Texas A&M-Corpus Christi head baseball coach Scott Malone and his team open the 2009 baseball season this weekend in Albuquerque, N.M. when they visit the New Mexico Lobos. The games are slated to start at 4 p.m. CST on Friday, with a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday and a single game at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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The Islanders are coming off a 22-33-1 season which finished with them falling in the semifinals of the Southland Conference tournament to eventual champion Sam Houston State. A&M-Corpus Christi defeated regular season champion UTSA twice in the tournament.

"It all starts with wins and losses and going out and winning a road series," said Malone as he starts his second season. "New Mexico is a very good team and is receiving votes nationally. We know they are a very talented team and it will be good test to start the year."

While the Islanders must replace several key parts of that team including ace Omar Gutierrez, outfielders Chase Williams and Chase Wheaton and shortstop Bryan Gerondale, they return a solid nucleus.

Including catcher Stephen Flora, who is the reigning Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year, a Johnny Bench Award Candidate and first-team All-Southland Conference selection, the Islanders returns seniors at four of the five infield spots. Flora finished among the league leaders with a .380 average and scored 43 runs after beginning the season as a reserve. Three-year players Martin Parra (.302 BA, 6 HR, 26 RBI) and Ernie Olivarez (.278 BA, 25 RBI) return after solid junior seasons, while Brycen Bell (.268 BA) is slated to settle in at shortstop after playing five different positions a season ago.

The lone non-senior returning for the Islander is sophomore Trey Hernandez. The Robstown native was a Freshman All-American after hitting .339 with team-highs in home runs (10), slugging percentage (.589) and RBIs (56). He is a preseason All-SLC second team choice.

The Islanders will have a new look in the outfield as sophomore Jacob Perales will be joined by a combination of players including freshman Jeramie Marek and Chris Famiglietti and senior Ruben Flores. Jonathan Reyes will add depth when he returns at midseason.

The Islanders will have a new look for much of their starting rotation. While returnee Roy Ferdin will get the opening day start, newcomers Andrew Toppert and Brett Carnline will figure heavily in the weekend rotation along with Brandon Orr and Jacob Liedka.

On the back end, Malone will turn to a three-headed monster for the final nine outs. Brett Gibson and Bryant Sparkman shared the closing duties a season ago, but this season will serve as set-up artists for Hernandez. Gibson was 4-3 with five saves a season ago, while Sparkman was 3-1, with a 3.70 ERA and a pair of saves. Sparkman set the single season appearance record with 32. Returnees Justin Grota, Brett Gips, and Matt Hudec will provide further depth along with newcomers, Philip Garcia, Weston Montgomery and Trevor Foss.

The Lobos were 34-25 a season ago and enter this season receiving votes in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Top 40 poll. They return a pair of players named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List in Brian Cavazos-Galvez and Rafael Neda. Cavazos-Galvez hit .367 with 11 home runs 55 RBI and 51 runs scored a season ago, while Neda hit .323 with six home runs and 45 RBI.

"Wins and losses are important, but we want to go out and play well in a hostile environment," said the Islander mentor. "We want to see how our players react to playing tough competition.

"To be successful the pitchers will need to keep the ball low in the strike zone and battle. UNM is a hitting team and scoring runs we just need to withstand their punch and comeback and hit when its our turn."