Players find winning attitude

By Bubba Brown, Staff Writer

Just a few months after winning the Mountain West Conference Tournament and squaring off against college baseball’s elite teams in an NCAA Regional, the Utes are already preparing for an encore.

Sixteen Utes have spent the summer honing their craft by playing in various summer baseball leagues throughout the country. Among the players was catcher C.J. Cron, who was named to the California Collegiate League All-Star team as a member of the San Luis Obispo Blues.

“Summer ball is a good chance to keep playing the game,” Cron said. “It makes you better each day. It’s a chance to keep improving individually, which will make the team better.”

Nick Kuroczko, who spent much of his time last season at third base for the Utes, excelled for the Vienna Senators this summer and was named to the Clark Griffith Collegiate League All-Star team. Kuroczko agrees with Cron about the benefits of playing ball throughout the summer.

“I think I speak for the whole team when I say the opportunity to play summer ball is great,” Kuroczko said. “It allows you to improve your skill set. You get a chance to play every day so you can stay in the groove of things. That consistency is very important.”

If the Utes are to expect a repeat performance, they will have to do so without the aid of several players now graduated from last year’s club. Brian Budrow, who anchored the starting pitching staff last year, was selected in the Major League Baseball draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 28th round.

“Whenever Brian pitched, we thought we were going to win,” Kuroczko said. “We always felt good when he was out there.”

Also gone is Corey Shimada, who ended his Utah career holding the school records for runs, triples and walks.

“Corey played all four years for us and he was an outstanding player,” Kuroczko said.
Power-hitting Austin Jones, and pitchers Greg Krause, Bennett Askew and Robert Chimpky round out the list of players Utah will miss this season.

“They are going to be tough to replace,” Cron said. “They obviously contributed a lot to our success. It’s something we can overcome with this group of players, though.”

The Utes have several returning players who will be charged with replacing the missing production of the graduating senior class. Heading the offense will be Cron and Kuroczko. Cron hit .337 last season and led the Utes with 11 home runs and 58 RBIs on his way to being selected as the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year and earning a spot on several freshman All-American teams.

Kuroczko paced Ute batters with a .353 batting average in addition to six homers and 44 RBIs. He finished the season tied for second in the country with nine triples. Devin Walker, Tyler Yagi, Michael Beltran and Rick Cornu also posted solid 2009 campaigns and will be counted on to produce.

Jordan Whatcott headlines a group of promising returning pitchers. He led the Utes with a 4.19 ERA and finished the season 5-3. Whatcott was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the MLB draft but opted to stay with Utah for his senior year.

One of the biggest keys to the team’s success in the upcoming season is attitude.

“The confidence we gained from last year will be huge,” Cron said. “Throughout most of last year, we played with our backs to the wall, but throughout the tournament we just let it hang loose. I think we’ll play like we did in the tournament throughout this year.”

Kuroczko also said the Utes’ newly acquired attitude will play a large role this season.
“We just got in a nice flow as a team,” he said. “We need to continue that into this year along with confidence. We have a ton of senior leadership this year. The experience we gained from last year8212;we’ll use that.”

Both Cron and Kuroczko see this team as having the potential to replicate what last year’s team did.

“Our goal is to try to get deeper (in the NCAA Tournament) than last year,” Cron said.
If nothing else, this team has its sights set big.

“We want to win the Mountain West Conference and get to a regional,” Kuroczko said.

“This team has what it takes to win a regional and make a run at Omaha.”

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