Menlo enters the 2012 campaign coming off their best season in the program's history in 2011. The Oaks won a record 32 games, culminating in the team's first ever conference title and postseason appearance. As the squad gets ready for action this year, there's a new man in charge. Stefan McGovern takes over for Matt Daily, who had a successful three year run as head coach, leading Menlo to an overall record of 71-50-1 in that time period.
Now with McGovern at the helm, he will look to duplicate the success he had as assistant coach at NCAA Division II Metro State College of Denver. As hitting coach, McGovern led the Roadrunners to 8.7 runs a game last season, good enough for 6th in the nation, while his team's .330 batting average topped out at 17th in the country.
"I'm looking to continue the success that Menlo has enjoyed of late," commented McGovern on the task of taking over. "We understand that with the change in the schedule, it means that we are going to have to earn it a lot more this year, but that doesn't change our mentality. It's still all about making the regional and we feel that we have the chips in place to make a strong run in the playoffs."
The schedule change that McGovern referred to now means that the Oaks will have to contend with all of the northern teams in the Cascade Conference, not just the southern ones like last season. This means that year in and year out powerhouses Lewis-Clark State College, University of British Columbia, and College of Idaho are all on the slate. Although a new challenge for Menlo, it's one that McGovern and the rest of the team will look to embrace. "We are playing the best this year so we are going to find out where we are and where we need to be," said McGovern on the prospects of playing these top-caliber schools.
The Oaks will be able to navigate through this difficult schedule thanks to a balanced team that starts and ends with their pitching. McGovern is high on his starting rotation, even believing that he has "two of the best starters in the conference," in Derek Martinez and Tristan Heckerl. Martinez is coming off a sophomore campaign that was as good as any. The 5'11", right hander from Palmdale was one of four starting pitchers to earn a 2011 NAIA West All Star selection with an 8-4 record, 2.79 ERA, and a Cascade Conference leading 75 strikeouts. Heckerl was used sparingly during the 2011 season, but McGovern is confident that he has the potential for a monster bounce back season, claiming that "Tristan has the best stuff on the team."
Aside from the two-headed horse of Martinez and Heckerl, watch out of Derek Rodrigues, whose as smart as anyone out there on the rubber, Kyer Vega, who is coming off of a solid 6-3 freshman year, and Alex Tenorio, a freshman from Valencia that gives Menlo a left handed option out of the bullpen. Those five pitchers are part of a 19 man staff, giving the Oaks an almost absurd amount of depth on the mound.
To go along with Menlo's lights out pitching, the Oaks have a defense that will be as good as any out there. Behind the plate, Menlo brings back senior Ty Finley, who has the potential for a remarkable 2012 campaign. In 2011 the native of nearby Menlo Park threw out an almost unheard of 18 base runners in 44 steal attempts. Finley will accompany an infield defense that will make it difficult for opposing offenses to put together long rallies and big innings.
McGovern is calling the right side of the defense "one of the best in the conference," with senior first baseman Will Pierce and senior second baseman C.J. Dailey manning the ship. Pierce was awarded with a 2011 NAIA West Gold Glove, making a miniscule four errors in 47 games last season, while Dailey wasn't too shabby himself with just seven errors in 47 games as last year's second baseman. The two will be joined by the lethal combination of junior Coleman Cox at shortstop, and junior Michael Brandi at third base who are no slouches themselves. In the outfield Menlo offers great speed and strong arms with guys like sophomores Mickey Phelps and Collin Forgey, along with newcomer and junior John Hanley.
From an offensive standpoint, we see incredible balance in the Oaks lineup. The just mentioned John Hanley gives Menlo the possibility to put a left handed hitter with gap-to-gap power, blazing speed, and the ability to bunt at the top of their lineup. C.J. Dailey is another great average type hitter who, according to McGovern, "does everything well and knows what it takes to get the job done."
Power wise, make sure to keep an eye on Michael Brandi, Will Pierce, and Collin Forgey. Brandi was one of three players with at least 50 at bats last season to hit over .300, at .307, and his 11 doubles and 29 RBI's ranked him third and fourth respectively. Pierce blasted a team high seven home runs last year and Forgey led the ball club with 42 RBI's.
The chips appear to be in place for a special 2012 campaign and Menlo will kick it all off this Friday, February 3rd at CSU San Marcos. First pitch is scheduled for 2:00pm.
Top 5 Things To Watch For:
1. Change In Conference Schedule-
Last year the Oaks only had to go against Simpson, Patten, and Oregon Tech from the Cascade South. They have changed the schedule this year to include the North in their slate. This means the tall task of playing year in and year out powerhouses Lewis-Clark State College, University of British Columbia, and College of Idaho. Menlo will be tested all year long and will have to earn a second straight playoff appearance.
2. Pitching, Pitching, And More Pitching-
The Oaks come in with an astounding 19 pitchers on the staff giving them serious depth on the mound. Derek Martinez and Tristan Heckerl expect to be at the forefront of the starting rotation, but guys like Derek Rodrigues, Kyer Vega, James Jensen, and Alex Tenorio are expected to make a big impact as well.
3. Stellar Defense-
Menlo should boast an impressive defense in 2012. Senior catcher Ty Finley has established himself as one of the best behind the plate, throwing out an incredible 18 base runners in 44 steal attempts in the 2011 season. First baseman Will Pierce won a 2011 NAIA West Gold Glove last year with just four errors in 47 games and second baseman C.J. Dailey had a miniscule seven errors in 47 games as well. The two will be accompanied by third baseman Michael Brandi and shortstop Coleman Cox on left side of the diamond, giving the Menlo a solid foundation on the infield.
4. Offensive Balance-
The 2012 Oaks will feature a balanced lineup with a steady combination of power and speed. Newcomer and junior John Hanley brings a lefty bat with all the tools of a top of the order type hitter into the equation, while Michael Brandi, Will Pierce, and Collin Forgey have some serious pop in the middle of Menlo's order.
Head Coach Stefan McGovern has options. 19 pitchers and 18 position players allow McGovern the ability to mix and match, play the hot hand, and give guys some rest. With a 49 game schedule that includes 17 double headers, this type of depth should pay dividends.