February 19, 2010

ISLANDERS SET TO HIT DIAMOND FOR FIRST TIME THIS WEEKEND

The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi baseball team opens the 2010 season this weekend as Prairie View A&M comes to Chapman Field for a three-game series. The campaign debuts with games at 2 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and Sunday's finale at 1 p.m.

The Islanders enter the season with a solid mix of returnees and newcomers as they look to return to the Southland Conference Tournament to be held at Whataburger Field at the end of May and improve on an 18-38 record a season ago

In the field and at the plate, the Islanders return a pair of Freshmen All-Americans in Jeramie Marek and Trey Hernandez. Marek received the honor this past season after leading the Islanders in hitting with a .335 average and finished the season with a 22-game hitting streak matching the all-time best set by Humberto Aguilar.

Hernandez hit a career-best 12 home runs in 2009 and has 22 in his career. A first-team All-Southland choice at first base in the preseason, Hernandez will be looking to regain his form at the plate from 2008 when he hit .339 with 56 runs batted and 10 home runs. His average dipped to .236 his sophomore season.

Also returning in the field for A&M-Corpus Christi is outfielder Jacob Perales, utility player Weston Montgomery, corner infielder Jeremy Narvaez and Omar Garcia. Perales hit .282 as a sophomore leading the team with 34 walks. He has started over 50 games in each of his two seasons. Montgomery started five different positions in 2009 and finished with a .278 average, three home runs, and 29 runs scored.

Narvaez saw action at third, first and designated hitter a season ago and is expected to be part of action at the corner infield spots and at designated hitter. Narvaez averaged .269 with 11 RBI in 18 starts. Garcia, who will start behind the plate, hit .321 in 53 at bats last year. Jake Olier also returns after redshirting a season ago provides the Islanders a solid left-handed option at the plate and on the mound.

Joining the position players will be a handful of transfer players. Marc Damon from Pima Junior College in Arizona is a dual threat who will see action at third while beginning the season as the Sunday starter on the mound.

Cory Ege and Bobby Buckner will be the middle infielders. Ege joins the Islanders this season at shortstop after Northern Iowa dropped baseball, while Buckner is a transfer from Texas. In the outfield, Chris Vergne joins the team after two seasons at Southeastern JC. Matt Holland, who missed last season due to an injury, is expected to see action at multiple spots and at designated hitter.

"Offensively, we have a lot of ability, but right now Trey is our only true home run threat," said Islander head coach Scott Malone. "We need him to hit like he did as a freshman to solidify the middle of the order and get us back to the postseason. Right now, we have a lot of guys who are line-drive, double hitters. I am just not sure who the 3-4-5 hitters will be at this time, but I think we will be more balanced. We should also be smarter on the bases and we've told the guys we want to be able to go from first to third on a ball to the outfield.

"Defensively, the group in the infield has more range than in the past. Better range will help the pitchers out.

On the mound, the Islanders expect to have more quality depth than in recent years. Returnees Roy Ferdin and Brandon Orr will get the first two starts of the season. Ferdin will be making his second consecutive opening day start, while Orr led the team in ERA and strikeouts a season ago. Damon will be third in the rotation to start the season. Several others are pushing the weekend rotation - Jake Liedka, Trevor Foss and Ian Campbell have each looked solid in the preseason and fall according to Malone.

While the bullpen took a hit with Brett Carline having season-ending surgery earlier this month, the bullpen still offers several options for Malone and pitching coach Marty Smith. Veterans Andrew Toppert, Phillip Garcia, Brett Gibson and Andrew Longoria bring experience to the mound. Newcomers Chris Pena, Adam Hoelscher and Roman Madrid, who may also see time behind the plate, have each looked solid in practice.

"We have more depth on the mound this season than in the past," said Malone. "The best compliment I can give the staff is that we will be able to use a lot of pitchers. There isn't much drop off in 'pitchability'. Our No. 6 to No. 11 pitchers are right there with the top five."

Live audio, video and stats will be available for each game this weekend.