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January 28, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 28, 2005

The goal is a trip to CWS The goal is a trip to CWS (January 28, 2005)

Stanford trio wants to make up for missing out in 2004

by Rick Eymer

Juniors Mark Romanczuk, Jed Lowrie and John Mayberry, Jr. are linked together in more ways than being teammates on the Stanford baseball team.

The three, who were also teammates with Team USA last summer, hope to be remembered as the guys who helped lead the sixth-ranked Cardinal back to the promised land. In this case, that means a trip to the College World Series in Omaha.

"That's the goal every year," said Lowrie, the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year and first team All-American. "From the first time we met as freshmen, that's been the focus. If we don't make it, if we don't win it, we're disappointed."

Imagine the disappointment last year when Stanford lost to Long Beach State in the Regional final despite having one of its most experienced teams ever. The Cardinal lost five seniors to graduation and four juniors to professional baseball.

This year's journey begins today with Romanczuk throwing the first pitch of the season sometime after 5 p.m. (weather permitting) as Stanford hosts Fresno State in the season opener at Sunken Diamond. The teams play again on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m.

It also starts with one of the less experienced teams in recent years. Lowrie (at second base), Mayberry (first base), and shortstop Chris Minaker are the only returning starting position players. Romanczuk and junior Jeff Gilmore return as starting pitchers.

"We do have a young team but these are guys who have been in the program," Lowrie said. "Being young doesn't change our approach. We got a lot of work done and I think we have been very efficient and effective."

Junior Chris Lewis, who is expected to take over in left field, but who can also play every infield position, has started 32 games in his career. Sophomore Adam Sorgi, who will start at third, made 18 starts last year. Junior catcher John Hester and sophomore center fielder Jim Rapoport have also started several games in the past.

Menlo School grad Ryan Seawell, a candidate for designated hitter, hits .33 in 20 games (six starts) as a freshman last year.

Junior Ben Summerhays, the team's oldest player at 23, could also see action as a DH.

"You can't say we're extremely experienced but you can't say we're extremely young," Romanczuk said. "Hester, Rapoport, Lewis; those guys have experience. Hester is one of the best I've thrown to, and he's got some pop in his bat. He's going to surprise people."

Cameron Matthews, who spent two years as the student manager before becoming an active player last year, is the lone senior on the team. The 2001 team was the last without a senior and that squad made it to the CWS championship game.

Freshman Michael Taylor, the 6-foot-6 outfielder from Apopka, Fla., who was on everybody's top 10 recruiting list, and No. 1 by one publication, will likely make an immediate impact. He's slated to start in right field and is being heralded as the second coming of Mayberry (6-5, 230).

"He has all the tools in the world," Lowrie said of Taylor. "He's a specimen. Just like Junior he's a big guy who has all the ability."

Stanford consistently brings in one of the top recruiting classes every year and often quality players get caught up in the numbers game. Hester backed up catchers Ryan Garko and Donny Lucy - both drafted in the second round of the amateur draft-the previous two years. Lewis was in the opening day lineup at second last year, and Sorgi started several games early at shortstop.

"When we look around, we think we're going to be pretty good," Romanczuk said. "From the outside I can see people saying 'oh, oh, there aren't too many returners.' It will be interesting to see how things pan out."

The pitching staff, which Romanczuk calls "definitely the deepest," will take center stage early in the season while the offensive lineup sorts itself out. Eight of the 13 pitchers saw action last year, combining for a 36-12 mark, seven saves and three complete games.

Romanczuk and Gilmore were a combined 21-5 last year, and will once again anchor the rotation. Sophomore Greg Reynolds appears to have the inside track for the No. 3 starting job, though sophomores Blake Holler and Matt Leva are also in the mix. The three sophomores were a combined 14-5 a year ago.

Junior Matt Manship and sophomore Jeff Stimpson are the top pitchers out of the bullpen, which also includes junior Pete Duda.

Palo Alto grad David Stringer is among four freshman on the staff, along with Nolan Gallagher, Rex Petrill and Erick Davis. Sophomore Logan Ardis adds depth.

"We're all ready to go," Romanczuk said. "My changeup is coming along. Instead of mixing it in, it's going to help me get outs this year. Jeff is mixing his off-speed pitches effectively and expects a lot out of himself. Nolan Gallagher has an explosive fastball and Erik Davis has been pitching well."

Menlo-Atherton High grad Zach Gianos, who missed last year with a knee injury, returns after making the team as a walk-on. Sophomores Ryan Kissick, Joe Ayers and Josh Corn were also on the team last year but didn't see any game action.

Freshmen Brian Juhl, Darren Gemoll, Jeff Boes, Brendan Domaracki and Randy Molina fill out the roster.

Stanford's early season schedule also includes road trips to defending NCAA champions Cal State Fullerton and Texas, which lost to the Titans in the CWS title game.

"The whole point of the beginning of the season is to see where we are," Lowrie said. "That will tell us what we need to work on."

Santa Clara also opens its season today with a game against visiting UC Riverside. Gunn grad Anthony Rea returns as one of the top closers in the nation. He set a school record with 13 saves last year, fourth in the nation, with a 1.68 ERA.

Rea, who started with his summer team, was 5-1 with the Broncos, striking out 53 and walking just 10 in 53 2/3 innings.

Palo Alto grad Andy Hnilo transferred to St. Mary's after spending last year at Sacramento State. He also played for California. The 6-4 senior will pitch for the Gaels after hitting five homers for the Hornets last season.

Portola Valley resident Kyle Spraker, who prepped at St. Francis, is penciled in as the starting shortstop at Cal.

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