Ready to play ball
New contributors set to step in for Mesa baseball team
Austin Wallingford, Jason Ross and Tony Audino came to Colorado Mesa hoping to contribute to the baseball team, but they had to wait their turn.
Each likely get his chance this season. The 16th-ranked Mavericks are scheduled to open the season with a three-game home series this weekend against former RMAC rival Nebraska-Kearney at Suplizio Field. The games are still on, but recent snowfall has officials monitoring the weather and field conditions.
“They’ve been in our program and understand our expectations,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said. “They’ve had tons of reps with us. They’ve been on most of the road trips.
“Audino should’ve played more last year. He had injuries to his ankle and shoulder that kept him out.”
Wallingford, a junior, likely will start in the outfield, but he can also play catcher. Ross, a junior, likely will start at second base in place of All-American Braden Box. Audino, a sophomore, likely will play third base.
The three have combined for 30 total games with 10 starts and hit .311 with six RBI in their combined five years of experience.
“I admire them,” Hanks said. “It’s hard to go through all the weight-room sessions, practices and road trips, and they haven’t really yet received the reward of playing. Now, it’s on their doorstep.
“They can play. They are ready to play. They want to play.”
They join five returning starters: shortstop Nate Robertson; first baseman Kevin Mitchell; catcher Colton Schoelkopf; and outfielders Austin Kaiser and Garrett Carpenter.
Robertson is a returning All-American and RMAC player of the year.
Colorado Mesa has 25 returning letterwinners and 16 newcomers this season coming off another NCAA tournament season. The Mavericks (45-11) won a school record 35 RMAC games and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive season and the 11th time in Hanks’ 15 seasons.
“These are some guys a lot haven’t heard about, but they’ve been here every day,” Hanks said. “They understand everything we’re about.
“They can handle the bat and run the bases. We’ll mix a little power in there, but you can’t count on the power, so we’ll try not to.”
The Mavericks had a school record 143 stolen bases last season. Box and Robertson each had 24. Kaiser had 17.
Seven pitchers return from a staff that set a school record with a 3.32 ERA last year, and Hanks added six college transfers to the staff.
“If the pitching staff pitches to their ability, then we’ll be pretty good,” Hanks said. “I think we have the chance to have good pitching depth similar to last year.”
Starters Kyle Davis and Joey Danner return. They combined to go 17-3 with a 3.01 ERA last season.
Several pitchers are candidates to start, including senior Cody Lahman, who tied for the team lead in appearances and ERA out of the bullpen last year.
One candidate is left-handed junior Nevin Wilson, a transfer from Division I Vanderbilt. He was drafted out of high school in the 44th round.
“He has a live arm and great upside,” Hanks said. “He fits in real well.”
Junior Ryan Reno comes to Mesa from Northeastern Junior College, where he won 21 games in two years. Junior David Johnson was 9-1 with 51 strikeouts in 76 innings pitching for Colby (Kan.) Community College.
Matt Allen, Dustin Robirtis, Dakota Behr, Tyler Dunnington and Andrew Malone return. They combined to pitch 36 innings last season.
Trent Allianic and Tyler Ehlers are back after missing last season with torn elbow ligaments that required Tommy John surgery.
“The material is there. Now all the guys have to do is prepare and do what they are capable of doing,” Hanks said.