By Michelle Gardner
For the Cal State San Bernardino baseball team, close has not been quite good enough the last two years. The Coyotes finished fifth in the 10-team conference, one place lower than needed to qualify for the CCAA tournament.
Ditto the previous season.
So the Coyotes are looking forward to changing that trend as the 2008 season gets underway today. Cal State, 29-22 overall and 20-16 in the CCAA last season, opens play with a 2 p.m. game against Cal State Dominguez Hills (16-36-1, 11-25) at Arrowhead Credit Union Park.
We should be much better offensively, says veteran coach Don Parnell, starting his 17th year. It will be a matter of whether or not our pitchers coming back can step it up a notch.
The Coyotes were picked to finish their familiar fifth in a preseason poll of member coaches. UC San Diego (37-25, 24-12 in 2007), Chico State (47-15, 25-11), defending CCAA champion Sonoma State (50-12, 29-7) and defending West Region champion Cal State Los Angeles (45-17-1, 27-9) were picked ahead of the Coyotes.
Three of those teams are ranked nationally by Collegiate Baseball with San Diego at 15, Los Angeles at 17 and Chico at 19.
The Coyotes return three of their four starting pitchers led by senior Matt Long (5-4, 3.30) who will today. Senior right-handers Cheyne Hann (4-6, 5.51) and Kevin Wilson (3-2, 3.68) will also hold down slots in the rotation with the No. 4 spot still up for grabs.
Parnell is high on junior Mike Leal, a transfer from Riverside Community College, but he has performed well out of the bullpen in the past and might be better suited for that role.
Others who will contribute from the mound are sophomore right-hander Brent Planck, a transfer from University of San Diego, and senior Jose Hernandez who only pitched seven innings a year ago and is coming off arm surgery. Senior right-hander Theron Cueva should also be in the mix once he returns from elbow surgery.
We are still waiting to see how things come together as far as that fourth spot, Parnell said. We have some options but we have some guys coming off injuries that were bringing along slowly.
Returning position players include senior third baseman Drew Valenzuela (.318, 31 RBI), senior second baseman Michael Minjares (.311), senior first baseman-designated hitter Kyle Walton (.303, 20 RBI) and left-fielder Justin Watson (.258).
Junior Chris Olsen, who saw limited playing time last season, replaces the graduated Patrick Walker behind the plate.
Newcomers are expected to play a major in the teams success. The most notable will be senior Jason Klug, who will swap out at first with Walton.
The Moreno Valley native played two years at San Bernardino Valley College then went on to Dominguez where he netted conference and West Region Player of the Year honors, hitting a gaudy .405 with 11 home runs and 56 RBI. He sat out last season after having arm surgery.
Were really fortunate to have him, Parnell said. He put up some monster numbers two years ago. Were not expecting him to put up the same numbers but if he can be close then it will help us a lot.
Two transfers from Los Angeles Pierce should make the starting lineup with Daniel Soles at shortstop and Andrew Tapia in rightfield.
Rounding out the starting lineup will be junior centerfielder Johnnie Haas, who is stepping for Justin Roberson who signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as a free agent. Haas, a Hesperia native who played at Victor Valley College, has not played baseball in three years because he served a Mormom mission.
You would think it would take him some time to get back into it but he has looked really good, Parnell said of Haas.
Parnell expects his team to be in the hunt for a postseason playoff berth that it earned four times between 2001 and 2005.
Last year the conference was stronger than it has ever been, he said. But a lot of teams lost key players. L.A. lost 22 players, basically everyone that contributed. There is no reason that we cant be up there competing with those teams.