BASEBALL: Toppers start their season tomorrow

Amber North

Football season is but a fading memory and basketball season’s days are dwindling.

It’s the perfect time to whip out the aluminum bats and hit the diamond.

After a conference championship runner-up finish last season, the Hilltoppers are hitting the field to start their season tomorrow.

Coach Joel Murrie wanted to start this season with a challenge by opening with a three-game series against nationally ranked University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

“We schedule tough because I want the players to understand what it’s like to be nationally ranked,” Murrie said. “When you beat a nationally ranked team then you will be nationally ranked.”

The Running Rebels opened their season by getting swept by No. 4 California State-Fullerton in a three-game series last weekend. But the fact that the reigning Mountain West champions already have three games’ experience will make it difficult for Western.

“UNLV has everything going for them because they have great weather to practice in, playing at home and the three games advantage,” Murrie said.

The starters for this weekend include freshman Jordan Newton behind the plate. Junior first baseman Marcus Ross, senior second baseman Matt Johnston and sophomore third baseman Tim Grogan will start in the infield.

The starting shortstop is sophomore Philip Thayer. Completing the outfield are sophomore center fielder Matt Ransdell, senior right fielder Matt Gunning and junior left fielder Antone Towns. The designated hitter is senior Cary Page.

Junior J.C. Faircloth will start on the mound in the first game. Senior Curtis Morrison and junior Daniel Faulkner will finish up the rotation in games two and three, respectively.

The offense should be sharp with 18 returning lettermen, including last season’s clutch hitters: Towns and Johnston. Johnston led the club last season with 68 hits, 17 doubles and 41 RBI while Towns was second with a .318 batting average.

“We’re going to swing bats well this year,” Johnston said. “We have a lot more pitchers this year and we won’t have to score as much because of the new addition to the team.”

Murrie said that with the wide variety of talent on the team, it is difficult to single out a stellar player.

“Real success is each of the individuals working with other guys in the lineup to win ball games,” Murrie said.

Once the team arrives in the gambling capital this weekend, it’s no secret that the Hilltoppers will be the underdogs. And that’s OK with Murrie.

“It’s a matter of execution,” he said. “The game is not on paper, but on the field and it would be a big payoff if we win because the odds are against us.”

Reach Amber North at [email protected]