Baseball Opens 2012 Season at Seattle on Friday

WOLVERINEGREENDOTCOM Austin Heaps
WOLVERINEGREENDOTCOM
Austin Heaps
WOLVERINEGREENDOTCOM

Feb. 16, 2012

Series Notes Get Acrobat Reader

SEATTLE -- The Utah Valley University baseball team opens the 2012 season with a three-game series starting Friday at Seattle University. The series is slated for Friday at noon MT, Saturday at 2 p.m. MT and Sunday at 1 p.m. MT. The games on Friday, Sunday can all be heard live on 960 AM the Zone.

UVU's pitching probables for the weekend are Olympia, Wash. native Jeremy Gendlek, a senior righthander and the reigning Great West Conference Pitcher of the Year, Blake Krahenbuhl, who enters the season one win shy of matching the career wins record for a pitcher at UVU and Preston Olson. Gendlek and Krahenbuhl combined to go 14-5 last year and return the core of the pitching rotation.

Seattle - in its third season back after reinstating its baseball program - holds a 2-1 series lead all-time. It's the first time that the two schools will face each other in a three-game series.

"Donny (Harrel) does such a good job with their program," said UVU coach Eric Madsen. "He always has good teams that play the game the right way. It will be a great series. It's two teams that open the year with high expectations but we're kind of both going to be feeling our way through the series."

Madsen returns for his fourth season and a has 94-74 record over his first three seasons.

As a club, Utah Valley returns its top two starting pitchers, its closer and the two middle relievers that ate up the most innings. Offensively, nearly everyone is back except for the man in the middle of the lineup, All-American Chris Benson.

The Wolverines do get infielder Jake Rickenbach back into the lineup after missing 2011 to an injury. Rickenbach was the nation's leader in runs per game as a junior while also collecting 98 hits. Joining Rickenbach as seniors who have spent four years in the program are; Goose Kallunki, Billy Burgess and Austin Heaps.

On Deck
Tuesday's game against Arizona in Tucson will start at 5 p.m. MT live on 960 AM the Zone. The Wildcats, ranked fifth nationally by Baseball America, are 14-0 all-time against Utah Valley. The UofA will make the return trip to Orem on April 4 for a single game.

2012 Season Preview
In 2010, Utah Valley University surprised many in college baseball, winning a school-record 42 games while also leading in the nation in several offensive categories.

In 2011, the surprise-element was gone but the team posted another successful season, winning its second straight Great West Conference regular season and tournament championships.

Now, as the 2012 season has arrived, fourth-year coach Eric Madsen hopes to combine the best of each of those seasons as he continues to shape his program into the team he expects it to become.

"We've improved and made progress each year but we have a lot of goals I feel we haven't reached," Madsen said. "We have been successful but we need to continue to improve and need to get better in a lot of aspects of the game."

The Wolverines are coming off their two most successful seasons in the program's short NCAA Division I history. In the past two years, Utah Valley has amassed 76 wins, two Great West Conference regular season and tournament championships, a team NCAA batting title, an individual runs per game title, the second-most doubles per game in a season in NCAA history and two All-Americans.

Offensively in 2012, nearly everyone is back with one glaring hole in the middle of the lineup; All-American Chris Benson and his .400 average.

"There are a lot of guys that can fill that role. I don't know right now who I'd say that could be but we do get Jake Rickenbach back and the other seniors have been right in the mix as well," Madsen said. "I can see quite a few guys stepping up. I hope they all do."

Rickenbach was the nation's leader in runs per game as a junior while also collecting 98 hits before an injury kept him off the field in the 2011 season. Joining Rickenbach as seniors are; Goose Kallunki, Billy Burgess, Alex Exon and Austin Heaps. Also returning to the lineup are Kai Hatch, Cole McWhorter, Court Zollinger and Willie Pratt.

On the mound, Utah Valley returns its top two starting pitchers (Jeremy Gendlek and Blake Krahenbuhl), its closer (Josh Swenson) and the two middle relievers that ate up the most innings (Ryan Chadwick and Craig Brimhall). Preston Olson and Justin Campbell also return for UVU and the Wolverines will have several new arms in the rotation including the Scenic West Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year, Adam Gunn.

The 2011 staff set several school records including team ERA and also had more shutouts (7) than in all of the program's first eight season combined. Gendlek was wholly or partly responsible for four of those, twice on his own and two more combined with others. In fact, Gendlek dominated the Great West Conference by going 6-0 with a 0.41 ERA - which was aided by 24-innings shutout streak and he did not allow an earned run in his first 33 innings pitched in the GWC.

"Our pitching was so good for us last year and we have many of those guys back. They've really looked good so far it wouldn't surprise me if they were able to step up even more this year. Our depth is going to be a big strength for us. We've added some guys and that's going to help our starting pitching and just the experience everyone gained last year will be huge for us."

After opening the season at Seattle, Utah Valley will face 5th-ranked Arizona in Tucson. The Wildcats also make the return trip to Orem on April 4 for one of the rare times the Wolverines have hosted a Pac 12 program.

"Any time you get a chance to play a team ranked that highly it's a great opportunity for our program. Obviously going in you just hope you play well and give yourself a chance to win," Madsen said. "In the past we've competed at times with them but have never found a way to beat them. It's great to teach our kids what that level of play is about but we hope we can go in there and give ourselves the opportunity to win as well."

The rest of the preseason schedule will also stretch the Wolverines. Series at Nevada (Feb 24-26), at Cal State Fullerton (Mar 2-4), at Arizona State (Mar 13-14), at Saint Mary's (Mar 16-18) along with in-state games against BYU, Utah and Southern Utah make the non-conference schedule a test for the emerging Wolverines.

"The preseason schedule gives our program an opportunity to discover itself as well as try to get on the national scene. We know that in the preseason we're typically going to be the underdogs and we've got to prove ourselves. We've got to play a tough schedule to continue to improve our RPI if we have any hopes and dreams of making a regional," Madsen said.

The Great West slate of games starts April 5 at home against North Dakota and ends May 19 at home against Northern Colorado. The following week the Wolverines will host the GWC Baseball Tournament at Brent Brown Ballpark.

"It's a great opportunity for our fans to see the teams we play in the conference and the good competition and for the us to be able to be home."

Utah Valley again will be the team that all others in the Great West look to beat after consecutive titles, bringing another season of high expectations for the Wolverines.

"Our guys handled expectations well last year," Madsen said. "It's getting better at the little things is what's going to help us take that next step and ultimately help us reach our goals."