The Texas A&M – Corpus Christi baseball team will lead off the 2012 season in the newly renovated Chapman Field on Friday night, hosting the Nebraska Omaha Mavs in a four-game set slated for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The teams will play a single game on Friday at 6 p.m., a doubleheader starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday and single game at 1 p.m. on Sunday to round out the weekend.
The series will mark the first time under the lights at Chapman Field in program history, with the newly constructed light standards completing a multi-million dollar renovation that saw seating capacity grow to nearly 700 behind home plate, with additional room for patrons down the foul lines and on the outfield berm. One of the biggest improvements has been the playing surface itself, with a newly leveled field and improved drainage being big components of the renovations.
The anticipation for the open of the season is off the charts, with the new additions adding to the home atmosphere. Head coach Scott Malone told his team in the final practice before the start of the year that he expects the Islanders to match the intensity of a team that was able to get outside on a field for the first time on Thursday.
"As it comes down to this weekend, one thing we talked about before practice started today, that Thursday before is usually a lighter workout," said Malone. "But, I talked to my players about matching intensity because for UNO, getting outside today might be kind of like the Superbowl.
"There's no snow on the ground, no bitter chill in the air. Those guys are going to be bouncing off the walls when they get off that bus and get out here to practice. I wanted to make sure, even though it is Thursday, that we were bouncing off the walls too, that we had that confidence."
UNO returns 22 players from a team that went 35-20 during the 2011 campaign under head coach Bob Herold. During the season, Herold passed the 400 win plateau and now sits at 408 wins while leading the Mavs. They are reclassifying to Division I, moving up from the DII level where they competed in the MIAA.
"Unbelievably successful program, their head coach has over 400 wins at UNO, they went 35-20 last year," said Malone. "You know we went 37-24, set a school record for wins. Those guys going 35-20 on the Division II level, that's just another good year.
"Now, how that translates to the DI level, that's what I'm sure they are looking forward to find out this weekend."
The Islanders will see a familiar face in a new role on the mound tomorrow, with former reliever Adam Hoelscher occupying the No. 1 starter spot to begin the year. He will face off against the Mavs in the first game of the year when the Islanders face UNO for the first time in program history.
Offensively, Texas A&M – Corpus Christi returns starting second basemen Jeramie Marek and catcher Santiago Ruiz, who both hit over .300 a year ago. Marek has the top returning average at .328 and Ruiz is close behind with a .311 average at the plate.
Bobby Buckner is project as the starting left fielder and carries a .298 average from a year ago into the season. Returner Dan Sciantarelli is projected as the starting third baseman while Weston Montgomery and Drew Vest will split time at the shortstop position.
Newcomers Stafford Brantley, Kyle Danford, Eric Weiss and Jordan Lee will all battle for starting sports in the outfield while another new face, Brad Porras, will see time at first base. In the designated hitter role, transfer Jonathan Gonzales will see action, along with returners Marc Damon and Omar Garcia.
"For me, from the head coach position, I try to make it easy on my demands for a pitching staff," said Malone. "One, throw strikes with good tempo, you know, play catch over the plate with good tempo and keep our outstanding defense engaged in the game.
"Two, let's throw strikes in the bottom of the zone, let's force the team to hit the ball on the ground, because again, I think we can play really good defense, and obviously, lastly, let's change speeds and try to keep those guys off balance."
That strategy will be in play starting at 6 p.m. on Friday night as Hoelscher and the Islanders kick off what hopes to be another record-setting year.
Live stats and video will be available for all games during the weekend by visiting www.GoIslanders.com. Fans can also keep up-to-date on the action by liking the team on Facebook (Islanders Baseball) and following along on Twitter (@CorpusBaseball).