At the end of every season, the University of Utah baseball team expects to lose a few ball players. Usually the athlete’s time at Utah runs out on them or in some cases the opportunity to pursue the game on a bigger stage arises. Every season the team then has to be built up again and restructured with returners and newcomers. A handful of new faces eager to play the game they love begin working their way up.
Heading into this season, many wondered what the incoming freshmen would be able to contribute on the field and how quickly their impact would be felt. For a team that clinched the Pac-12 Championship last season but was forced to replace several four-year starters, many were left unsure of what to expect in 2017.
Utah brought in new weapons who were waiting on deck ready to refuel the team’s talent and add to the competitive drive.
“The new guys coming in have really done a nice job,” said head coach Bill Kinneberg.
Utes, like Oliver Dunn, who has started every game so far this season at second base, Jacob Rebar, who quickly earned a spot in the rotation as a fourth day starter, and Alex Isola, who has shown his ability to sit behind the plate and catch, are proving that they are important pieces to this team’s success on the diamond.
“They haven’t missed a beat,” Kinneberg said. “They’re not typical freshmen where they’re nervous or scared. They are ready to play and they want to play. That goes well for us for the future as well.”
The freshmen are doing exactly what Dunn explained they wanted to do this season, help plug in for guys who are no longer at Utah so the team can win. As the new athletes continue to get integrated into the program and into Pac-12 baseball, they look up to the older guys on the team – those who have been in their shoes before. Whether it’s for something outside of baseball, questions on homework to learning how to handle the pressures of the game itself, the freshmen know they can go to their older teammates for help.
“[Sophomore catcher] Zack Moeller has helped me out a lot with dealing with failure and learning to be confident in yourself,” Isola explained. “Because the guys who are most confident are going to succeed. It’s hard to come in as a freshman, but you got to believe you can do it.”
Over the summer a lot of the Utes played on a team together. That opportunity along with living together in the dorms on campus, practicing for hours, traveling and actually playing the game has helped the chemistry of this team.
“We came in and the older guys really took us under their wing,” Rebar said. “It wasn’t like the older guys didn’t like the younger guys. Right when we came in we meshed really well.”
Chase Bauerle, Dominic Foscalina, Jake Portaro, Conner McNally, Davis Delorefice, Spencer Kevin Johnson, Riley Pierce, Braden DeBenedictis and Sam Mundt are more freshmen looking to make their mark and have an impact on the team. Pac-12 baseball is more than competitive, and for a conference that never slows down, a team must bring its best game every time it takes the field. That is what these freshmen bring to Utah baseball – talent, depth and strength that will only help flourish the program.
Being a part of a team that knows what it takes to win is exciting Dunn explained, but it can be a challenge to get into the swing of things your first year of college ball. This group is quickly adapting though.
After starting off the season hot this young group of freshmen do not look like they will be cooling down any time soon. They realize how important it is to be prepared so that they can put in work on the field and build up the program that they represent.
“Just be ready,” Isola said. “Your number is going to get called. You got to be ready.”