With season on the horizon, Utes look to rely on upperclassmen

%28Chris+Ayers%2FThe+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29

(Chris Ayers/The Daily Utah Chronicle)

It’s that time of the year again – time for sunshine beaming down on the diamond, plenty of seeds on the ground and baseballs flying through the air. The season starts for Utah baseball this upcoming weekend against Sacramento State when the team travels to California.

Last season didn’t go as planned for the Utes as they were met with a handful of injuries to key players all around the field. Not only was Utah inconsistent in terms of health, the Pac-12 conference is one of the best in the country when it comes to baseball.

(Chris Ayers/The Daily Utah Chronicle)
(Chris Ayers/The Daily Utah Chronicle)

On the bright side, the Utes have seen the weather around campus be favorable to them, meaning they are able to practice outside. This isn’t usually a regular occurrence this early in the season, as the weather usually keeps Utah indoors during the winter.

“The weather is really cooperating with us this February and late January,” head coach Bill Kinnerberg said. “We’ve been out on the field much more than any other year that i’ve been here so hopefully that translates into better preparation for our guys going into this weekend.”

The Utes welcome a number of new freshmen to the team and Kinnerberg said that for the most part, the veterans on the team will be in the line up and the freshmen will be the depth aspect of the team.

Dallas Carroll, who was injured after opening weekend last season, missed all of 2014 and is back with the team for this season. Carroll said that the newcomers will have to get used to the atmosphere of playing on the road as opposed to opening the season in Salt Lake City.

“I think with the veteran players that are coming back, both infield and outfield and pitchers, it’s our duty to kind of show the freshmen what to do on and off the field,” Carroll said. “So I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an issue.”

One big concern that Kinnerberg has for the team this year is the Friday night starter. Last season, the Utes had Mitch Watrous, who was a two-time Pac-12 honorable mention pitcher. Now that he’s moved on, Kinnerberg said a big hole the team has to fill is Watrous’ replacement.

Kinneberg said that Bret Helton is the pitcher he will be looking at to be the Friday starter at this point in time. The head coach went on to say that he doesn’t have any expectations for the season as of yet. Saying that for right now, he’s focusing on winning the upcoming games against Sacramento State.

“It’s important in these next four weekends that we establish ourselves,” Kinneberg said. “More importantly when we play in Tucson, starting the Pac-12 season, I want to have our roles defined and guys knowing what to expect at that point.”

Infielder Kody Davis said that the team is very fast this year and will be looking to cause trouble for opposing teams by stealing bases. He went on to say that the team has a higher level of confidence than he’s ever seen.

“I don’t think we had a whole lot of confidence last year,” he said. “We’ve kind of instilled this this big confidence in our program this year through our work ethic and our dedication to this season. I’ve never been a part of a group that worked so hard.”

One change to the Utes made was to hire a new associate head coach, Jason Hawkins, who also serves as the team’s hitting coach. Senior Biss Larsen said he feels Hawkins’ input to the team will help the guys with hitting, a statistic that the team really struggled with last season.

“He’s brought a lot of things,” Larsen said. “Even just outside of the mechanics of hitting, just the culture and the attitude and the work ethic to the program as a whole and I think guys have bought into him.”

The Utes are jittery as the season opener draws closer. The new players and coaches combined are looking to make this season a special one for Utah with some memorable victories and fireworks.

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