Pilot baseball on the offensive

By The Beacon | February 22, 2012 9:00pm

New bats level the playing field

Senior pitcher Keeler Brynteson mid-pitch. The Pilots strong offense has helped take some pressure off the bullpen (Monica McAllister | The Beacon)

By Bruce Garlinghouse, Staff Writer -- garlingh13@up.edu

It seems the University of Portland baseball team has found the offensive production they were lacking last year.

The Pilots have scored at least 10 runs in each game and have a .382 batting average, remaining undefeated after two wins over Stephen F. Austin in Texas over the weekend and a win on Tuesday against Concordia.

"We have a lot of guys back that we didn't have last year," sophomore outfielder Turner Gill said. "So we have more guys that are able to get on base."

He was referring to guys like senior Kris Kauppila. Kauppila missed games last year due to injury and finished the season batting .16. He is now batting .428 with eight RBI's and was named last week's WCC Player of the Week.

In addition, the team has added new bats to their offensive arsenal, both literally and figuratively.

Under contract with Nike, last year's team was restricted to using Nike bats, which, according to Gill and several college bat review sites, are inferior to other brands.

The Tuscaloosa News reported last year that several college teams using Nike bats showed noticeable declines in stats, especially the number of homeruns.

After backlash from several colleges, Nike released teams to use other bats as long as they don't sign any contracts with other companies.

"The bat really makes a difference," Gill said. "Now that we can use the same bats as other teams are using, the playing field has leveled."

Gill is continuing the success he had last year after being named a Freshman All-American and the first Pilot to since 2008 to be named to both the All-WCC First Team and All-WCC Freshman Team while leading the team in hitting with a .332 average.

In the Pilot's 10-5 win over Stephen F. Austin last weekend, Gill went 4-5, one of which was a homerun, and batted in seven runs.

But it's not just the returners that have been a threat at the plate this season.

Freshmen Caleb Whalen and Mike Lucarelli have been intimidating offensively. Whalen is batting .500 with seven RBI's and Lucarelli is batting .400 and has brought in two runs.

"We are already hitting a lot better than last season and I suspect that will continue," Gill said.

Junior starter Chris Johnson said the offensive success helps put the pitchers at ease.

"It takes a lot of pressure off the bullpen when we know we can get runs," Johnson said. "You can just relax and throw the ball."

The Pilots now face a tougher test as they head into a 3-game series against the Creighton Blue Jays beginning Friday at 1 p.m.

The Blue Jays swept last year's series, shutting the Pilots out in one of their three wins.

"Games will be a lot closer," Johnson said. "Defense is going to be cleaner, pitching is going to be better, so I'm looking forward to it and I think it is going to be a really good early test for us."

After being picked to finish 7th this preseason despite finishing 3rd last year, Johnson said the team feels they have something to prove.

"My freshman year we were picked to finish last and we finished 2nd. Last year, we were picked to finish 7th and we finished 3rd," Johnson said. "Now they're picking us to finish 7th again, so its obvious they're not going to give us the respect we deserve, so it gives us a feeling to want to prove people wrong."

Sophomore catcher Bo Cornish stares down the Concordia pitcher during Tuesday’s game (Monica McAllister | The Beacon)

Redshirt sophomore Colin Feldtman fires a pitch toward home plate (Monica McAllister | The Beacon)

Sophomore infielder/outfielder Turner Gill waits to high five redshirt sophomore outfielder Chet Thompson as he tags home.The Pilots scored runs during the first three innings against Concordia (Monica McAllister | The Beacon)