Elite competition prepares the Pilots early

By The Beacon | February 27, 2013 9:00pm

With losses to nationally ranked No. 10 Mississippi State and No. 6 Oregon while playing No. 23 UC Irvine and No. 5 Oregon State next week, the Pilots are being thrown into the fire with the hope that

Freshman infielder Lucas Hunter waits on a pitch against Utah Val- ley on Feb. 23 in a 3-1 loss. Hunter has started every game so far this season. (Jackie Jeffers | The Beacon)

By Katie Dunn, Staff Writer dunn16@up.edu

Starting the season with three of five opponents being nationally ranked teams with more to come is a tall order for any baseball team. The Pilots are 2-7 this season after facing No. 10 Mississippi State and No. 6 Oregon. Despite the loses, the team is showing improvement as they face No. 23 UC Irvine March 1-3.

The Pilots lost the first two games of a three game series to the Utah Valley Wolverines, but came out strong for the final game Feb. 24. The Pilots came back from a two run deficit to beat Utah Valley 7-3 with a big rally jump-started by an RBI from fifth-year senior Beau Fraser in the seventh inning. The Pilots went on to score four more runs that inning and held the Wolverines to just three runs to get their second win of the season.

"We won one to go home and feel good at the end of the weekend," senior catcher and designated hitter Ben Grubb said.

The Pilots traveled to play University of Oregon on Feb. 26 in a rematch from getting shut out last season. The Pilots held the nationally ranked team to three hits but still lost 3-1. There was a small rally by the Pilots in the ninth inning when they scored their only run, but it was ended on a line drive caught by Oregon's third baseman senior Ryan Hambright. Oregon is now 7-1 this season with their lone loss coming at the hands of WCC member Loyola Marymount University 7-2.

Next the Pilots travel to Irvine, Calif. to play No. 21 UC Irvine who are currently 7-1 this season. Senior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer, who has a .469 batting average, leads the Anteaters. UC Irvine beat Baylor, LMU and Cal.

Whether the Pilots are home or away, they depend on their strong defense and starting pitchers to hold their opponents to as few runs as possible. Two bright spots in the bullpen have been sophomore Kurt Yinger, who has a 2.63 ERA, and freshman Billy Sahlinger, who has a .96 ERA. The two will be used as much as possible against UC Irvine, after injuries have racked the bullpen.

The offense has a boost from Fraser and senior third baseman Jeff Melby. Fraser currently has a flaming .500 batting average with Melby not far behind with a .391 average. Hits have not been hard to come by for the Pilots, but consistency and leaving runners on base have been an issue.

"We need to show up and give 100 percent every day," Grubb said. "It comes from every guy doing it every day."

UC Irvine, like most of the other NCAA team's ballparks, does not have as deep fences as the Pilots are used to at home, which makes it easier to try and hit for home runs and stray from what the Pilots practice.

"Fundamentals apply at every ballpark," Head Coach Chris Sperry said.

The Pilots will focus on fundamentals and confidence from Sunday's win and staying close with a strong Oregon team for their upcoming games against UC Irvine and the rest of the season.

"We know we can play with best of them," Frattali said. "If we play to best of our abilities, we will be successful."

The Pilots go to Irvine, Calif. to play UC Irvine Friday March to Sunday March 3. Their next chances for home field advantage are March 5 against Oregon State at 3 p.m. and March 8-10 against Seattle University.

(Jackie Jeffers | The Beacon)

(Jackie Jeffers | The Beacon)

(Jackie Jeffers | The Beacon)

(Jackie Jeffers | The Beacon)