Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lutes load bases

By Justin Buchanan, Sports Editor

The Pacific Lutheran baseball team is set to bounce back this spring after last year’s disappointing campaign.

Last spring, the Lutes failed to make the post season, tying for fifth in the Northwest Conference with an overall record of 19-20. It was the Lutes’ first losing season since 2003.

Before the 2012 season started, the team lost ace right-handed starting pitcher junior Max Beatty, who is taking the semester off for medical reasons.

“So right off the bat, it’s kind of like, ‘Okay, what’s going to happen here?’” first baseman senior Brock Gates said.

After a successful showing in the Arizona Desert Classic, where the Lutes took three of four games, the team is more optimistic.

“We knew our offense was going to be okay, but our pitching was going to be really, really young, so that was kind of a test down in Arizona, and our pitching did really well, I thought,” second baseman senior Corey Moore said. “So knowing that we’re going to have pretty good pitching without Max, our expectations should be pretty high now.”

Beatty was rated by Baseball America as the number one Division III prospect after he anchored the Lutes’ rotation last year pitching 81 2/3 innings, earning a team-leading 3.75 ERA while striking out 60 batters.

The Lutes will be looking for pitcher senior Nathan Eisenhauer to lead a rotation of young pitchers into the season. Eisenhauer will need to improve on last season’s 7.20 ERA.

“We have a pretty young pitching staff, we’re a lot of freshman and sophomores,” head coach Geoff Loomis said. “We have one senior, Nathan Eisenhauer, who had a great start down in Arizona.”

”Other starting pitchers to watch this season are first-years right-handed Chris Bishop and left-handed Trevor Lubking.

The Lutes will rely on high offensive output from Gates, Moore and shortstop senior Sammy Davis, who have each hit one home run early this season.

Last season, Gates posted an offensive slash line of .311/.402/.468 in 154 ABs. Gates also led the team last season in home runs with four.

Moore ended the 2011 season batting .306/.379/.389 in 157 ABs.

Davis was unable to play last season due to an injury that sidelined him. However, he ended 2010 batting .337/.442/.442. in 172 ABs.

Behind the plate, expect seniors Zack Halverson and Ethan Ottemiller to split a majority of the catching. Also expect sophomore Bo Pearson to catch a few innings.

Out of the bullpen, the Lutes will likely deploy pitchers junior Nathan Shoup, senior Ryan Frost and first-years AJ Konopaski and Jacob Otness.

Frost pitched 35 1/3 innings with the Lutes striking out 25 batters on his way to earning a 4.08 ERA. Frost will also play an infield utility role.

If the pitching can come together and the bats stay hot, the Lutes could challenge for the NWC title.

The Lutes’ current record stands at 5-4 and third place in the NWC.

The Lutes play at Willamette March 3 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and March 4 at noon.