Pilots back on the diamond for action

By The Beacon | February 13, 2013 9:00pm

The Pilots get a big test to start the season with a four-game series against No. 16 Mississippi State

(Stephanie Matusiefsky| THE BEACON)

By PJ Marcello, Staff Writer marcello13@up.edu

Experience and chemistry will be key to a successful season for the baseball team this year. With three fifth-year seniors, the team has leaders who know their way around a baseball diamond.

The team has leadership and experience all the way up to the coaches. Head coach Chris Sperry became the second most winning coach in University of Portland history last season.

"Our goal is always to be one of 64 teams in the NCAA tournament, and we've been close two out of the last three years," Sperry said. "It's a hump we want to get over."

The Pilots were predicted to finish seventh in the WCC this season after finishing sixth last season. Hoping to lead the Pilots to a WCC Championship are junior outfielder Turner Gill and sophomore pitcher Travis Radke, who are both named to the preseason All-WCC team. Gill led the team last season in home runs, RBIs, doubles and runs and maintained a .314 batting average. Radke went 7-4 last season with a 2.09 ERA and was the first Pilot named the WCC Freshman of the Year.

After playing together since fall, the team has a chemistry on and off the field. There is an easy meshing of age and experience.

"One of our strengths is how well we get along," Gill said. "It's a great group of guys."

The 11 freshmen bring a level of talent and excitement that the entire team can feed off.

"They're very talented and have a new attitude," fifth-year senior catcher Beau Fraser said.

The Pilots have some big games standing in the way of their goal of winning the WCC. The biggest will be against top-25 ranked teams like No. 16 Mississippi State, No. 8 Oregon, No. 10 Oregon State March 5, No. 20 and University of San Diego.

"We need to play strong enough through the entire season to be hot in the end," Radke said.

The big games don't faze Sperry or his players. The team looks at them as all equal and exciting.

"Every opponent is the same," Sperry said. "You have to treat every game the same, compete not against your opponent but against yourself."

Players like Fraser are most looking forward to playing in the big league arena of AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, when the team plays University of San Francisco.

The Pilots have a good balance of what is important to winning: a well-aged defense and offense, pitchers who are learning everyday and hitters willing to step up to the plate.

"We have age in all the right positions," Fraser said.

For the Pilots to be successful in the always strong WCC, the Pilots will have to rely on picking, defensive skills and team chemistry.

"Winning, that's why people play," Gill said. "Winning and having fun. If you win you have fun so they go hand in hand."

Gill and the Pilots' first chance to win will be Feb. 15 when they go to Mississippi State for a four-game series. Their first home game is against Utah Valley Feb. 22 at 2 p.m.

Pilots in the Spotlight: Travis Radke

Travis Radke, standout sophomore and left-handed pitcher, has collected numerous honors in his first year as a Pilot. Radke won WCC Freshman of the Year as well as being selected to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team. He was also recently named to the Preseason All-WCC First Team. Before the Pilots open the season on Friday against Mississippi State, Radke gave some insight into how he has found success, and shares a few of his favorite things.

When did you realize that you had potential to play upper-level baseball?

I think when I was around 12 or 13 and I played on my first travel team. I started to pitch more than play any other position and I realized that if I was going to make it, it would be as a pitcher.

What makes you unique as a pitcher?

The biggest thing is my [mental]make-up in the sense that I can read hitters well. I can out-guess and out-think hitters by knowing what he doesn't think is coming and making those pitches. Also being able to throw multiple pitches as strikes because I don't throw as hard as a lot of pitchers, but I can locate well and hit the strike zone.

Who is your favorite athlete of all time?

I'd have to say my favorite is Sandy Koufax [former MLB pitcher and Hall of Famer of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers]. He was a left-handed pitcher too, and I'm from the LA area. I also have pretty much the same arm slot as him when I throw, which is an over-the-top motion, something you don't see much anymore.

What gets you excited to play?

Making it to the ballpark and hearing all the sights and sounds. The smell of the leather of a new ball, the fresh cut grass, the sound of the scratching of the cleats when you walk in makes it nostalgic.

Do you have any superstitions or traditions?

I have a couple superstitions. The two most common are making sure I have certain names and favorite Bible verses written under my cap, and then general things like what I say to the third baseman and saying my favorite prayer before the game. If I don't do those things, I freak out. They're a big deal.

(Stephanie Matusiefsky| THE BEACON)

(Stephanie Matusiefsky| THE BEACON)