Diamond Dawgs Open Fall Practice Season

Sept. 13, 2004

SEATTLE - The Washington baseball team began its four-week fall practice season as 43 players turned out for the first practice Monday morning at Husky Ballpark.

The Huskies will hold two-a-days most days until the start of the fall quarter Sept. 29 and will close out the fall season with a seven-game, intrasquad series that ends Oct. 7.

The Huskies, under 13th-year head coach Ken Knutson, return starters at six of nine spots in the batting order, as well as all three regular starting pitchers. Last year, Washington finished the season 39-20-1 overall and 15-9 in the Pac-10, good for second place. The UW was ranked No. 21 in the final Baseball America Top 25.

'We're excited about the fall,' Knutson said. 'We have a bunch of guys that just finished playing summer ball, so everyone is in good shape. We don't have any major injuries coming back, so everything looks fine.'

The list of returners is led by two-time All-Pac-10 first-teamer Brent Lillibridge, who could start at shortstop or in center field. Also returning for a fourth season as the starting first baseman is senior Kyle Larsen, who led the Huskies in batting (.344) and runs batted in (55) a year ago.

All-Pac-10 selection Zach Clem, the UW's top home run hitter with 16 last season, is back to play left field and senior Taylor Johnson returns as the starter in right. Senior utility man Nick Batkoski, who could start at third base, shortstop or in the outfield, hit .303 in 38 starts last year while sophomore Matt Lane, the regular at DH in 2003, will try to take over the starting catcher spot vacated by Aaron Hathaway, who signed a professional contract after three years as the UW's starting backstop.

On the mound, the UW welcomes back all three pitchers who finished the 2004 season in the weekend starting rotation - junior Matt Kasser and sophomores Tim Lincecum and Kyle Parker. Lincecum set the school record with 161 strikeouts and was named the 2004 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year while Parker was a Summer All-American after leading his summer team, Aloha (Ore.) to the National Baseball Congress World Series championship.

In all, every pitcher that started a game for the Huskies last year returns for the 2005 season as joining that trio are junior Keaton Everitt (10 starts in 2004), sophomore Richie Lentz (8), sophomore Jordan Ponzoha (3) and senior Josh Conover (1).

Knutson, who became the winningest coach in Husky history last season, sees the fall as a chance for players to emerge as starters at second base, catcher and, depending on how things work out between Batkoski and Lillibridge, at shortstop, third base and/or center field.

'I think the key is what's going to happen behind the plate,' Knutson said. 'Lane's got the inside track as the returning guy. There's also second base. We're going to have someone new playing there. It going to be interesting to watch.'

While the starting pitching situation seems simple, Knutson must replace former closer Will Fenton, who notched 23 saves over the last two years, as well as left-handed setup man Trent Baysinger, who led the team with 29 appearances in 2004. Both signed pro contracts following last season.

'We like the potential of this young group. We have some guys that can help us,' Knutson said of his pitching staff. 'There will be a lot of competition for the spots that opened up. With Fenton and Baysinger gone, we need to find a closer and a left-hander out of the bullpen.'

Lentz has a solid shot at the closer role after earning 11 saves for his summer team, Newport (R.I.). Baseball America named him the top prospect in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

Washington will open the 2005 baseball season mext Feb. 11 with the first game of a three-game series at UC Irvine.

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