By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Pitching is the big question mark as Sonoma State baseball again faces a challenge to reach the NCAA tournament.
Still, the Seawolves were picked to finish third in the always difficult California Collegiate Athletic Association in a preseason poll of the league’s coaches.
Chico State, runner up in the NCAA West Region a year ago, was first. Cal State Monterey Bay, defending CCAA regular-season champion, was second. Fourth behind Sonoma State was Cal State Los Angeles, which won last season’s conference tournament title.”
“There are just a lot of good programs in our league. It’s going to be difficult,” Sonoma State coach John Goelz said.
Sonoma State opens the season Thursday with the first in a three-day set of games with Western Oregon. CCAA play begins at Cal State Los Angeles on Feb. 14.
Entering his 29th season leading Sonoma State, Goelz must replace a pair of great arms and develop depth in the rotation and bullpen.
Gone from last year’s NCAA tournament team are First Team All-Americans Harmen Sidhu and Glenn Wallace. Sidhu won the Tino Martinez Award as the best player in NCAA Division II. Wallace was West Region Pitcher of the Year.
“We lost a lot of pitching. But we’ve got some pieces to work with,” Goelz said.
Anchoring the rotation should be George Asmus, the team’s No. 3 starter a year ago. The former University of Washington pitcher won eight games and posted a 2.80 earned-run average for Sonoma State last season.
Workhorse reliever Steven Zaharias is back after appearing in 19 games last season. Zaharias is a right-hander from Brentwood.
Among the newcomers is Aaron Gillis, a left-hander who transferred from Fresno State.
With a handful of primary starters back in the lineup, Sonoma State should be able to score some runs.
Leading the returners in the field is Garrett Schwartz. The outfielder from Salinas was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason All-West Region Second Team. Schwartz made the All-CCAA Second Team last season.
An anchor in the Sonoma State lineup, Schwartz batted .323, fifth in the CCAA, was second in doubles and slugging in the conference, led the Seawolves in home runs and was second in RBIs.
At the top of the batting order is Jackson Stogner, a former All-CCAA selection. The second baseman from Analy was fourth in hits and led Sonoma State in walks, sixth in the CCAA.
Sonoma State’s catching tandem of Steven Moen and Shawn Walters returns for another season. Moen is from San Ramon. Walters is out of Reno.
Returning third baseman-shortstop Justin Serrao of Pleasanton likely will move up in the order.
Filling out the lineup will be a young group including a sizable class of freshmen players. Several former Empire prep standouts have joined the program.
“We’ve never had this many young players on the roster. There’s a lot of opportunities,” Goelz said.