Baseball season arrives Friday with series at Loyola Marymount

WOLVERINEGREENDOTCOM Senior Devin Nelson will start Sunday at LMU
Senior Devin Nelson will start Sunday at LMU

Feb. 13, 2014

Game 1:  Fri, 7pm MT    |    Live Stats   |   Live Video   |   StatBroadcast
Game 2:  Sat, 2pm MT   |    Live Stats   |   Live Video   |   StatBroadcast
Game 3:  Sun, 2pm MT  |    Live Stats   |   Live Video   |   StatBroadcast

OREM, Utah --
Utah Valley University baseball opens its first season as members of the Western Athletic Conference in a three-game series starting Friday at Loyola Marymount. First pitch for Friday's opener is 6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT with Saturday and Sunday both set for 1 p.m. PT/2 p.m. MT.

The Wolverines are slated to start senior righthander Andrew Freter in the opener with sophomore Danny Beddes and senior Devin Nelson rounding out the weekend rotation. Like UVU was picked to finish in the WAC, LMU was also tabbed fourth in its league, the West Coast Conference. The Lions are one of four WCC schools that Utah Valley will face this season including Pepperdine, BYU and Pacific.



Following the weekend in Los Angeles, Utah Valley will travel to Tucson to face Pac-12 Arizona in a two-game midweek series on Tuesday and Wednesday. The weekend series will be back in Southern California at Pepperdine in Malibu.

Season Preview:
After four seasons in the Great West Conference and three regular season and tournament titles, Eric Madsen's club is readying for 2014 after a disappointing 2013 finish. It was the first time in the four years in the GWC that UVU did not run away with the league title.

"We definitely want to improve where we were last year and with the mindset the kids have shown, I'm very excited to get going," said Madsen. "The guys have worked hard and done a great job in preparing. The work ethic has been outstanding."

UVU finished 24-30 last season after winning 47 games the year prior and leading the country in winning percentage and team batting.

The 2014 Wolverines return four starters from a season ago including top hitter and first baseman Mark Krueger, who hit .323 with 17 doubles as a freshman. Also returning is senior outfielder Riley White, who along with Krueger, was named second-team All-Great West.

The first 16 games of the season will all be on the road, with 14 of those in California. Utah Valley will play two weekend series against two teams picked in the top four in the West Coast Conference. After opening at Loyola Marymount, UVU will play at Pepperdine (Feb 21-23).

"It's a great preparation for the rest of the season," Madsen said of the non-conference schedule. "We have great teams we'll be competing against and realize it's a challenge, but we want to prepare ourselves for our ultimate goal, which is to compete in the WAC."

The Wolverines don't open at home until March 14-16 in the WAC opener against North Dakota, a team that joined the WAC as an affiliate member after playing alongside UVU in the GWC. The 2014 WAC Tournament will be held in Mesa, Ariz. at the Chicago Cubs new spring training facility.

"The most important thing in regards to being in the WAC is that we now have a chance to control our destiny," Madsen said. "The WAC is very competitive and there are some very good teams and it's going to be a battle. We're exited for that challenge and feel like we can compete. Now it's just a matter of going out and doing it."

On the mound UVU returns experience with upperclassmen Nelson, Freter and Ryan Evans; all three will get starting nods early on with Beddes also getting a start on the second day of the season.

"They all return and have good experience and we'll count on them to do well for us. The new kids coming have pitched well in the fall and early on. Now it's a matter of them getting out a competing and showing they can do it when it counts," Madsen said.

Also returning from last year's staff are lefthanders Chris Conran, Braden Poole and Tory Ulibarri and righthander Kyle Valgardson.

"I really like our experience on the mound and the way they've developed. I feel good about our bats but they're unproven so I think our biggest strength is what we're returning on the pitching staff," said Madsen.

The Wolverines get a big piece of the outfield puzzle back this season, with Sean Moysh returning after spending all but three games in 2013 out due to injury. In addition to White and Moysh, Jordy Hart and Kade Andrus also return.

The Wolverines will also have newcomer and top prospect Craig Brinkerhoff in the outfield. Prior to serving an LDS mission, Brinkerhoff played one season at Eastern Utah where he was named the Scenic West Athletic Conference Player of the Year. In the SWAC, a wood bat junior college league, Brinkerhoff hit .376 with 18 home runs, nine triples, nine doubles, 53 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.

"Defensively I love our outfield," said Madsen. "Adding Brinkerhoff to the mix adds to the level of depth that we have and I think we'll produce offensively as well."

Around Krueger at first base, UVU returns second baseman Greyson Bogden, who hit .291 as a freshman and and saw his numbers continue to climb as the season progressed. On the left side of the infield, junior college transfer Zach Slesk will start at shortstop and a combination of returner Beau Kallas and Palmer Page will get the early looks at third base.

"Both of those guys have played well at third and Zach is a good defender and has made a lot progress offensively. Greyson is very good defensively and was one of our best hitters down the stretch last year. And he plays with a lot of passion. And I think Mark, even as our top returning hitter, has made some nice improvements so there's a lot of optimism offensively going in this year."

Behind the plate senior returner Colby Croft, who batted .265 with a pair of home runs, returns as does redshirt Seth Rhineer. Despite battling injuries last season, Croft started 42 games between catcher and DH. Rhineer can also play outfield for UVU.

"Colby has played well and worked hard and Seth is still new to the position and has done a good job for us. Chad Michaud, who will also pitch for us, can really defend and throw so I'm confident with what we have at that position."