Baseball Coaches Pick New Mexico To Win 2017 Mountain West Title
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Defending Mountain West tournament champion New Mexico has been predicted to win the 2017 baseball title, edging out 2016 regular season champion Fresno State, according to a vote of the league’s seven head coaches. The Lobos received four first-place votes and 34 points overall, while the Bulldogs were one point behind with 33 and three first-place votes.
Nevada and San Diego State finished just two points apart in third and fourth place with 23 and 21 points, respectively. Air Force and UNLV ended up tied for fifth with 15 points each and San José State placed seventh with six points.
New Mexico, under the direction of head coach Ray Birmingham, returns 17 letterwinners from a 2016 squad that went 39-23 overall, 20-10 in MW action. The Lobos are led by 2017 MW preseason team selections Carl Stajduhar (Jr., 3B), Luis Gonzalez (Jr., OF) and Tyler Stevens (Jr., RHP). Gonzalez is the top returning hitter for the Lobos with a .381 batting average, 63 runs scored, 21 doubles and 96 hits. Stajduhar, the reigning MW Tony Gwynn Player of the Year, led New Mexico with 66 RBI and 18 home runs in 2016, to go along with a .331 batting average, 51 runs scored, 17 doubles and 85 hits. Stevens leads the Lobo pitching corps with a 4.11 earned run average, an 8-4 overall record and 78 strikeouts.
Fresno State (36-22, 21-9 MW), under the direction of head coach Mike Batesole, returns 15 letterwinners in 2017. Preseason All-Mountain West honoree Aaron Arruda (Jr., INF) is one of the Bulldogs’ top returning hitters with a .320 average, 62 hits, 15 doubles and 11 home runs. Reigning MW Co-Pitcher of the Year Ricky Tyler Thomas (2.16 ERA; 108 strikeouts) will lead the Fresno State pitching staff. Also among the top returners are 2016 All-MW Second Team members Jake Stone (Sr., OF), Scott Silva (Sr., 2B), Austin Guibor (Sr., OF) and Rickey Ramirez (Jr., RHP).
Nevada (37-24, 20-10 MW) made a late-season run under now-second-year head coach T.J. Bruce. The Wolf Pack will count on preseason honorees Justin Bridgman (Sr., SS) and Trevor Charpie (Sr., RHP) to lead the way in 2017. Bridgman is one of the top returning Nevada hitters with a .351 average, 51 runs scored, 85 hits, 14 doubles and 37 RBI. Charpie will take the lead on the mound for the Wolf Pack as the top returning starter. He had a 3.74 ERA, a 5-4 overall record and 52 strikeouts in 2016. Also back for Nevada is All-MW Second Teamer Jordan Pearce (Jr., 3B).
San Diego State (21-38, 11-19 MW), under the direction of head coach Mark Martinez, returns 18 letterwinners, including seven starters. The Aztecs will look to senior left-hander Dominic Purpura to lead from the mound. Purpura, preseason honoree, posted a 3.25 ERA and a 4-2 overall record in 21 appearances last season.
Air Force (30-27, 12-18 MW) returns 27 letterwinners, including four players on the 2017 All-MW preseason team. Seniors Adam Groesbeck and Tyler Jones are expected to return to their starting outfield positions and lead the offense for head coach Mike Kazlausky, along with classmate Bradley Haslam and sophomore Nic Ready. Haslam is the top returning hitter in the league with a .408 average with 55 runs scored, 95 hits, 22 doubles and 57 RBI. Groesbeck hit .378 last season and is the team’s top run scorer with 60, while Jones is the top returning home run hitter (19) and RBI man (64). Ready, the reigning MW Co-Freshman of the Year, returns to his third base/designated hitter spot in the lineup with Haslam. He hit .329 with 44 runs scored, 17 doubles, six home runs and 53 RBI.
UNLV (24-32, 14-16 MW), under the direction of head coach Stan Stolte, returns 22 letterwinners, including preseason All-MW pick Kyle Isbel (So., INF). Isbel, the reigning Co-Freshman of the Year, had a .319 batting average, 38 runs scored and 28 RBI as a rookie. Also back for the Rebels is 2016 All-MW First Team honoree Payton Squier (Jr., C), who will move to the catching position this season.
San José State (17-39, 7-23 MW) is under the leadership of new head coach Jason Hawkins. The Spartans will be led in 2017 by junior infielder Shane Timmons. Timmons hit .328 with 61 hits, nine doubles and 26 RBIs last season for SJSU. The top returning pitcher for the Spartans is junior Josh Nashed with a 4.79 ERA and 45 strikeouts in his sophomore year.
The 2017 Mountain West baseball season begins Friday, February 17 with all seven teams in action. Conference play will begin on Friday, March 3 with New Mexico at Air Force, Nevada at Fresno State and UNLV at San José State for a trio of three-game series. The site of the 2017 MW Championship will be determined through regular season play with the regular-season champion earning the home field on May 25-28.