RENO - Nevada's fall baseball season came to a close Wednesday morning, and if the last six weeks are any indication, the Wolf Pack appears headed to a successful season.
Nevada, which won 36 games a year ago and finished second in the Western Athletic Conference, played 45 innings against junior college competition and finished up with a three-game intrasquad World Series.
"We've got some work to do at a couple of positions," Nevada coach Gary Powers said, referring mainly to catcher where the Pack has only two innings of experience returning in Tyson Jaquez. "We played good defense. We have good depth in the outfield. The infield is real solid. Jason Rodriguez has improved his defense at third base. I think there were four plays that he either went to his right or came in on the run; plays he wouldn't have made last year.
"Coming out of the fall, our pitching started to show depth and consistency. Mario Rivera threw 27 innings and only gave up one earned run. Freshman Brock Stassi showed some real consistency and Stephen Bautista dominated at times and has real good stuff, and will challenge people. (Rod) Scurry and (Kyle) Howe need to get in better shape. We didn't use them that much in the fall. Some of the younger guys are going to be pushing them for time."
Terry Walsh, who plays outfield and DH's for the Pack, is impressed with what he's seen.
"Definitely, this is the best team we've had since I've been here in terms of pitching and defense," Walsh said. "We are further ahead of where we were three years ago I think. We made only one error in three games."
Pitching has been somewhat of an Achilles heel in the past four years, and with the compacted schedule and extra game during the conference weekend, Powers will need as many arms as possible.
Besides the pitchers mentioned above, Powers has Ben Colton, Jacob Kaup, Dan Eastham, Mat Keplinger and Jordan Salazar back from last year. Other newcomers are JC transfer Sam Miller, freshman Bryan Suarez, sophomore transfer Chris Garcia, freshman Kyle DeMartino, JC transfer Ryan Iodence and JC transfer Josh Holman. Until he gave up a four-run inning in the intrasquad scrimmage, Garcia had a solid fall.
Also, Powers is counting on Derek Achelpohl from Fresno City College, who is currently injured and hasn't pitched recently.
Once again, this will be a team that will hit gap-to-gap and probably won't hit a huge amount of homers. Nevada, led by departed catcher Konrad Schmidt, hit just 39 homers in 61 games. This appears to be a team capable of matching last year's .310 batting average.
Shaun Kort hit .392 last year, Walsh hit .368 and Rodriguez hit .313. Mike Hale was at .295, Eastham .289 and Jason Sadoian .285. Not a bad place to start when you are talking offense.
"We haven't even worked on individual swings and individual approaches to the plate," Powers said. "We've just been scrimmaging a lot."
"Hitting will be right where it needs to be when spring hits," Walsh said. "The first year I was here we had a couple of guys that were big home run threats. We're gap-to-gap hitters. Homers will take care of themselves."
One of the big question marks is the health of junior outfielder/third baseman/designated hitter Matt Bowman, who missed the bulk of last year with an arm/shoulder injury after hitting .376 two years ago.
Powers said Bowman is a little behind schedule in his recovery process. His arm hasn't healed sufficiently enough to play a position. He's being used strictly as a designated hitter.
"He keeps coming up with nagging injuries," Powers said. "He's got to work at getting better (physically) and staying healthy."
Powers admitted that playing Bowman at catcher had been in his thoughts, but his slow recovery may not make that feasible this year.
Catcher is the main position that has Powers concerned. Currently Jaquez and Travis Simas are running 1-2 in that competition.
The veteran Nevada coach said that the next couple of months are critical for all the players. He said it's critical in terms of individual improvement that players lift weights, work on hitting and do other things to improve themselves and get ready for the spring season.
Notes: Powers said he has some cuts to make, but he will keep around 35. Starting in the 2009 season, the NCAA won't allow teams to carry more than 35 players ... Nevada opens its season Feb. 22 against World Series participant UC Irvine. Besides UC Irvine, Nevada will play UC Riverside and Oregon State in the preseason.