Russ Carr Field has new look for Warriors

Fans of Westmont baseball will notice quite a few changes around Russ Carr Field on Saturday when the Warriors host Cal State San Marcos in a home opening doubleheader. Some changes will be obvious and others more subtle.

Among the most obvious will be the absence of the grand stands that once encircled the area behind home plate. The raised wooden platform, along with 15 faculty homes on the other side of the creek adjacent to the field, was destroyed by the Montecito Tea Fire on the night of November 13.

Gone too, is much of the vegetation which surrounded the idyllic location. The old wooden dug outs became victims of the fire along with a good bit of equipment stored within. The cage which stood over home plate for batting practice was destroyed along with much of the chain link on the backstop, the irrigation system and the electrical wiring.

The fire was not the only thing to take its toll on Russ Carr Field. Construction of Winter Hall and a new road around the campus has begun, resulting in a realignment of the left field fence. To compensate for a shortened left field, a 35′ tall fence has been erected starting at the left field foul pole.  The old scoreboard is also gone and will be replaced in the second week of February with a new one.

Another change of the obvious nature is the large construction site where fans once parked their cars. Those coming to the games this season should be prepared for a bit of a hike from available parking to the baseball field.

Of greater significance may be the changes which are more subtle – changes resulting from new attitudes and new hopes, changes of expectation and hard work, changes shaped by developing returning players and recruiting new ones, changes unexpectedly forged in mid-November by a wind-driven inferno and the gracious response of a campus community.

“It was tough to go through that experience,” said team co-captain Mark Boujikian of the fire’s aftermath. “You don’t show up to practice thinking your field is going to burn down the next day. Next thing you know we have no where to practice. We didn’t know what was going to happen. The thought of us maybe having to play every game on the road, especially as a senior, was not a very comforting thought.”

“The fire cut our fall practice short by about four weeks,” reported head coach Scott Deck. “We were just hitting our stride knowing that this was the final push. Our guys didn’t know what was going to happen – whether we would play all our games on the road or whether our season would be shut down.”

Classes were cancelled for two and one-half weeks while efforts were made to get the campus ready to receive students again. During that time, players returned to their homes, waiting for word both on how their classes would be impacted and what would happen to the 2009 season. When classes did resume, students and faculty made up the lost time by compressing four weeks of classes into the two weeks remaining before finals. Baseball practice was set aside, allowing students to focus on their academics. There wasn’t a field to practice on anyway. Once finals were over, the players returned home again, still uncertain of the future of the baseball season.

But the school administration had more certainty about what was going to happen. Despite plans to renovate Russ Carr Field beginning in May, crews got to work to restore the field, build dugouts, lay new lines for power and irrigation, provide for seating and replace chain link fencing on the backstop. Russ Carr Field was made ready again for baseball.

“We came back here on January 5 for two-a-days and Coach gave us a call to say we have a field,” said Boujikian. “The field looks great, probably better than it did in the fall. They’ve built great dugouts that are probably going to get torn down in a year (for renovation). They did all this just for us to get ready for this season. It shows the caring attitude of Westmont as a school, as a community, as a religious group. It’s unbelievable and very nice to see.”

“Down the left-field line is a lot different, but for the most part, it plays pretty much the same from the left-center gap all the way around,” described Deck. “There is just that one small part of the field that will make games very interesting. Not only will more homerun balls go out, but the ball plays off the screen in all different directions. The other thing is that neither team will ever be out of a game. Teams will always be a couple of hits away from being right back in the game. It will make it more exciting and it will be more equivalent to the other teams in the league.

“Without the grandstands, the fans will be at field level, which I like. The dugouts are nicer than they were before. There are no airways in the back so they stay warmer. I was in shocked when I came back from the Christmas break and saw the field was playable. When our guys saw it, they were rejuvenated. It got them fired up to realize we are going to be playing here this season. They painted the dugouts yesterday and the infield looks better than it has in a while. I can’t say enough about the job Phil Baker, Randy Jones and Don Erickson did in getting it ready.”

THE TEAM

“It was hard when the fire came to take off that much time,” said Deck, “so we are a little bit behind in the hitting category. But our guys are working hard and catching up.

“We have a lot more depth in our position players,” said head coach Scott Deck. “We are starting to get a mentality of expecting to win and practicing to a higher standard. I like the direction we are headed. We are more talented and we have a lot of interchangeable parts. We have infielders and outfielders who can play multiple spots. We will have to work around and find that right lineup that will work for us. That will be done a lot in the five non-conference games we play before conference games begin.

“On paper, we are better than we were and we have gotten better every year. But that is just paper. You have to do a lot more than just look good on paper. We have a good positive attitude and a lot of optimism from the guys.”

“Collectively as a team, we look better,” agreed Boujikian. “We have a good recruiting class as a result of Coach Deck getting a couple of junior college infielders and outfielders who known how to play the game. That is going to help bring this program back to a winning tradition that it hasn’t know in a few years. We are hoping that this 2009 season will be the season that turns that page and gets us into the winning tradition.”

“Last year we threw five to six freshmen out on the field every game,” said Deck. “We knew we were going to take our lumps. But the hope was that by the second year and every year after it would get better. We’d be able to sprinkle in some guys around them and begin competing for playoffs and possibly a conference championship. I think we are making progress toward that goal. Now they have to produce on the field.”

PITCHERS

“The pitching staff, albeit small in comparison to the rest of the conference, is very tough and gritty,” said Deck. “There has been a huge difference in our physical appearance. That is probably the first thing fans will notice. A lot of our pitchers made significant gains because of that.

“Dan Yokubaitis, our pitching coach, has worked with these guys for a year now. It is a different look than it has been in the last few years and what I hope to see is a lot more consistency in throwing strikes, holding runners close and keeping us in every game.

“I can’t say enough about what Dan does with the pitching staff. He gets the most out of those guys. They all respect him and will run through a wall for him. His ability to work on the mechanical part – changing little things in guys’ motions – has paid off dividends. The growth in our pitchers has been unbelievable.  He’s a veteran coach with a real mellow demeanor. He has a good calming effect on our guys regardless of the situation.”

“The staff is led by Tim Crabbe who returns this year with a 90 mile-an-hour arm. He will draw a lot of attention from scouts. He pitched a little bit his freshman year but was hurt last year. He comes into this year as someone who has made tremendous gains. His play will speak for himself.”

Crabbe pitched in only two games last season, posting an ERA of 4.41 in 16.1 innings of work.

“Kellen Skersies is our veteran senior pitcher who has been around the conference and thrown a lot of innings,” said Deck. “I think he is pretty excited to get started with the talent he is going to have behind him playing defense and scoring some runs. He’s throwing harder and getting stronger. He is in the best shape he has been in during his four years. He is very intense and confident and everyone seems to feed off of him.”

Skersies has made 29 starts in 51 appearances over his three year career with the Warriors. Last season he picked up wins over California Lutheran and Wesleyan (Conn.). He notched 21 strikeouts while allowing just 11 walks in 44 and one-third innings of work.

In addition to Skersies and Crabbe, Drew Dowl and Keith Johnson are likely starters for Westmont this season.

“Drew is a right-hander whom I coached against in high school before he went on to Chico State,” said Deck. “He should have a good year. He’s very competitive. He’s mature and knows how to get outs. Johnson is a sophomore right-handed pitcher that has gone from throwing 83-84 miles per hour to throwing 86-87 in the offseason. He is getting confidence and has added a change up.  If he can throw that for strikes, it will be one of his best pitches.”

Johnson pitched 27 and two-third innings as a freshman and earned wins against Occidental and The Master’s.

Also pitching for the Warriors are two left-handed transfer students; Dan Price and Delency Baker

“Dan is a left-hander who is very good,” assessed Deck. “He is a tough player who will go out there and compete for you. Dan played at University of Pacific and at Modesto J.C. He is one of those crafty-lefties that just competes, gets outs and eats up a lot of innings.

“Delency Baker is from Chabot J.C. He had some arm issues in the fall but is now healthy. He should throw some short relief for us, especially coming in against lefties.”

Returning to the Warrior roster, but moving from behind the plate to on the mound is sophomore Kyle Noe.

“Kyle will only be a pitcher now,” announced Deck, of the right-hander. “I think his experience last year as a catcher will help him as a pitcher, especially learning the hitters in this conference and how to get batters out. He probably throws 84-85 miles an hour and he knows how to throw his pitches. He is just at the beginning of his pitching career.”

Also returning to the bullpen are Boujikian, Chris Plance, Ian Lawler and Matt Moore.

“Mark has a really good arm and will be called on to pitch a little bit more than last year,” said Deck. “Chris had some arm issues in the fall but he is completely fine. We need him to have a good year for us and are expecting good things from him. He has the size, he has the velocity and he has the stuff. If he puts it all together, he will have a good year.

Ian Lawler is a left-hander who had a broken foot last year and couldn’t practice with us. He is still developing and could give us a few innings in short relief. Matt went to England for a semester in the fall so he is just getting back into the swing of things.”

Rounding out the bullpen are two freshmen position players that will also see time on the mound – Ezequiel Torres and Bill Sharp.

“Bill is throwing 83 miles per hour and is very confident on the mound,” noted Deck. “Zeke will pitch this year in short relief.

“With this staff, we should be able to stay in games and keep it close,” said Deck. “With the upgrade in offense and our defensive upgrade, we should be able to win some more games this year”

CATCHERS

The receiving end of the Warriors’ battery will be manned primarily by junior Mark Magdelano.

“Mark is a good catcher who returns to the team after sitting out last year,” said Deck. “He provides a good switch hitting bat in the middle of our order which is nice.”

Relieving Magdelano will be senior transfer Sam Wiley, who serves as the team’s other co-captain, and junior Ryan Haddock.

“Ryan has been around for three years,” said Deck. “He’s a back-up catcher with a great attitude. He does a ton with our pitchers in the bullpens. Ryan works with Dan to get the pitching staff ready.”

Junior Luke Montzingo will be unavailable for the Warriors this season after having Tommy John surgery during the fall.

INFIELDERS

In addition to his time behind the plate, Wiley is expected to see significant playing time in the infield.

“Sam brings a wealth of experience from the Division I level,” said Deck. “He will hit in the middle of our order and will play third base and left field. Sam is a mature player who was voted as a captain by the players after one semester with the team. He not only does it on the field, but he does it off the field. Sam came in with a 3.9 GPA.”

After starting his career at Tulane (La.) and experiencing Hurricane Katrina, Wiley moved on to the University of San Francisco. But for his final year of collegiate baseball, Wiley wanted to be closer to home.

“I initially contacted Coach Deck and I liked him,” said Wiley about his decision to come to Westmont. “The baseball opportunity seemed pretty good. On a personal level and on a team level it seemed like a good place to come and hopefully have an impact towards the team. Also, I could graduate in one year coming in as a history major. The spiritual aspect was meaningful for me as well. I’m personally Catholic, but I thought it would be a good way to grow and embrace a different form of Christianity.”

Boujikian hit .273 for the Warriors last season while making 33 starts in the field. His 18 RBIs was a team high as was his two home runs.

“Boujikian will play at second base and at first base in addition to pitching,” said Deck. “He is a tremendous leader who has earned the respect of our guys.”

Colten Christianson returns for his sophomore season after leading last year’s squad in batting average (.327) and on base percentage (.443).

“Colten will DH and play first base,” said Deck. “He’s a left-handed hitter who should be in the middle of our order. He’s improved a ton and has a successful year under his belt.

Also returning is sophomore Jordan Bottenfield who posted a .291 batting average as a freshman and drove in 13 runs.

“Jordan will play second or third and probably rotate back and fourth throughout the year,” predicted Deck. “He has become a lot stronger and is coming back with a little bit more confidence.”

Two additional transfer students will also find a place in the Warriors infield – Todd Morris of Eureka and Mike Zettl of White Plains, New York.

“Mike is a shortstop and second baseman from Riverside J.C. – a team that went to the junior college final four the year before,” said Deck. “He knows how to compete on a high level and will play a lot of innings for us in the infield this year. Mike has a very good arm and we are working on him to become a pitcher. He’s a guy that could have scouts looking at him in a couple of years because of his arm.

“Todd plays third base and short,” said Deck. “He will be our starting shortstop at the beginning of the season. He’s from Solano J.C. where he hit .304. He comes in as a very good fielder. He’s a mature player who will thrive in pressure situations.”

The Warrior infield will also feature senior David Stout and junior Luke Yardy.

“David is a big character guy for us and will battle for playing time at first base – especially when right-handers throw,” said Deck. “Luke Yardy is a back-up infielder who can play at multiple positions.”

Freshman Ezequiel Torres and Jackson Kwiatkowski are also expected to make contributions to this year’s squad.

“Zeke is a shortstop from Cleveland High School down in the San Fernando Valley,” reported Deck. “He’s a scrappy player and he will also pitch for us this year as a short relief guy. He could be playing shortstop or second base for us. He is a very good fielder with a very good arm.

“Jackson is a first baseman who can play some outfield. He’s left-handed and will probably be more in the DH or pinch hit role right now.”

OUTFIELDERS

Sophomores Taylor Maddox and Terrell Wong are expected to return to the outfield for the Warriors in 2009. Maddox hit .295 last season and drove in 14 runs. Wong produced a .296 batting averaging and had eight RBIs.

“Maddox had a good freshman season and will anchor our outfield as a centerfielder,” said Deck. “He will probably be in the leadoff spot but could move around a little bit. He has gotten a lot stronger over the offseason.

“Terrell is slated to start in right field where he started last year,” said Deck. “He’s one of the best defensive outfielders in the conference. He has a great arm. The big thing for him is to improve on his hitting.”

Also returning to the outfield grass and battling for playing time are Taylor Grace, Brent Meschuk and Charles Whitman.

“All nine of our outfielders can play great defense,” said Deck. “Playing time will all come down to who is hitting.

“Brent could potentially start on opening day except he is fighting an injury this last week which is slowing him down,” said Deck. He has made significant strides from his freshman year to his sophomore year, especially in the strength category. He bunts, he runs well and he does all the little things well.

“Pete McCarthy is a big outfielder for us. He came in last year as a freshman and blew out his knee in practice. He has worked so hard in the offseason. He has dropped a lot of weight and he is stronger. He could be in the DH role or be in an outfield spot. He has a ton of power.”

Freshmen Bill Sharp and Marcus Adame complete the outfield roster.

“I coached Bill in high school on the team that went to the CIF Championship,” said Deck. “He played left field for me. He’s an outfielder, but we are developing him into a pitcher.

Marcus is probably our fastest guy on the team. As a freshman, he probably won’t see a lot of time in the outfield right away, but probably will be a pinch runner or courtesy runner for us.”

THE SCHEDULE

The Warriors open the season on the road, traveling to Thousand Oaks to take on California Lutheran on January 30.

“It’s not an easy schedule,” said Deck. “We start right off the bat with Cal Lutheran and Cal State San Marcos. Both those teams have a lot of talent. Cal Lutheran could compete for the national championship on the Division III level.

“We have a really good and competitive non-conference schedule which will help us try out some different lineups and prepare us for conference. British Columbia and Avila go deep into the NAIA playoffs every year. British Columbia played Fresno Pacific and was successful against them.”

As the Warriors work their way through the 2009 schedule, they intend to do so as a team. It may turn out that this season brings another change, one foreshadowed by the Tea Fire. Perhaps in the same way that the college rebuilt Russ Carr Field after its demise, this team will rebuild a program which has struggled in recent years.

“We have guys that understand it is the program that counts,” said Boujikian. “It’s the name on the front of the jersey, not the back. When everyone is going in the same direction and playing with the same attitude it makes it a lot easier to win and a lot easier to play and it is very conducive to a team environment. I think that is what we have this year.”

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