Wolf Pack open with pair of powerhouses | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack open with pair of powerhouses

For the Nevada Appeal

Gary Powers has never been one to coddle and baby his Nevada Wolf Pack baseball team.

“Our philosophy has always been to play the best teams you can possibly play to try and get as much experience as you can to make yourself a better ball club,” said Powers, who is entering his 27th season as Pack coach with 795 career victories. “That is the only way you get better.”

Coddling and babying a young team is one thing. Powers, though, is like the momma bird who tosses her children out of the nest the moment they open their eyes to the world. The Pack will debut this season on Friday in Phoenix at Grand Canyon University with a doubleheader against Gonzaga (3 p.m.) and Missouri (7 p.m.), followed by single games on Saturday (7 p.m.) against Gonzaga and Sunday (10 a.m.) against Missouri.

The season-opening road trip will continue with four games the weekend of Feb. 26 through March 1 in San Diego against San Diego State, San Diego and Kansas State and a single game March 3 at Pacific.

“And it doesn’t get any easier after that,” said Powers, referring to the Pack’s first two home series March 6-8 against Washington and March 12-15 against Oregon.

Missouri is ranked 10th in the nation by Baseball America, 20th by USA Today/ ESPN and 22nd by Collegiate Baseball. San Diego is ranked No. 11 by Baseball America, 15 by USA Today/ ESPN and 17 by Collegiate Baseball. San Diego State, coached by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, is coming off a 31-win season and features one of the top pitchers in the nation in Steve Strasburg and is picked to finish second in the Mountain West Conference. Gonzaga is coming off a 30-win season.

“Without question, the first five weeks of our schedule will be extremely challenging for our inexperienced team,” Powers said.

The Wolf Pack, which returns just three full-time starters ” Shaun Kort, Matt Bowman, Kevin Rodland ” from last year’s 34-26 team, is not afraid of opening a season with mixed results. The Pack opened last season 0-5 after starting 2007 at 2-6 and 2006 at 0-5. The last two Pack teams rebounded to finish second in the Western Athletic Conference regular season and postseason tournament.

“Our overall objective is to have ourselves ready to compete in the Western Athletic Conference,” Powers said. “That’s why it is important to get as much experience as you can.”

The Wolf Pack will open its WAC season April 3 in Ruston, La., against Louisiana Tech after playing 27 non-league games.

“We obviously still want to win every time we go out on the field,” Powers said. “You can’t lose sight of that. But, as long as we’re prepared and ready to play every day and take the right approach, that’s all we can concern ourselves with right now.”

The Wolf Pack will clearly be a work in progress to open the year.

Powers said senior Stephen Bautista will get the starting assignment on the mound in the season opener against Gonzaga. Bautista appeared in 18 games a year ago, with just one start, and finished with a 8.49 earned run average. Reed High graduate Chris Garcia (2-5, 7.49), a junior, will start on Friday night against Missouri followed by junior college transfer Tyler Rogstad, from Edmonds (Wash.) Community College, on Saturday against Gonzaga and Brock Stasis (4-2, 4.85 in 2008) on Sunday against Missouri.

“The one area up in the air right now, and it’s always up in the air at this time of year, is the pitching staff,” Powers said. “Everybody needs to settle into their roles.”

The everyday lineup is much more settled to open the year. Powers said the infield will feature Kort at first, Bowman at second, Rodland at short and Tyson Jaquez at third. Travis Simas will catch.

Brett Hart, a junior college transfer from the College of San Mateo, will start in right field. Nick Melino, a freshman from Green Valley High School in Southern Nevada, and Carson High graduate and former Western Nevada College player Aaron Henry, will compete in left. Sophomore Waylen Sing Chow and Santa Rosa (Calif.) junior college transfer Westley Moss will compete in center.

The designated hitter against right-handers will be Stassi and catcher Mike Turay, a freshman from Davis, Calif., will likely DH against lefties, Powers said.

Gonzaga and Missouri will clearly test a young Pack team that will be trying to fly for the first time. Missouri is led by first baseman Steve Gray, who hit .317 a year ago with 10 homers, outfielder Aaron Senne, who hit .347 with 13 homers and 67 RBI, and pitcher Kyle Gibson, who was 9-4 with 96 strikeouts in 87 innings. Gonzaga returns five players who hit above .300 last year.

“Both those teams are very experienced,” Powers said. “We know what to expect from them. They were solid teams last year and this year they should be even better. But we look at this as a great opportunity to establish ourselves.”