Big Cleats to Fill

Karen Ling/Guardian File

BASEBALL — The UCSD baseball team is entering the upcoming 2009-10 season ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation in Division-II by Ping!Baseball, and No. 3 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.

The team also boasts three Division-II preseason All-Americans — designations given to the best players in the country in their respective positions — as voted by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

All this, on the heels of a record-breaking 2008-09 season.

In spite of the preseason praise and high expectations, however, the team is taking a workman’s attitude to the upcoming season.

“Last season was arguably one of the best seasons in UCSD history,” senior pitcher and preseason All-American Matt Rossman said. “As for this year, it doesn’t mean much. All the preseason rankings are based on last year’s results — who’s coming in this year and the talent that’s returning. But we still need to prove ourselves.”

In last year’s historic season, the Tritons posted a 27-9 overall record, including a perfect 16-0 record at home during conference play. The stretch included a four-game sweep of then-No. 1 Cal State Stanislaus.

UCSD claimed its second California Collegiate Athletic Association championship and won the CCAA tournament, defeating Sonoma State University. The victories vaulted the team to No. 2 in the country in Division-II.

Daniel Caddell/Guardian File

After advancing past the NCAA West Regional, the Tritons reached the D-II College World Series in Cary, North Carolina for the first time ever, where they won two games before bowing out in the National Semifinal against Emporia State University.

After playing an underdog role for much of last season, being on top of the the preseason rankings this year gives the Tritons a new perspective.

“We like to say that our opponents are nameless and faceless,” Rossman said. “We’re not worried about who we’re playing or what they’re ranked. Everyone is going to be gunning for us this year.”

Hoisting a target on their back, UCSD is looking to replace key cogs from last year’s squad. The Tritons lost the program’s all-time hits leader Garrett Imeson, all-time home-runs leader Matt Cantele and all-time wins leader Trevor Decker to graduation.

The team will also have to replace now assistant coach Josh Tanner, a .419 career hitter.

An influx of younger players and transfers will fill the voids, leaving it up to the returnees to keep the fresh faces grounded despite the hype.

“There will be times that we will have to deal with adversity and how we respond will be big,” senior shortstop and preseason All-America Vance Albitz said. “Losses will definitely happen, and how we deal with them will come down to how the older guys act. We have been around a couple years and have seen it.”

Junior pitcher and All-American Tim Shibuya believes that the preseason accolades will help the team.

“Psychological warfare: It’s an honor that I don’t take lightly,” he said. We can use it against other teams. When teams come to play us, we have an advantage.”

According to Shibuya, success in the new season won’t be so much about talent and fundamentals, but will depend more on the players’ ability to gel as a team and conquer the often overlooked mental aspects of baseball.

“Last year we came together so much as a team that we were playing as a unit,” Shibuya said. “Every team hits and pitches; mental things are going to separate us.”

UCSD will open the season with 18-straight home games at Triton Field, where the team lost only three times last season. The stretch includes a pair of preseason ranked opponents: No. 18 Western Oregon in non-conference play, and No. 22 Chico State to open up the CCAA.

Readers can contact Vishal Natarajan at [email protected].

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