THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. –A year ago the Cal Lutheran baseball team led the nation offensively and in 2014 the Kingsmen field a roster of 14 returning players, which includes the entire starting pitching staff, much of the bullpen and numerous key field players, who look to join forces with an incoming class of 16 in a quest for a second consecutive league title and NCAA Post Season appearance.
Entering the season ranked No. 10 by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper the reigning Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) champions, SCIAC Post Season Tournament winners and 2013 NCAA Division III Regional qualifiers again have high expectations as the Kingsmen return six All-SCIAC players and a core that understands what it will take to return to the national level and advance even further than the team did a year ago.
Last spring Jake Petersen and Aaron Roth hauled in numerous individual accolades, concluding with American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) All-America honors as a utility player and pitcher, respectively. Petersen took home both the SCIAC Newcomer and Player of the Year honors after serving as the No. 1 starter (7-2, 91.2 IP, 73K, 3.04 ERA), leadoff man (single-season CLU record .444 BA, 71-H, 17-2B, 4-3B, 1-HR, 57-R) and starting left fielder (.970 Fld %) on non-pitching days.
Roth was tabbed as the SCIAC Pitcher of the Year after appearing in a single-season CLU record 29 games (6-1, 12-SV), tossing 68.2 innings and producing a 1.18 ERA with 73 strikeouts.
Joining the duo on the All-West Region teams were senior infielder Nicho DellaValle and junior pitcher Scott Peters. DellaValle manned the hot corner in all 44 games he played last year, primarily batting second where he produced a .380 average, notching 65 hits (7-2B, 6-3B, 20-BB) with his triples ranking him among the national leaders all year. In his junior campaign he scored 28 runs and drove in 42 as he is the leading RBI man back this spring. The First Team All-SCIAC selection will move across the diamond and play second base for the Kingsmen this year.
Peters earned All-SCIAC and All-West Region Third Team accolades for the first time in his career after going 8-1 (8-0 in 11 starts during the regular season). He kept hitters off balance in 70.1 innings, picking off seven base runners and producing a perfect fielding percentage for CLU.
Joining Petersen and Peters in the starting rotation this spring is for his final season is 2013 Second Team All-SCIAC selection Tyler Hebda (9-3, 81.1 ip, 33-K).
Teaming up with Roth in the bullpen after gaining collegiate experience a year ago are sophomores Cam Adams, Landry Kiyabu (who was sidelined with an injury in 2013), Brady Mickelson and Mitchell Shields. Also competing for time on the hill this spring will be junior transfer Nicholas Driscoll (Solano CC) and freshmen Tyler Nevins (Monte Vista HS), Connor Sipes (Oxnard HS) and Kevin Victoria (Chaminade College Prep).
Catching for the staff is 2013 Second Team All-SCIAC selection Spencer DuBois. Behind the plate he had a .996 fielding percentage that included a single error in 229 chances. He also threw out 10 would-be-base stealers. At the plate, DuBois finished with a .330 average, collecting 36 hits, scoring 26 runs and driving in 17 while leading the Kingsmen with 11 sacrifices.
Also returning to the infield this season are sophomores Davey Casciola and Atherton Kniseley and senior Craig Jacobson. Casciola saw time at both second base and first base for the Kingsmen in his inaugural season, earning eight starts in 24 appearances and producing a .364 average as a switch hitter for CLU. The sophomore is staged to move over to the left side of the infield and play third base this year. Kniseley and Jacobson saw action in 15 and nine games, respectively, last year and will compete for increased playing time this spring.
Expect a transfer class of four infielders, including senior Aaron Graef (West Hills CC) and juniors Collin Crowl (Ohlone College), Nico Filice (Santa Rosa CC) and Chris Whitmer (Glendale CC) to contribute right away after joining Cal Lutheran with collegiate experience. Graef will split time at first base and as the designated hitter while Crowl is expected to start at first on opening day.
Suiting up for Cal Lutheran for the first time this spring and competing for playing time in the infield is the freshman class comprised of Austin Kay (Canyon Crest Academy), Griffin Mullen (Royal HS), Trey Saito (Mid Pacific Institute) and Kyle Sanchez (Valencia HS). Kay has earned the starting shortstop job in his inaugural season.
The only returning every day outfield for Cal Lutheran is Ramsay Abushahla, who earned his way into the starting lineup in the second half of his freshman season and contributed significantly late in the year. He will open the spring in right field.
Sophomore transfer Justin Caña will be the starting centerfielder for the Kingsmen following a stint at Cal Poly Pomona. A trio of freshmen, Nicholas Cohan (South Torrance HS), Gabriel Gunter (King Kekaulike HS) and Sinjin Todd (San Luis Obispo, HS) will also roam the outfield grass this year.
With a combination of returning CLU players, transfers with collegiate playing time and a strong incoming class the expectations for the 2014 team are high despite a competitive schedule throughout. CLU will face nationally ranked No. 4 Ithaca (NY) as well as a tough SCIAC slate that includes Pomona-Pitzer and Redlands, who each received votes, as well as perennially strong Chapman and La Verne.
Cal Lutheran will take the field for the first time on Saturday, Feb. 8 in a doubleheader with Emory (Ga.) beginning at 11:00 a.m. on George “Sparky” Anderson Field inside of Ullman Stadium.