Connor Cline
Senior Connor Cline (courtesy of Michael Hemmelgarn)

Season Preview: SJU Baseball Opens 2013 Campaign Tonight

2/25/2013 10:15:00 AM

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – The Saint John's University baseball team enters the 2013 season on the back of one of the most successful seasons in its history.

In 2012, the Johnnies finished second in the MIAC standings (14-6) and tallied 29 overall wins, which tied an SJU record for most wins in a single season. The Johnnies also qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 and just the third time in school history by claiming their first MIAC Playoff championship (in addition to 13 regular-season titles). The team returns four 2012 All-Region honorees this spring, including All-American closer Joey Long (Belvidere, Ill./Rockford Boylan).

Head coach Jerry Haugen enters his 36th season as the Saint John's skipper with a 665-567-5 (.540) career record, which places him in the top-25 on the NCAA Division III winningest active coaches win list.

Here's a look at the 2013 Johnnies, by position:

This spring, the Johnnies need to replace one of their top performers from a season ago. A 2012 graduate and two-time All-MIAC first-team honoree, Hayden Zimmerman ended his career second in school history in both innings pitched (200.2) and strikeouts (153), and third in wins (18). He was named to the 2012 and ABCA All-Midwest Region second teams after posting a 7-3 overall record with a 2.33 ERA, including a 4-1 record and a .197 opponent batting average in 33 MIAC innings.

Fortunately for the Johnnies, every other pitcher returns to the mound this season. Senior Connor Cline (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) led the Johnnies in innings pitched (71.2) and strikeouts (67) in 2012 while posting a 3.01 ERA and a .226 opponent batting average over 12 starts on the mound (7-5). In addition to his pitching performances, Cline also served as a utility player for the Johnnies, starting 16 games at first base, two at second base and 15 as the team's designated hitter. Over 19 MIAC games, he led the team in batting average (.400), hits (26) and RBI (14) while batting .529 with runners in scoring position. An ABCA second-team and All-Midwest Region third-team honoree, Cline played for the Waterloo (Iowa) Bucks of the Northwoods League last summer and ended the season with a 3-3 record (3-1 as a starter) and the team's lowest opponent batting average (.250).

Senior Ryan Spengler (St. Cloud, Minn./Tech) earned ABCA All-Region and All-Midwest Region third-team recognition after posting a 6-4 record with a rotation-leading 1.93 ERA and a .178 opponent batting average in 60.2 innings last season. In 29 MIAC innings (five starts), he tallied a 3-1 record with a 1.55 ERA and a .184 opponent batting average.

Senior Scott Schroeder (Richmond, Minn./Rocori) posted a 2.45 ERA, .246 opponent batting average and a 4-0 record in 11 appearances (33 innings), four starts, in 2012. Classmate Adam Wenker (Sartell, Minn./Sartell-St. Stephen) went 3-3 in nine appearances (29.2 innings).

A All-America second-team selection in 2012, Long earned a school-record 10 saves with a 2.22 ERA, .174 opponent batting average and 0.90 WHIP in 19 relief appearances (24.1 innings).

Sophomore Collin Felhaber (North St. Paul, Minn.) went 1-0 and pitched a total of 15.2 innings over 11 appearances (one start). His 1.09 K/IP ratio was the highest of any other pitcher on the team in 2012 (17 total strikeouts).

Although he is likely to start at shortstop this spring, senior Max Forster (Minnetonka, Minn./Hopkins) could also serve as a spot starter. He posted a 2-3 record in 34.0 innings, eight appearances (six starts), on the mound in 2011. Junior outfielder Dylan Graves (Mora, Minn.) pitched two scoreless innings of relief last spring and 6-foot-6 freshman Nick Wilson (Oak Grove, Minn./St. Francis) is also expected to contribute in 2013.

The Johnnies' entire infield returns to the diamond in 2013. Forster was the only player to appear in all 45 games for SJU in 2012 and led the Johnnies in at-bats (143), hits (46), doubles (10), triples (3) and total bases (77), while finishing second in RBI (26), slugging percentage (.538) and home runs (5). Nearly 40 percent of his hits went for extra bases.

Junior third baseman Luke Larson (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) started 42 games and led the team in RBI (31) and finished second in doubles (8) last spring, his first season with SJU.

In addition to closer duties on the mound, Long made 39 starts at second base, where he collected 28 hits (including seven doubles), 18 RBI and 19 runs scored.

Junior Josh Groth (Fridley, Minn.) started 17 games last season, nine of which were as the designated hitter, but may see more time in the infield this spring. Nearly a third of his 16 hits went for extra bases last season, including two home runs. Senior Matt Chuppe (Bismarck, N.D./St. Mary's Central) registered a perfect fielding percentage (19 chances) in 20 appearances last season, namely as a defensive replacement at second base.

In addition to Cline, a trio of Johnnies is expected to contribute at first base this spring. Sophomore Billy Gregg (Minnetonka, Minn./Hopkins) converted to catcher last season and recorded a .271 batting average (59 at-bats) in 25 appearances (20 starts), but has been shifted to first base. Junior Tony Gazich (Arden Hills, Minn./Mounds View) and sophomore Geno Larkin, a transfer from Division I Wagner (N.Y.), will also be in the mix. Larkin is the son of former Minnesota Twin Gene Larkin, one of seven players who played for both the 1987 and 1991 world championship teams. All four candidates are also expected to contend with Groth as the team's designated hitter.

Junior Justin Thompson (Chanhassen, Minn./Chaska) enters the season as the starting catcher after batting .275 in 28 appearances (24 starts) behind the plate in 2012. Sophomore Kurt Jantscher (Plymouth, Minn./Robbinsdale Armstrong) made a host of starts in both the MIAC postseason and NCAA tournaments last spring. Both catchers can also pitch. Thompson posted a 2.45 ERA in seven relief appearances (11 innings) last season.

All three outfield positions return in 2013. Graves' six home runs led the team in 2012 as he claimed All-MIAC first-team honors and ABCA and All-Midwest Region third-team recognition. A two-sport starter for Saint John's (defensive back in football), Graves led the Johnnies in slugging percentage (.547) and finished second in batting (.325) while recording six outfield assists from center.

Sophomore Aaron Pfaff (New Ulm, Minn./Cathedral) started 38 games (34 as the leadoff hitter) and led the team in stolen bases (10), tied for the team-lead in walks (20) and finished second in on-base percentage (.403). He was one of five Johnnies to bat over .300 in 2012 (.302). Classmate Brett Becker (North Oaks, Minn./Mounds View) made 24 appearances (16 starts) and finished fourth in batting (.319 average) and fifth in on-base percentage (.373). He could also see playing time in the infield this spring.

Juniors Tom Druk (Plymouth, Minn./Orono) and Joe Lampe (Osceola, Iowa/Clarke) also return with outfield starts under their belts. Druk totaled 15 hits and eight RBI in 25 starts, while Lampe tallied a .308 on-base percentage in four starts.

One of the most exciting additions to the Saint John's outfield this season will be the return of senior Alex Powell (Hopkins, Minn.), a 2011 All-MIAC first team selection. Powell sat out the entire 2012 season due to a broken wrist. He recorded a .333 batting average in 26 appearances and led the team in runs scored (19), walks (12) and was second in on-base percentage (.420) as a sophomore in 2011.

2013 Schedule
Tonight's doubleheader is the first of four at the Metrodome. SJU visits North Park (Ill.) March 23 before traveling to Tucson, Ariz., for eight games in four days over spring break (March 25-28). Carleton visits Collegeville April 3 to begin the MIAC schedule and open SJU's brand new, artificial-grass stadium. The Johnnies host St. Thomas April 9 and travel April 10 to the new Siebert Field to face the University of Minnesota. The Gophers will travel to Collegeville to play SJU in 2014.

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