Adding 20 first-year players, including nine of the team's 14 pitchers, the Lewis & Clark Pioneers expect the freshmen to help carry the team to the next level in 2016.
Last season, the Pioneers finished last in the Northwest Conference in earned run average and hits allowed per nine innings, as the Pioneers finished ahead of Whitman at the bottom of the standings with both teams owning a 5-19 league mark and the Pios two games better overall.
"We've added a lot of quality players to our program," said head coach Tom Flynn, who is in his sixth season leading Lewis & Clark. "We're excited to have these young men join us and help us continue to build our program into a Northwest Conference contender."
Luckily for the youthful pitching staff, they'll have some returning leadership in senior pitchers John Trupin, Aaron Landecker and Blake Howell. Of the three, Trupin had the team's best ERA and made the most starts, but was injured in the offseason. He's expected to be okay, though, and throws a variety of pitches, giving the staff reliability. Landecker, voted one of the team's three captains this year, has made a lot of strides in the offseason and should give the team plenty of chances to win. Last season, he pitched the most games overall for the Pios. Howell has battled injuries throughout his Lewis & Clark career, but appears healthy and could be a boost to the Pios' long relief.
The other two captains are senior position players. Bradley Lezak had the team's best batting average behind graduated All-NWC selections EJ Hand and Eric Hyun. Lezak ranked 25th in the conference with a .317 mark which included seven extra-base hits. Christian Macdonald is a versatile infielder and a true team leader. He struck out the fewest of any infielder who played in 10 or more games last season.
Carter Bagley returns as a senior catcher, and much like his senior pitching staff counterparts, will be looked at to lead a large quantity of freshmen at his position. A reliable defender, Bagley's leadership is a strong aid to the coaching staff. He hit .292 in nine games last season. Lewis & Clark lost catcher Mike Kinkenon, who is now an assistant coach, to graduation after he played 38 games last year.
Among the juniors is first baseman Nick Lockwood. The coaching staff considers him one of the best defenders in the league, as he committed only two errors in 21 games last season. Fellow infielders Jacob Burton and Tommy Massari should play big roles for the Pios this season. Burton missed last year with an injury, but is expected to help solidify the middle of Lewis & Clark's infield. Massari carries a big bat, ranking in the Pios' top five in runs batted in last season. He's also one of the team's best utility players, capable of playing multiple positions in the field. Lewis & Clark also gets back Drake Gilliland, who missed last season. He's expected to help the Pios match-up with opponents in combination with Lockwood at first base.
Ben Beck, Conner Sick and Akira Abderrahman provide upperclassmen experience in the outfield. Beck took big strides in the offseason offensively after being a defensive rock for the Pioneers last year. Sick was similar defensively, as the duo combined for one error all of last season. 2016 could be a breakout year for Abderrahman after finishing in the team's top five in batting average among those who played in 10 or more games.
Lewis & Clark's sophomores will be relied upon to add some pop to the lineup. Outfielder Sean Shepherd and infielder Connor Eggleston each had 19 RBI in their freshmen seasons. After improving his swing in the offseason, Spencer Gutterman is expected to get some at-bats this year. Max Gordon has moved from second to third base and presents his opponents a tough opposing hitter. Zach Merzlak is the only sophomore pitcher, weighing in at 200 pounds after weight room work in the offseason. The Montana native is expected to provide valuable innings out of the bullpen. Robert McKendry is back for his second year as well, and will add good depth to first base.
Off the mound, the Pioneers have 11 freshmen this season. In the outfield, Michael Pangelinan, Matthew Donovan and Cameron Paton have been added. They're joined by their infield counterparts Max Haddad, Jason Nakamura and Kellen Ochi.
Finally, the new names to the rotation and bullpen include lefties DJ Sekiya and Jack Silva to go with right-handers Bradley Bourdase, Austin Conniff, Nathan Klein, Robert Reaser, Jeramy Albert, Holden Jones and Nat Richman.
Lewis & Clark opens this season with a tournament against Northwest Conference teams at Ron Tonkin Field this weekend. The Pioneers will play four games before hosting Whitman on Feb. 14 to open the conference season before a three-game road series at Puget Sound starting Feb. 20.
After a trip to California for four non-league games, the Pioneers return to Portland to host Linfield on Mar. 5-6. A single game with Whitworth on Mar. 7 precedes a road series at Pacific on Mar. 12-13.
Following a home set with Willamette, Lewis & Clark travels to the Tucson Invitational for three games during spring break, Mar. 22-23.
The NWC season closes out with home series against Whitman and Pacific Lutheran and road series with Whitworth and George Fox in late March and early April.
The Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament is scheduled for Apr. 22-24.