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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Orem Owlz pitcher Jose Perez stretches out with his team on Monday. Perez will be the starter when Owlz open their season at home tonight against Ogden at 7.

OREM — Ask manager Tom Kotchman the reason for the success of his Orem Owlz over the years, and he doesn't even pause to respond.

It's quality pitching.

As the defending Pioneer League champion Owlz get set to host rival Ogden tonight in their 2008 season-opener at Brent Brown Ballpark, no one knows yet how good this year's pitching staff will be. But Kotchman is hoping he has some arms that can carry them to another title.

Among those on this year's roster includes 6-foot-4 Kyle Hurst, son of former Major League star Bruce Hurst, a St. George native; and 6-foot-8 Jon Plefka, who played basketball at Texas Tech for legendary coach Bobby Knight a couple of years ago. The Owlz also have a 6-foot-6 hurler (Lou Green, who played for Orem last season) and two more that stand 6-foot-5 (including the highest draft pick from 2008 on the roster, Will Smith, who was selected in the seventh round).

"It might be the tallest pitching staff we've had," Kotchman said.

And Kotchman is counting on this cadre of pitchers to come up big in a figurative sense, too. Pitching, after all, is what propelled Orem to last year's Pioneer League crown.

"You can't go to the Kentucky Derby with a mule. You've got to have the horses," Kotchman said. "It's really all on your pitching. You saw it in the playoffs last year. We got into the playoffs with a .500 record and we hit .204 in the playoffs but won all four games. How was that possible? Well, when you've got a guy throwing 97 miles an hour, we won it with pitching. That's just the way the game is. You are what your pitching is."

Tonight's starter is Jose Perez, a 6-foot-3, 227-pound righthander from Venezuela who signed as a free agent in 2006.

At 5-foot-11, Chris Scholl is one of the shortest pitchers on the staff, but don't mess with him, either. He has a black belt in karate. "That's a little bit unique," Kotchman said. "Thanks for the warning."

Hurst, who served an LDS Church mission to Stockholm, Sweden, from 2004-06, is scheduled to start on Saturday at Brent Brown Ballpark.

"We'll see how it goes and go from there," he said. "I look forward to doing my best every night."

The 36th round draft pick in this year's draft is thrilled to be in Utah. "My mom's really excited. She's originally from Salt Lake," Hurst said. "There's a lot of places I could have gone, and I'm really happy to be here."

Plefka, a 46th round pick in 2006, said he's still making the transition to baseball after playing for basketball for Knight at Texas Tech. "It was one of the best experiences of my life to play for him," Plefka said. "He's one of the greatest coaches I've ever played for."

The Owlz have a few other pitchers who played in Orem last year — Francis Cabrera, Leonardo Calderon and Lou Green. Other returning players are outfielders Donato Giovanatto and Trevor Pippin.

Orem's new hitting coach is Brent Del Chiaro, who played for Kotchman in 2001 when the franchise was located in Provo.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com