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Play Ball! Lutes Open Season at Concordia

Jacob Hoffman

SEASON OPENER: Pacific Lutheran opens its 2012 season today with a non-conference doubleheader against Concordia University in Portland, Ore. The first of two games gets underway at 1 p.m.

ARIZONA TRIP AHEAD: Pacific Lutheran will make its third straight appearance at the Arizona Desert Classic from Feb. 16-19. The Lutes will play games against Texas-Dallas, McMurry (Tex.), La Verne (Calif.) and Whittier (Calif.). Games will be played in Happy Valley and Anthem, Ariz.

LUTES LOSE BEATTY: Pacific Lutheran baseball enters the 2012 season after receiving some potentially devastating news regarding one of the Lutes' key players. Max Beatty, a junior right-handed pitcher, was diagnosed with testicular cancer back in December. After undergoing surgery, it was hoped the Max, ranked by Baseball America as the top Division III prospect in the upcoming professional baseball draft, would rejoin the team in February. However, cancer tracers were found in post-surgery blood work, and Max is now undergoing chemotherapy treatment. He has withdrawn from school in order to focus his attention on his treatment and as a result will not play for the Lutes this season. Baseball is put in its proper perspective for Beatty and the PLU coaches and team members. "The (Beatty) family has tried to stay positive and we've tried to stay positive," PLU head coach Geoff Loomis said regarding Max's treatment and recovery. "The baseball piece is secondary right now to Max regaining his health." Senior first baseman Brock Gates said, "We're a family, and he's one of our family members. We lost our biggest dominating force. We're going to have to find a way to adapt. It's not one person that is going to have to fill Max's shoes. We're going to have to do it as a team, find a way as a team to be competitive."

SEASON OUTLOOK: Last year's Pacific Lutheran team finished 19-20 overall, the program's first losing record since 2003, and it tied for fifth in the conference standings. This year's Lutes hope to turn that around. They can be competitive this season within the tough Northwest Conference based on a large group of veteran returnees, but the biggest and most obvious question mark regards the pitching. Can a handful of talented freshmen and some mostly unproven upper classmen rise to the occasion and give the Lutes solid pitching? That answer will come as the season unwinds.

Following is a brief position-by-position breakdown.

Pitching - With Beatty, Scott Wall and Dan Johansen no longer with the team, the Lutes will be without 15 of their 19 wins from the 2011 season. The top returnees include Nathan Eisenhauer (1-3, 7.20 earned run average), Kipp Godfrey (1-1, 9.95 ERA) and reliever Ryan Frost (1-3, 5 saves, 4.08 ERA). Among the key newcomers are righty Chris Bishop, a freshman out of Rochester (Wash.) High School, and lefty Trevor Lubking, another freshman from White River High in Buckley, Wash. Both rookies figure to take a number of starts this season. How well and how quickly this group of mostly young and inexperienced pitchers grows as a staff will determine the kind of season that the Lutes have in 2012.

Catching - The veterans are seniors Zack Halverson and Ethan Ottemiller and sophomore Bo Pearson. Ottemiller was the starter through most of 2010, hitting .295, but he suffered a hand injury that limited him to nine games last season. Halverson stepped in and started 21 games but struggled at the plate, hitting .183. Pearson had a handful of starts behind the plate and hit .214 last season. Curtis Wildung, a 245-pound freshman out of Kingston (Wash.) High School, hits from the left side, which fits in well with PLU's short right field fence.

Infield - Three of the four infield spots will be held by players who have earned All-Northwest Conference honors at some point during their PLU careers. Senior first baseman Brock Gates was a first team selection last year after hitting .331 with four homers and 28 runs batted in. Senior second baseman Corey Moore, was a first team pick in 2010 and earned second team honors last year after hitting .306 with two homers and 24 RBI. Returning at shortstop after missing the 2011 season is senior Sammy Davis, a second team pick in 2010 after hitting .337 with 33 RBI. Third base is coming down to a battle between Frost (also the team's closer), and freshman Markus McClurkin out of Davis High in Yakima. Frost hit .288 with three homers last year. Among the players battling for a starting role is sophomore Nicholas Hall, who started at shortstop last year in the absence of Davis. Hall hit .255 and showed excellent glove work with a .951 fielding percentage.  

Outfield - The Lutes will have to find a way to make up for the graduation loss of Ryan Aratani, who established new Pacific Lutheran baseball career records for hits and doubles. Taking his spot is senior Jaron Iwakami, who moves over from right field. Iwakami is a speedy outfielder who hit .267 last season. A key returnee is sophomore Jacob Hoffman, who as a freshman earned first team all-conference honors after leading the Lutes with a .390 batting average. He struck out only six times in 100 at bats and tied for the 2011 team lead with 11 steals. Taylor Wattenberg, a junior transfer from Columbia Basin College, is a candidate to start in the outfield. Waiting in the wings are three returnees who had at least 30 at bats last year – Dominick Courcy, Alec Beal and Blaine Myers.

- PLU -