The grass is cut, and the infield is raked – it’s baseball time yet again.
The Wildcats open their 2010 season Saturday with high aspirations, following a successful 2009 campaign. They finished 44-19 on their way to a fifth Lone Star Conference title, and Head Coach Britt Bonneau’s team is projected to win the conference title again this season – one of many goals he and his team have set for themselves.
“Our goal every year is to win our conference,” Bonneau said. “If you do the right things there, you go to the regional tournament, which allows you to play at a national level. We want to play on that national stage.”
The Wildcats will make their title run with a talented cast of players. The ‘Cats will lean heavily on their returning stars, but young players and transfers will also make valuable contributions.
“I think when you look at our squad, it’s well-balanced on all sides,” Bonneau said. “It’ s not like we will have to win a 15-14 game each week. Our offense and defense will support our pitching.”
Despite the graduation of starter Preston Vancil, the Wildcats have a deep and talented pitching staff set for 2010. Bonneau has no idea who the staff ace will be in 2010, but he views that position as a luxury. He says his staff is filled with No. 2 starters who all have the ability to step up and play the role of staff ace.
Additionally, the Wildcat bullpen will be a strength next season. All-American closer Brad Rutherford was named LSC Preseason Pitcher of the Year after recording a conference-best 11 saves and compiling a 10-3 record. Kansas State transfer Josh Crockett will join Rutherford at the back end of the bullpen, giving the Wildcats a strong 1-2 punch of relievers.
One of the best defenses in the country, says Bonneau, will back up the staff. The Wildcats return all four of their starting infielders from a year ago, including all-American shortstop William Uechi. He led the ‘Cats in hitting in 2009 with a .415 average, while stealing 15 bases.
The Wildcats will also be strong behind the plate with the addition of Ian Tomkins. Tomkins comes to ACU from Wake Forest, and he has big shoes to fill, replacing catcher Jordan Schmitt, the Wildcats’ all-time hits leader.
Right fielder Travis Latz will be joined in the outfield by transfer Aaron Oliver; last season, Oliver hit .313 for East Los Angeles College. Bonneau said left field remains an open competition.
Bonneau said he believes his team has the ability to compete with anybody on a national stage. However, he believes his team’s intense focus will prove to be just as valuable as its tremendous level of talent.
“We have a bunch of guys that are focused,” Bonneau said. “The question is, will they be able to maintain that focus? If they do, they’ll win a bunch of games. If they don’t, they’ll win a bunch of games anyway because they’re good.”