. Most recently, Ward spent the last four seasons with the University of South Florida before heading back to Southern California for his current stint with LMU baseball. Ward, who served as USF's hitting coach and was in charge of overall development for position players, saw two of his hitters post consecutive individual Big East batting titles in 2008 and 2009. Ward's 2009 offense proved to be his most productive, hitting .315 as a team, its highest team batting average since 1997. In his four seasons with USF, four Bull position players were named freshman All-America, including Ryan Lockwood who was named 2008 College Baseball News Freshman of the Year. In addition, since his arrival at USF in 2007, Ward saw eight of his position players earn All-Big East selections.

Former LMU standout baseball player Billy Traber also returns to the bluff in 2011, serving as an undergraduate assistant after finishing a nine-year professional career, including five seasons pitching for four teams in Major League Baseball. Traber, a first-round pick of the New York Mets in 2000 (16th overall), made his Major League debut on April 4, 2003 for the Cleveland Indians en route to amassing a 12-14 record and a 5.65 ERA pitching for the Indians, Washington Nationals, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. In 2002, Traber was the runner-up Minor Leage Pitcher of the Year, going 17-5 for the Akron Aeros (Double-A) and Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A), and was voted by Baseball America as having the best control and curveball in the league. His numbers were also good enough to give him top-honors amongst Cleveland pitching prospects. While at LMU, the El Segundo, Calif. native was named the West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2000, going 10-4 on the season with a 3.13 ERA. A two-time first team All-West Coast Conference selection, Traber garnered All-American recognition in 1999 and 2000 while leading LMU to the West Coast Conference Championship in each of his three seasons.

Rounding out the staff in 2011 is volunteer assistant Steve Chatham, who also has prior ties to Cal State Fullerton. Chatham served his last five seasons as the hitting coach at the College of Southern Nevada. There, Chatham helped the CSN Coyotes earn three Scenic West Athletic Conference Championships, two JUCO Region XVIII Championships, and one JUCO Western District Championship. In 2010, the Coyotes, led by the play of Major League Baseball top draft pick, Bryce Harper, won a berth to the JUCO World Series where the team placed third and finished the season with a record of 52-16 overall. Chatham started his coaching career as an assistant coach at The Bishop School in La Jolla, Calif., where he was in charge of all aspects of the team including pitching, hitting and outfield duties. As a player, Chatham was a four-year letterman at Cal State Fullerton, where he was a member of the 1995 National Championship team. The centerfielder is seventh all-time in games played for the Titans and holds a career .339 batting average in college.

The Pitchers
Though there is no set rotation as of early February, four juniors seem to be in the mix for time starting on the weekend and/or midweek games. Last year's Friday guy, Martin Viramontes, is once again on the list to start on Fridays, but a couple other names are also surfacing as more-than-viable options. Left-hander Jason Wheeler is coming off an impressive summer and is pushing for time as the lead starter. Fellow lefty John Lally, along with right-hander Alex Gillingham, round out the suitors for starting spots in the 2011 rotation.

Viramontes declined a professional contract after being selected by the New York Yankees in the 27th round of the 2010 MLB Draft last year. The right-hander appeared in 15 games, starting 14, as a redshirt sophomore, posting a 4-7 record with a 7.53 ERA over 71.2 innings. He struck out 59 batters, placing second on the team in that category. His best outing came on May 2 when he tossed a complete-game shutout with a seaon-best nine strikeouts against Saint Mary's, carrying a no-hitter through two out and two strikes in the ninth inning of that game.

Wheeler was named Northwoods League Pitcher of the Year last summer after hurling for the St. Cloud River Bats. While pitching for the River Bats, Wheeler sported a league-best 1.35 ERA with a league-high eight victories and 74 strikeouts. He went 8-1 while holding opponents to a .191 average against, garnering a spot on both the mid-season and post-season All-Star teams. At LMU last year, the 6'6" lefty sported a 1-2 record and a 10.80 ERA over 13 appearances and one start.

Lally was named 2010 Dairy Queen Classic Most Outstanding Player and All-Tournament tossing a season-best seven shutout innings with five strikeouts against Oklahoma State to help LMU to the Championship. He also earned WCC Pitcher of the Week recognition on March 9 for that performance. Overall, Lally posted a 3-5 record with a 7.38 ERA over 16 appearances and 11 starts. He tossed 64.2 innings total, striking out 51 hitters over the span, good for third on the team.

Gillingham posted a 2-4 record and a 5.28 ERA over 17 appearances and 10 starts last year. His ERA placed second on the team and 15th in the WCC. The right-hander matched a career-high with eight innings pitched versus Pepperdine on May 14, and posted eight strikeouts on three occasions. As a starter, Gillingham lasted at least five innings in eight of his 10 starts. The native of Thousand Oaks, Calif. tossed a team-high 76.2 innings and struck out a team-best 63 hitters, in addition to notching a save against Oklahoma State in the championship game of the 2010 Dairy Queen Classic on March 7.

Senior Chris Eusebio and junior Ryan Hawthorne will head the relief efforts out of the bullpen - and in the case of Hawthorne - likely out of the outfield. Eusebio was named honorable mention All-West Coast Conference in 2010, and he enters the season ranked tied for eighth in career saves with eight. The most called-upon option out of the Lion bullpen for the second consecutive year last season, Eusebio appeared in 19 games, accumulating a 4-0 record and a team-leading 3.56 ERA. He tossed 30.1 innings and struck out 22 batters en route to saving a team-high six games. That mark placed him tied for fifth in the LMU single-season record books, and fourth in the WCC.

Hawthorne, who has been sold as a two-way player since he walked on campus two years ago, will finally take the hill for the Lions in 2011. The left-hander, who is slated to start for the Lions in the outfield, has impressed the staff a great deal during the fall season on the mound, and Hawthorne may play into the closer role throughout the year.

The Catchers
As they did last season, junior Matt Koch and sophomore Colton Plaia will man the catcher position in 2011. Koch, who declined a professional contract after being selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 22nd round of the 2010 MLB Draft, will be expected to once again be a team-leader on the field and in the middle of the lineup. Koch, who needs 13 home runs to enter the all-time LMU record books, batted .257 with 37 runs scored, 13 doubles and a team-high 15 home runs over 55 games played and 54 starts last year. He notched 48 RBI and slugged .539 while drawing 20 walks and recording five sacrifice flies. The 15 home runs ranked eighth in LMU's single-season record books and placed tied for second in the WCC. The backstop posted 16 multiple-hit games last year, including a season-high four hits against UC Irvine on February 20.

Plaia made an immediate impact at the Division I level last year, appearing in 33 games and starting 25. He batted .295 with 20 runs scored, six doubles, a triple and three home runs. The native of Mission Viejo, Calif. posted 16 RBI, slugged .457 and reached at a .373 clip while drawing seven walks and stealing one base. The backstop posted nine multiple-hit games, including a season-best three hits versus Long Beach State on March 16.

The Infield
Although the middle infield positions are fairly set with Shon Roe and Jonathan Johnson set to work together as a double-play combination for the third straight season, the corner spots are still being battled for as we prepare to open the 2011 season. Alex Guthrie has won the initial starting job at third base, but the identity of LMU's first baseman is still under discussion. Although Guthrie started 36 games at first base last year, it looks like Gill and the staff have elected to keep him at the hot corner - where he started 19 a year ago.

Roe, who was named honorable mention All-West Coast Conference in 2009 as a freshman, played in all 56 games for the Lions as a sophomore, starting 55. Roe batted .291 with 29 runs scored, 12 doubles, two triples and one home run, while managing 38 RBI and a slugging percentage of .377. The native of Palmdale, Calif. contributed a team-high eight sacrifice flies and eight sacrifice bunts, with the sacrifice flies placing him ninth in the nation in that category. The right-handed hitter recorded 18 multiple-hit games, placing tied for second on the team in that category, including a season-best three hits on four occasions. In two years at LMU, Roe has started 112 games, including 103 at the shortstop position.

Even more of a staple of the Lion infield, Johnson has started 139 straight games for the Lions at second base dating back to his freshman campaign. Johnson enters the season tied for second in the LMU all-time record book for triples in a career with 16, just three shy of the school record held by Bob Sheldon. He also shares the LMU single-season record for triples with nine in 2010. Johnson emerged as one of the team-leaders in 2010, hitting .315 with 59 runs scored, 14 doubles, nine triples and a home run. He drew 25 walks and 16 hit-by-pitches while also stealing 10 bases as LMU's leadoff hitter in every game. An early sign of an impressive season to come, he hit in seven consecutive at bats, and reached base safely in nine straight plate appearances from February 20 to February 21. Nearly as impressive, he tripled in three straight games from March 6 to March 12, and posted an extra-base hit in five straight from March 2 to March 12. The native of Lakewood, Calif. finished the year ranked in the top-three of 10 offensive categories for LMU, including first in on-base percentage, runs, triples, hit by pitches and stolen bases.

Guthrie hit .286 with 37 runs scored, 10 doubles, six home runs and 25 RBI last year. The six home runs ranked second on the team, while he also slugged .432 and reached at a .343 clip. In conference play alone, he batted .303 with 12 runs scored, five doubles and five RBI. The native of Sunnyvale, Calif. posted 15 multiple-hit games and eight multiple-RBI games, including a season-high three RBI on three occasions. Finishing strong, the right-handed hitter hit safely in each of his final seven games of the year.

The Outfield
Although there are a number of players battling for time in the outfield, four players in particular seem to be leading the pack for time at one of the three outfield spots. Juniors Evan Simonitsch and Hawthorne, along with sophomore Matt Lowenstein and transfer-sophomore Zac Fujimoto, should all see quality innings in the LMU outfield.

Simonitsch had won the job in centerfield before suffering an injury in both the fall and early spring last year. As a result, he appeared in just 22 games, starting 18, as a redshirt sophomore a year ago. He hit .238 with 16 runs scored, four doubles, a triple and two home runs. The right-handed hitter drove in 11 runs and drew six walks, while also batting .263 with 11 runs scored, two doubles, a triple and a home run in conference play. In 2009, Simonitsch played in 56 of LMU's 59 games, starting 46. He began the year as a reserve before earning his first start, and taking over the job in centerfield, on March 7 versus UC Santa Barbara. Over the course of the season, he batted .248 with 21 runs scored, seven doubles and 12 RBI. A team player, Simonitsch finished the season with 10 sacrifice bunts, good for second on the team and 62nd in the nation.

As previously mentioned, Hawthorne will be expected to perform both in the outfield and on the mound for the Lions in 2011. One of LMU's best offensive players in each of his first two seasons, Hawthorne was named first team All-West Coast Conference in 2010 and honorable mention All-WCC in 2009 as a freshman. The left-handed hitter recorded a team-best 19-game hitting streak that ran from March 12 to April 11 of last year. He batted .390 (30-for-70) with 10 runs scored, six doubles, a home run, six walks and 13 RBI over his 19-game streak, including collecting multiple hits in nine of the 19 games. A mainstay on the bases, Hawthorne reached base safely in 36 straight games from March 5 to May 12, and hit safely in 40 of his last 45 games played. Overall, the left-handed hitter batted a team-best .364 with 30 runs scored, 17 doubles, a triple, two home runs, 17 walks, three hit-by-pitches and 44 RBI. He slugged .481 and reached base at a .414 clip en route to finishing the year ranked fifth in the WCC in hits, tied for sixth in batting average, ninth in RBI and tied for ninth in doubles. After batting .091 through his first three games, and .211 through his first five, he batted .379 from March 5 on, a span of 48 games. Over the course of the year, he collected a team-high 25 multiple-hit games and a team-high tying 11 multiple-RBI games.

Lowenstein burst onto the scene in 2010, claiming Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Louisville Slugger and Ping!Baseball Freshman All-American honors last year. The 2010 West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and All-WCC honorable mention selection hit safely in each of the last 16 games of the year. He batted .344 with 32 runs scored, 15 doubles, four triples, a homer and 30 RBI, while starting 43 games and appearing in 47 overall. Lowenstein finished the season first on the squad in on-base percentage (.419) and was second in batting average (.344), triples (4), doubles (15) and stolen bases (5). The 6'3" left-handed hitter amassed 15 multiple-hit games and eight multiple-RBI games, including a season-best four hits - all doubles - against Albany on March 27. The four doubles matched a program record set by Joe Ciccarella on February 23, 1991 against San Francisco. In conference play alone, he hit .325 with 15 runs scored, six doubles, two triples, a home run and 13 RBI in WCC play. The 13 RBI tied him for third-most among freshmen, while he led all WCC rookies in total bases (39), while tying for second in hits (26) and runs.

Fujimoto redshirted his true freshman campaign at Central Arizona College in 2009 before playing at Hartnell College last year. The transfer hit .346 last year to lead his team in that category. A native of Aiea, Hawai'i, Fujimoto scored 23 runs and posted seven doubles, two triples and two home runs while recording 15 RBI. A fleet-footed runner, he stole 16 bases en route to being named second team All-Coast Pacific and Hartnell's Offensive Player of the Year.

The Schedule
LMU's 2011 schedule consists of 55 games, including 28 at home in Page Stadium. The slate also features 13 games against 2010 NCAA Regional qualifiers, including three games against Super Regional participant Cal State Fullerton. All 55 games of the Lions' 2011 schedule will have a live audio broadcast streamed in conjunction with Stretch Internet at LMULions.com. The majority of games can also be viewed on Gametracker by accessing the links from the online schedule.

As they did last year, the Lions will play a number of weekend series in a home-away fashion. The season begins with such a four-game set, as the Lions open play at home versus UC Riverside on February 18 before playing a doubleheader at UCR on Saturday. The two teams will then return to Page Stadium to conclude the set with the fourth game on Sunday.

After a midweek contest against Long Beach State, the Lions will welcome Nevada to campus for a three-game series that weekend. A midweek contest against perennial-powerhouse Cal State Fullerton on March 1 precedes a four-game series against Hawai'i at LMU from March 3-6.

The last four-game series of the year follows from March 11-13 as the Lions travel to San Luis Obispo, Calif. for a set with Cal Poly. San Diego State will be in town on March 15 for a midweek game before the Lions begin a three-game series at UC Irvine on March 18. The two teams will finish that three-game set at LMU with games two and three slated for 1 p.m. starts.

Following the second and final game against Long Beach State on March 22 at home, the Lions will play two of three games against Cal State Northridge on the road, with the second game of that series at home on March 26. UC Santa Barbara heads to Page Stadium on March 30 to close that month before the Lions make a short trip to USC on April 5 at 3 p.m.

Conference play begins on April 8 when the Lions make the first of three scheduled trips to the Bay Area, starting with a three-game series against Santa Clara. The Lions then return home for their longest homestand of the year, a stretch of five straight games. Cal State Fullerton starts that string on April 12 before Gonzaga enters town for a WCC-series on April 15. USC completes the five-game swing with a midweek scheduled for April 19 at 3 p.m.

After loading up on home cooking, LMU will hit the road for its longest road trip of the year, a span of seven games. The Lions kick-off the string of road games with a three-game set at cross-town rival Pepperdine starting on April 21. The team then heads back to the Bay Area for three games against conference-foe San Francisco on April 29. The road trip ends with the start of a three-game series against Cal State Bakersfield on May 7. The two teams will then travel back to LMU to conclude the series on May 8 and 9 at Page Stadium. Four more road games hit the Lions from there, starting with the final trip to the Bay Area and a three-game series at Saint Mary's on May 13. The Lions and Titans will square-off for the final time at Fullerton on May 18 before LMU hosts Portland in a three-game WCC series starting on May 20.

The Lions will hit the road for the final time on May 24, heading to Santa Barbara for a midweek game against the Gauchos at 3 p.m. The regular-season closes with a three-game series against last year's WCC Champion, San Diego, from May 27-29.

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