PROVO -- A six-game series in Arizona marks the earliest start ever for BYU's baseball team as it begins play this Thursday at Arizona State. Under first-year head coach Vance Law, the Cougars seek to improve on last year's 26-31 record. It will be a tough challenge as BYU has single games on Thursday and Friday against ASU and Florida Atlantic, respectively in Tempe, Ariz. On Saturday it will be a split doubleheader for BYU, facing Florida Atlantic in the morning and the Sun Devils in the afternoon. The BYU-ASU games will only be broadcast at 3 p.m. MST on the internet by Arizona State--log in at www.thesundevils.com.
A Quick Look at the Cougars
A 32-man roster will travel to Arizona as first-year coach Vance Law assembles a starting lineup that has four new faces in the inaugural year of the Mountain West Conference. Foremost among those newcomers is Stanford transfer Nick Day, the left-fielder/DH. Another transfer is left-handed pitcher James Ray, from Jacksonville University. The main returning starter is centerfielder junior Shane Belliston, but Michael Davies, Michael Wirrick and Nate Mathis have some game experience. Sixteen newcomers join 12 returning lettermen from last season's 26-31 squad. Two lettermen have just returned from LDS Church missions, including southpaw pitcher Jeff Stone, Western Athletic Conference Freshman of 1997. Former Arizona State assistant Gary Pullins stepped down as the Cougars' coach after 23 seasons with a 913-462-6 record and is now an assistant athletic director at BYU.
Probable Pitching Rotation
Jan. 27 Arizona State Jeff Stone (*11-1, 6.94) Tempe, 3 p.m., MST
Jan. 28 Florida Atlantic Micah Mangrum (3-8, 7.29) Tempe, 11 a.m., MST
Jan. 29 Florida Atlantic James Ray (#7-1, 4.36) Tempe, 11 a.m., MST
Jan. 29 Arizona State Sean Noorda (3-2, 9.62) Tempe, 3 p.m., MST
Jan. 31 Arizona Jordan Opdahl (2-4, 7.71) Tucson, 3 p.m., MST
Feb. 1 Arizona TBA Tucson, 3 p.m., MST
*=statistics from 1997, #=statistics from Jacksonville Univ.
Probable Starting Lineup
1B--#26 Michael Wirrick 3B--#32 Kainoa Obrey RF--#30 Matt Carson
2B--#4 Nate Mathis LF--#21 Nick Day C--#33 Michael Davies
SS--#17 Seth King CF--#6 Shane Belliston DH--#9 David Rock
Quotes from Coach Vance Law
"I am looking forward to this trip. It is a big challenge, but we want to find out where we stack up against these type of programs we hope to become. My main concern is that we don't become intimidated. If we play and execute the way we have in practice we will represent ourselves well. I love our team. It is a strong club that hits the ball well, but we will go as far as our pitchers take us. We have a good offensive show and can play sound defense. We'll force other teams' hand more by our hit-and-run and stealing. We will play more small ball. I love to hit and run."
Series with the Sun Devils, Owls, Wildcats
This will be BYU's 45th meeting with Arizona State. This is the first meeting between BYU and the Florida Atlantic Owls. ASU holds a 7-38 advantage in the series dating back to 1967 when the Cougars won the first of a three-game series in the Western Athletic Conference Championships. The last time BYU won at Arizona State was in 1993 (12-7) and 1981 (5-4). BYU had a 2-16 record against ASU since the Sun Devils left the WAC after 1978. Arizona State has won the last 11 meetings, all at Tempe. The Cougars are 5-17 against Arizona.
Scouting Florida Atlantic
The Owls play twice against Arizona State in Tempe on Friday and Sunday. Friday's FAU-ASU game follows the BYU-FAU morning game. The Owls were 54-9 last year and the 22,000-student campus is located in Boca Raton (note, this is not the same school BYU defeated in an overtime basketball game this season--that was Florida International out of Miami). BYU pitcher James Ray helped break FIU's 40-game winning streak last season. Ray started the first five innings in a 2-1 defeat of the Owls when he pitched for Jacksonville University, but was not the pitcher of record. Jacksonville played three games against FIU last season, all in Trans America Athletic Conference action. The Owls won the first and third games of that series.
A Pair of Four-Year Transfers to BYU
Outfielder Nick Day and left-handed pitcher James Ray both transferred from teams who played last season in the NCAA post-season tournament. Day, now a senior, transferred from Stanford where he played twice with the Cardinal in the College World Series and was MVP of last year's NCAA Regional. Day has played 15 times against Arizona State and hit two homers against them last year at Palo Alto, Calif. "It came down to ASU and Stanford," said Day, who was also recruited by Miami out of high school in Las Vegas, Nev. "I came to BYU for social reasons." Day, an economics major, plans to transfer back to Stanford this Fall to graduate. Ray, a junior from St. Augustine, Fla., transferred from Jacksonville University for family, religious and social reasons. Ray's family moved last year from Florida to Ogden, Utah.
Senior pitcher Micah Mangrum, senior second baseman Nate Mathis and senior transfer Nick Day, an outfielder, were elected tri-captains by their teammates earlier this month.
New Ballpark Announced
Last week an announcement was made for a new BYU baseball/softball complex which will seat 2,000 on each side when completed. The new facility will be ready for play next season, but already the outfield fences have been pushed back to 400 feet in center, 390 in the alleys and it remains at 345 down the lines.
BYU will stay at the Days Inn in Mesa, Ariz. (480-844-8900) and at the Marriott Park University Hotel in Tucson, Ariz. (520-792-4100).