Fresno State baseball coach Mike Batesole opens his ninth season today against Gonzaga, and the outlook on the 2011 season has rarely seemed brighter.
The Bulldogs have enough depth in the bullpen and dugout to set up another nice run in conference play and beyond.
There isn’t just one lone standout, although Jordan Ribera, the nation’s returning home run leader from last season, does grab most of the headlines. But from top to bottom, the starting lineup could potentially develop into one of the best hitting teams in school history.
With seven returning position starters from last year’s 35-28 squad, all but one had a batting average of .308 or higher. As a first-time Division I player, Garrett Weber, a transfer from Fresno City College, led the team from the plate with a team-high .387 batting average.
Weber is also the top-returning player in the Western Athletic Conference in that category.
With the likes of Ribera, Weber and their Bulldog teammates taking swings at the plate, the sound of aluminum bats clashing with baseballs should be frequent.
That’s just one reason why conference coaches picked the Bulldogs to win the WAC for the sixth consecutive year and selected seven Bulldogs to the preseason All-WAC team.
But looking forward to this season doesn’t go without revisiting last year’s disappointing finish.
The 2010 season marked the first time since 2005 that the Bulldogs missed out on the national tournament, and that was partly due to poor performances at Beiden Field.
The Bulldogs went just 18-17 playing in front of a home crowd while posting an impressive 15-6 record on the road.
There’s no excuse for the poor showings in front of the Red Wave, but an experienced pitching staff should be able to push the Bulldogs past that after going through growing pains as first-time starters last year.
WAC coaches selected Derek Benny as the preseason pitcher of the year in 2010, but the rangy 6-foot-5-inch pitcher finished 1-3 with an 8.18 ERA in 19 appearances.
Benny’s inconsistent play last season did open up the door for the reserves though. Greg Gonzalez, a junior college transfer just a year ago, surprisingly became the first Bulldog pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Rob Cruess did so in 1976.
With Benny, Gonzalez, Tom Harlan, Josh Poytress, Charlie Robertson and closer Gene Escat taking control, the Bulldogs should be fine from the mound.
But if this team has any hope of reaching Omaha, Neb., the road to the College World Series begins at a place where the Bulldogs have struggled just recently — at home.