Spring into this Season's Sports

BY: DEVIN UGLAND

Baseball The Long Beach State Dirtbags are poised to return to the top of the Big West conference standings in 2012. Despite losing three players to the Major League Baseball draft, including pitcher Andrew Gagnon, and infielders Kirk Singer and Mike Marjama, LBSU is returning 22 players from last years’ roster — many of whom are expected to see significant playing time this season. “Those [drafted] players were big for us,” Dirtbags head coach Troy Buckley said. “But we have returning players who have been through the rigors of a full season.”

This squad has plenty of firepower to contend with Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine as one of the top teams in the conference. Sophomore first baseman Ino Patron will provide the power at the plate. He led the Dirtbags in both home runs (3) and runs batted in (24) in 2011. Junior center fielder Brennan Metzger will also be counted on as an offensive force.

Senior right-handed pitcher Shawn Stuart will anchor the pitching staff, and has earned the No. 1 spot at the position. Buckley said Stuart is 100 percent healthy this season, and should be expected to produce great numbers. “Shawn [Stuart] wasn’t 100 percent at times last year,” he said. “But he still pitched extremely well with what he had.”

Junior pitcher Eddie Magallon will close out games for LBSU again this season after saving nine games in 2011 while making a team-high 23 appearances. Magallon was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association’s Stopper of the Year Watch List — the award honors college baseball’s top closer.

 

Softball

The Long Beach State softball team has already begun its quest to compete for Big West royalty.

LBSU received four first-place votes in the Big West’s preseason coaches poll — which put the 49ers in a tie with the University of the Pacific atop the list. LBSU head coach Kim Sowder said that the fight for Big West supremacy will be a close one. “Pacific is a very good team and we had a very tight series with them last year,” she said. “It could be just as close of a race this year.”

The Beach will be led by sophomore pitcher Erin Jones-Wesley. The 2011 first team All-Big West selection was also named the conference’s freshman Pitcher of the Year and the Big West Pitcher of the Year last season after posting a 23-8 record while finishing with a microscopic 1.80 earned run average. Jones-Wesley will be joined on the mound by senior Taylor Petty.

LBSU head coach Kim Sowder likes the potential of her starting rotation for the 2012 season. “She’s [Jones-Wesley] a very talented and smart pitcher,” Sowder said. “We do have a lot of depth in the pitching staff to keep Erin and Taylor fresh.”

Look out for junior infielder Nalani St. Germain and freshman Leilani Tupua-Tautalatasi to contribute heavily to the ‘Niners offensive attack.

 

Men’s Volleyball

The No. 9-ranked Long Beach State men’s volleyball team will rely a lot on returning players this season with hopes of hoisting the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) championship.

The 49ers will be led by senior opposite Jim Baughman. The 6-foot-7 senior was tops on the team in kills (314), kills per set (3.27) and service aces (28) last season. Senior middle blocker Ryan Meehan will patrol the net for The Beach after a stellar junior campaign. Meehan ranked second on the team and fourth in the MPSF in blocks per set, averaging 1.16 last season. He also compiled 109 kills on a solid .428 hitting percentage.

Sophomore Connor Olbright will be looking to set up his hitters nicely as the season progresses on. Olbright appeared in 16 matches as a freshman, starting nine of them. The sophomore led the ‘Niners in assists per set, dishing out 9.58 per frame.

In recent weeks, a couple of relatively unknown 49ers have played a major role. Freshman opposite John La Rusch led the ‘Niners to victory over then-No. 1 UCLA earlier in the season in just his second career start. In that match, La Rusch collected a career-high 21 kills on .325 hitting.

Junior middle blocker Colten Echave, who missed all of last season due to injury, came up big for LBSU in its win over UC Santa Barbara last week. Echave got the start with Meehan out because of an injury, and he took full advantage of it, picking up 17 kills while committing no errors in the 49ers four-set victory. ‘Niners head coach Andy Read said that Echave has always had the ability to be a great player, but has been battling a lot of injuries.“He [Echave] is a really good player and it’s been about a year since he’s been healthy,” he said. “He’s healthy now, and felt great being out there.”