BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO - Gary Powers starts his 26th season at the helm of the Nevada baseball team today, and he greets a team that is the deepest he's had in the last five or six years.
Nevada, 35-26 overall and 15-9 in the conference a season ago, is a solid two deep at every position. That being said, the Pack will need each and every player to step up to the challenge of the toughest non-conference season in recent memory with three-game sets against UC Irvine, UC Riverside and Oregon State. Irvine and Oregon State played in the College World Series a year ago.
"We have a lot of guys with the same type of ability," Powers said Thursday morning. "It gives us good depth and the opportunity to weather injury problems. It also creates competition within the team which makes you better.
"It's a solid group of guys. Our young kids, what they lack in experience they make up in talent. The young kids keep playing hard, and the guys ahead of them will have to keep working hard to stay ahead."
The six position starters that return are first baseman Shaun Kort (.392, 6 HR, 50 RBI, second baseman David Ciarlo (.275,3,37), third baseman Jason Rodriguez (.313,4, 38), center fielder Jason Sadoian (.285,1,19), left fielder Terry Walsh (.368, 5,30), and right fielder Mike Hale (.295,0,16).
The two members of the rotation that are back for their senior seasons are right-handers Rod Scurry (3-7, 5.03) and Kyle Howe (4-3, 4.84).
Also returning after missing all but five games last season after tearing his right pectoral muscle is junior Matt Bowman, who is attempting to convert to catcher. Bowman hit a team-leading .376 with eight homers in 2006.
Nevada has a chance to get off to a quick start with 18 of its first 22 games at home and 32 home games overall.
"It (all the early home games) just worked out that way," Powers said. "Irvine, Riverside and Oregon State all owed us return games. We only had a certain amount of weeks to get those series in."
Obviously the weather will play a big part in how many of those early games Nevada actually gets in.
The WAC has a new look this year. The conference has gone to a new format this season. Conference series will be four games with a double-header on Saturdays, which will put a drain on everybody's pitching staff.
The new format will change the way Powers uses his staff, and it has changed the way he recruits, too. He is looking at two-way players, and he has three on the squad this year in freshman Brock Stassi, who can pitch, play first base and the outfield. Jacob Kaup pitches and plays first base and Dan Eastham pitches, plays outfield and first base.
"Right now, we're in a holding period," Powers said. "It's going to be a challenge for everybody. I don't think anybody has an advantage over the other person. It will come down to pitching depth and mental toughness during the Saturday double-header.
'We have to go through it. I don't have the answer right now. It will be trial as you go."
Powers said he may change the way he uses relievers. Instead of throwing somebody three innings, he may limit them to one so they can come back in the second game of a double-header.
Based on fall ball, Powers said that Mario Rivera (5-1, 4.25), lefty Chris Garcia, a transfer from Feather River and Stassi will be battling for the other weekend starting slots.
"Rivera was tremendous at the end of last year," Powers said. "Eastham has improved. We haven't been able to get him the experience/work he needs."
Other returnees on the pitching staff are part-time starter Ben Colton and reliever Mat Keplinger. Colton is a month away from active duty after suffering a shoulder injury last year.
Powers also was impressed with Stephen Bautista and Derek Achelpohl, a pair of JC transfers, during the fall season. Both are expected to be used as starters. Other newcomers are Bryan Suarez, Ryan Iodence, Kyle Dimartino and Sammy Miller.
The big question mark on the team is at catcher, as both Konrad Schmidt and Baker Krukow have used up their eligibility.
Bowman, coming back from off-season surgery, and Tyson Jaquez, who caught two innings all year, will battle for the starting spot. Travis Simas, a JC transfer, also is in the mix.
"Matt is working extremely hard," Powers said. "If it's comes down to attitude and desire, he has all that. I hope that his arm can hold up. We're going to need two or three guys back there. Tyson hasn't played a lot (back there). It's good that we have Travis (Simas). He's a very good catch and throw guy. It's good that we have three older guys capable of playing."
While the Pack's pitching and catching might be a tad untested, the offense is solid. Nevada won't pound the ball all over the lot as in previous years, but will spray the ball around to all corners of the field.
Kort is solid at first, and is expected to be one of the best hitters in the WAC this year. Ciarlo is being pressed by freshman Nick Leid at second, and Arizona transfer Kevin Rodland is expected to start at short and Rodriguez is at third. Freshman Garrett Patterson backs up Rodland at short.
Powers expects both Leid and Patterson to push the starters as the season goes on.
Hale, Walsh and Sadoian are expected to be the starting outfielders. Ex-Carson star Aaron Henry, Trevor O'Sullivan and Waylen Sing Chow are the reserves. Bowman and Eastham both could see time in the outfield, too.
"Terry Walsh improved over the summer," Powers said. "He'll probably start in right field. He's gotten a lot better. It allows us flexibility with the DH. If Matt (Bowman) doesn't catch, he can DH."
Henry gives Nevada defense and speed at all three outfield spots. He may get time when Nevada faces a lefty because Hale, O'Sullivan and Sing Chow are all left-handed hitters.