THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - After capturing a fourth consecutive Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) title and advancing to the NCAA Regionals for the third time in four years, the Cal Lutheran baseball team sets its sights on another successful season with the influx of 13 talented newcomers while bringing back 16 returners.
According to the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Preseason Poll, the Kingsmen are slotted at No. 20 to start the year, one slot ahead of SCIAC foe Occidental, and were voted No. 1 in the SCIAC Preseason Coaches' Poll followed by Occidental, Chapman and Redlands.
"We are honored to be selected as the preseason favorite," said CLU head coach Marty Slimak, who enters his 24th season at the helm of the Kingsmen. "Based on 2016 we are looking forward to another competitive season in the SCIAC and hope to emerge as the champion as our student-athletes have been working hard getting ready for the season."
Highlighting the returning group is a trio of experienced pitchers in Trey Saito, Nate Wehner and Marshall Pautsch.
Saito served as the ace for CLU last season and finished with a 9-4 record to go along with a 2.73 ERA en route to ABCA Second Team All-West Region accolades and First Team All-SCIAC honors. When not on the hill, Saito can be found behind the dish catching and is one of the top two-way players in Division III.
Wehner steadily became one of the most reliable arms for the Violet and Gold as a sophomore, leading the team with 27 appearances while holding opponents to a .168 batting average. The Bellevue, Wash. native finished with a 2.58 ERA and was selected to the ABCA Third Team All-West Region in addition to Second Team All-SCIAC.
Pautsch, meanwhile, went 6-2 with a 4.17 ERA as the No. 3 starter last season and led the team with 56 strikeouts. In his final appearance of 2016, the San Clemente, Calif. native notched a career-high 10 strikeouts in a complete game victory to lead the Kingsmen to a SCIAC Postseason Tournament Championship and with it, an NCAA Regional berth.
Incoming pitchers that will look to make an impact on the hill will be freshmen Troy Frazier (Thousand Oaks, Calif.), Scott Roberts (Escondido, Calif.), Joey Romano (Beckwourth, Calif.), Jaden Stromire (Aurora, Colo.), sophomore Kordell Green (Merritt Island, Fla.) and junior transfer Miguel Salud (Glendale CC).
Five Kingsmen will be returning to the outfield, spearheaded by the trio of Gabe Gunter, Nick Cohan and Sinjin Todd.
With the departures of Davey Casciola and Ramsey Abushahla from the lineup, Gunter will be one of the top returning offensive threats after batting .387 (53-for-137) last season and leading the team with 45 RBIs. The powerful lefty produced an incredible OPS of 1.055 as a junior and tops all returners with five homeruns last spring.
Cohan is just one year removed from leading the conference with a .450 (27-for-60) batting average in league play and finished the year batting .405 (34-for-84) overall as a sophomore. For his career, the Redondo Beach, Calif. native boasts a .354 (64-for-181) average and showed off his strength last season with two homeruns.
Looking to fill the gap left by Justin Caņa in centerfield, Todd also returns after appearing in 26 games as a junior while making five starts. One of five four-year Kingsmen on the team, Todd has served as one of the top pinch-hitters off the bench the past few seasons and has a career average of .318 (34-for-107).
Rounding out the returning outfielders that saw some time in 2016 are Brad Fullerton and Brett Green while incoming freshman Matt Sciumbato (Simi Valley, Calif.) and junior transfer Alec Iniguez (Ohlone College) will also compete for playing time.
The infield group is bolstered by eight returners including a trio of starters from last year in Weston Clark, Jimmy Jauregui and Austin Kay.
Clark made an immediate impact at first base as a freshman, starting 33 games and finishing with a .289 (35-for-121) batting average to go along with 20 RBIs and 19 runs scored. No slouch with the glove either, Clark racked up 300 putouts and 17 assists for an impressive fielding percentage of .994.
Jauregui came on strong in the second half of last year and will factor into the third base equation this season. The Los Angeles Mission College transfer finished with a .311 (41-for-132) batting average in his debut season for CLU and tallied 28 RBIs and nine extra-base hits. Proven to be a dangerous hitter, Jauregui also earned D3baseball.com Team of the Week honors after a particularly hot stretch in late April.
Kay, meanwhile, has dealt with back-to-back season ending injuries and will look to stay healthy in his fourth year at CLU. When available, Kay has proven to be a slick fielding shortstop and provides some pop with the bat as showcased by his two homeruns in just 18 games last spring.
Juniors Max Weinstein and Jeff Rebello will look to fill the gap at second base left by Chad Clark while Trevor Egan will provide added depth in the infield after spending the majority of his freshman campaign as a member of the JV team.
Incoming infielders for the Kingsmen will be freshmen Ryne Yamashiro (Honolulu, Hawaii), Cortez Espinoza (Simi Valley, Calif.) and sophomore Cheynne Giles (San Diego, Calif.).
Returning behind the plate is Second Team All-SCIAC selection Eddie Villegas, who was a leader on both offense and defense in his first season after transferring from Los Angeles Harbor College. The Lakewood, Calif. native hit .345 (39-for-113) and scored 17 times while driving in nine runs and producing 11 multi-hit games. Defensively, Villegas threw out a team-high seven would-be-base-stealers and tallied a .983 fielding percentage.
Late season call-up Kaden White also returns behind the dish while incoming freshmen Nick Coast (San Diego, Calif.) and Chris Spohr (Gilroy, Calif.) give CLU plenty of options at the position.
Cal Lutheran begins the season in Tucson, Ariz. for the Cactus Classic this Friday, Feb. 10 against Linfield at 6:30 p.m.
Roster: 2017 Kingsmen
Schedule: 2017 Baseball Schedule
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