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COLLEGE BASEBALL: UTPB seeks consistent play from start to finish during 2017 season - Odessa American: College

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COLLEGE BASEBALL: UTPB seeks consistent play from start to finish during 2017 season

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Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2017 10:36 pm

The Falcons posted an 8-4 record during that stretch that wasn’t enough to eliminate the 3-12 start to reach one of top four conference spots.

With that finish etched into the minds of the returning players, UTPB knows it will have to be at its best throughout its nonconference and Lone Star Conference schedule. The Falcons open their season against University of the Southwest at 2 p.m. today at Roden Field.

“The mentality that they have to have is they have to grind for every single thing,” UTPB head coach Brian Reinke said. “Nothing is going to be given to you. If you are the guy, then you are the guy and you have figure it out.

“There’s not three guys waiting in the wings. We have seniors that need to step up and play and perform. If we do that and they take that mindset and that attitude and that approach, we will be fine.”

The Falcons return eight players with multiple starts — which include seniors Doug Clapperton, Tyler Houlihan, Jordan Zazulak, Alex Fernandez, Jackson Pritchard, Daniel Andrade, Randal Toribio and junior Mike Fernandez.

As a junior, Zazulak supplied seven doubles, eight triples and four home runs with 26 RBIs and 23 runs scored. Alex Fernandez returns with the most doubles (nine), while Mike Fernandez tied Zazulak with four home runs. Clapperton collected a team-high 19 stolen bases.

“We are hungry to do better than last year,” said Clapperton, who concluded his junior campaign with a .294 average with three doubles, one triple, 16 RBIs and 24 runs scored. “Lots of guys that are coming back are seniors now. We are really excited and looking forward to the season to see what happens.”

Though they have a multitude of returners, health remains a key for the Falcons. A year ago, Toribio — who was expected to be the starting shortstop — was injured nine games into the season. He supplied a .471 average in 17 at bats before his injury.

“Health is going to be the No. 1 factor,” Reinke said. “If we are healthy, we will be fine at the plate.”

With limited concerns about UTPB’s ability on offense, the point of emphasis is the pitching staff.

The Falcons graduated or lost 10 of their 15 pitchers from 2016, but return senior right-hander Chris Cano — the team’s No. 1 starter. The four other returners are sophomores Jake Albert, Andrew Lucas, Michael Kalina and Bryce Gibson. Those five pitchers combined for 147 innings, which was 37.4 percent of the team’s total 393.2 innings.

Cano — who posted a 4-5 record with a team-high 85.1 innings, 3.90 ERA and 74 strikeouts — said his role on the team has changed between his junior and senior seasons.

“Being a senior, it’s more than just doing your job on the field,” Cano said. “There’s a lot of off the field duties too. I have to make sure they are doing their daily routines.”

Reinke said Matt Szymczak — a left-handed sophomore that transferred from Howard College — will take the mound when the Falcons travel to University of the Southwest at 2 p.m. Saturday in Hobbs, N.M. Reinke believes the pitching assignments will shake itself out after the first month of the season.

Though there are plenty of uncertainties with a young pitching staff, the Falcons are also faced with joining the Lone Star Conference. Reinke said the Falcons aren’t familiar with many teams in their new conference.

“We haven’t played a lot of Lone Star teams over the last eight years,” Reinke said. “We played Tarleton State once in a while. We’ve played Cameron (University) probably the most of anybody. We don’t play these guys a whole lot, so the uncertainty factor is definitely there. I thought the depth of the Heartland over the last few years really increased and became really good.

“We have seven teams in the Lone Star and there are no off weekends. Every weekend is extremely competitive and hard.”

>> Follow Royal McGregor on Twitter at @OASirRoyal

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