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Gonzaga Baseball Ready For No. 2 Oregon State

Gonzaga is ready for No. 2 Oregon State as Bulldogs baseball will kick off this weekend. Gonzaga is ready for No. 2 Oregon State as Bulldogs baseball will kick off this weekend.

by Gonzaga Athletics

SPOKANE, Wash. – The reigning West Coast Conference regular-season champion Gonzaga University baseball team is poised for the challenges waiting in the 2014 campaign, which begins Friday at the Husker Classic in Tempe, Ariz., against #2 Oregon State University.

“There is a target on this group as the defending league champions,” head coach Mark Machtolf said. “We lost some pieces since last year but collectively I think this club is very talented. We open with a huge road swing, perhaps the longest in recent team history, but it will prepare us for a conference run.”

Before the Bulldogs open WCC play on Mar. 14, at University of San Francisco, the Zags will be in three non-conference tournaments. The heavy road slate will see Gonzaga on the road for the first 24 games of the year before the home opener Mar. 28 against Loyola Marymount University.

“It will be tough early in the year,” Machtolf said. “We want to face the top teams and really good pitching. We did that with the schedule this year. The best teams find ways to win on the road and that is what we are aiming for. The big key for us in the preseason is to make strides as a team.”

When the Zags finally open up at home, it will be a considerably different team from a year ago.

“We have a lot of new players who will be in new roles,” Machtolf explained. “We lost our pitching rotation in the MLB Draft and graduated six seniors from our lineup. We still have a lot of talent that is excited to defend the conference title.”

Back for the Bulldogs are Preseason All-WCC first-teamers Cory LeBrun and Caleb Wood. Outfielder LeBrun hit .308 with a team-high 11 doubles for GU last year and was recognized with All-WCC honors. Second baseman Wood, an All-WCC Freshman in 2013, carried a .291 batting average with three home runs and 26 RBI.

“Both those guys will be a large part of the team this year,” Machtolf said. “We can’t look past what we will also get from Cabe Reiten at shortstop and Mitchell Gunsolus at third base. Both had lots of playing time last year and can contribute regularly.”

Reiten split time between short and second base in his freshman campaign while Gunsolus was the everyday third baseman. Gunsolus hit .288 and had a .394 on base percentage.

“Mitch continues to grow,” Machtolf said. “He has such a good idea of the zone that he is always getting on base. He will probably hit for more power this year while developing his skills.”

The rest of the infield will see Joey Harris, Jimmy Sinatro and Troy LaBrie seeing time at catcher. SophomoreTaylor Jones will see action at first base while also serving as a pitching option. Freshman Nick Brooks brings a power bat to the lineup and gives the Bulldogs more flexibility at first.

The outfield will be made up of LeBrun, Brock Slavin, Payden Cawley Lamb and transfer Sam Brown.

On the mound the Bulldogs have six viable options competing for a weekend rotation spot. Returning from injury is junior David Bigelow who should be a fixture in the bullpen. Sean-Luke Brija is coming off a superb summer and will fill a late innings reliever role.

“Our rotation last year ate up a ton of innings,” Machtolf said. “We are excited to see who steps up and fills the holes. There are some healthy competitions going on which is going to make us deeper. Someone to keep an eye on is freshman Brandon Bailey who is our opening day starter.”

Bailey, a Broomfield, Colo. native, is coming off of Tommy John surgery and is expected to have a significant impact. Other returning arms that made starts in 2013 are Kenny Smith (4-0, 4.50 ERA), Derek Callahan (2-2, 4.26 ERA) and Zach Abbruzza (0-3, 4.80 ERA).

After Bailey takes on Oregon State, Abbruzza will face tournament host Nebraska Saturday at 2 p.m. The Zags starter for Saturday night against University of the Pacific is TBA and likewise for Sunday against Nebraska again.

Program history can be made opening weekend as well. Machtolf is just two wins away from his 300th as the Zags skipper. However the Bulldogs thoughts are not on any of the milestones, the focus of the club is to just play baseball.

“The sum of the parts of this group is going to make for a really good club,” Machtolf said. “This is a very close team. The journey with the team is going to be a fun one to see what we can go out and do. It’s time to get out of the snow in Spokane and face quality opponents.”