OREM, Utah — Utah Valley University baseball opens the 2013 campaign Friday at the Palm Springs Invitational in a doubleheader with games against Gonzaga and No. 6/14 Oregon State.
First pitch for the Bulldogs and Wolverines is 11 a.m. MT with the game vs. the Beavers to follow. UVU will face UC Riverside on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. MT before a second game against Gonzaga on Sunday at 11 a.m. MT. All games during the weekend can be heard live on WolverineGreen.com.
Despite a record-setting season that included a 32-game win streak and garnered the Utah Valley University baseball team national attention, head coach Eric Madsen knows the slate for his 2013 club is wiped clean.
While the expectations for the program are no doubt elevated, Madsen will face his toughest task to date in his five years at UVU. The Wolverines said goodbye to their top five hitters — including three All-Americans — two of three weekend starters, the closer and the top two relief men in terms of both ERA and innings pitched.
UVU, in its final season as members of the Great West Conference, will also have 18 newcomers on the roster and must rely heavily on the transfers and true freshmen to contribute in the lineup and on the mound.
"We do have a lot of work and it's going to be a challenge, but that's something we welcome and are excited for," Madsen said. "It's part of the process. We can't be scared to have success raise expectations. It's all part of the goal in building the program we want here at Utah Valley."
Gone are consensus All-American Goose Kallunki (drafted by the San Diego Padres), Billy Burgess and Austin Heaps. Kallunki was a first-team All-American in several publications after hitting .419 with 18 home runs and a nation-leading 86 RBIs, while Burgess and Heaps both garnered third-team selecitons.
Gone are four-year star Jake Rickenbach and pitcher Jeremy Gendlek. Both were two-time All-Great West first team selections including a pitcher of the year honor for Gendlek as a junior. Closer Josh Swenson, Preston Olson, Alex Exon and Taylor Mangum are all gone as well.
"It is going to be hard but as I said that's part of the challenge. Those guys were all giant parts of our program and are irreplaceable. But to say we can't be successful without them is a disservice to the players in the clubhouse now. We have some great kids in there that know the legacy those players left and are excited for the chance to build on that," Madsen said.
Of the 11 Wolverines to receive All-Great West honors in 2012, four return: Willie Pratt, Kai Hatch, Sean Moysh and reigning Pitcher of the Year Adam Gunn. All four will be expected to take even bigger roles with the large number of newcomers, which also includes 12 freshmen.
Several of those newcomers will be thrown into contributing roles from day one, including first baseman Mark Krueger, an All-State performer out of Jordan High School in Sandy, Utah. Krueger, who hits from the left side, headlines a freshman class that also includes Beau Kallas and Stone Ramsey.
Other returners include Jordy Hart and Riley White in the outfield, catchers Taylor Berg and Court Zollinger and pitchers Justin Campbell, Jeff Barto, Devin Nelson and Blake Krahenbuhl. Two other pitchers also return after injuries in 2012: Brian Whatcott, who has missed the last two seasons due to injury, and Ty Hansen.
The 2013 schedule opens this week at the Palm Springs Invitational and includes games against No. 14 Oregon State, Gonzaga and UC Riverside. UVU is scheduled to play 27 of its first 30 games away from home.
UVU will also play series at Portland, a midweek at national champion and 10th-ranked Arizona, WAC tri-champ Sacramento State, Texas Tech, Saint Mary's and Cal State Northridge. The lone home weekend series will be against another of the three WAC schools to share the 2012 conference championship, Nevada, which is now a part of the Mountain West and comes to Orem on March 7-9.
UVU will also play home-and-home midweek games against in-state rivals BYU and Utah.
"It's important for us to continue to play those teams that will make us better and I feel like the schedule certainly will do that. Obviously it will elevate us to play teams like Oregon State and Arizona, but there are several schools on the schedule that will contend for titles in their conference," Madsen said.
The 28-game Great West schedule starts April 5 at NJIT. The Wolverines, 28-0 in the league last year, are 76-4 over their first three conference-winning seasons. The season commences in late-May at the final GWC Tournament Championship in Newark, N.J.
Clint Burgi is the assistant athletic director for sports information at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.
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