After finishing the 2003 season with a 30-24 record and a third place finish at the Mountain West Conference Tournament, the BYU baseball team looks for bigger and greater results in 2004.
The Cougars return their Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year Paul Jacinto. As a junior in 2003, Jacinto struggled to gain run support early in the season, leading to a 0-4 start before winning six games in a row. For the remainder of the season, Jacinto only lost one additional game, finishing with a 10-5 record (9-1 in MWC play) and a 4.14 ERA.
Jacinto threw a complete-game one hitter against UNLV in a 3-1 win in Provo, leading to MWC Pitcher of the Week honors. UNLV ended the season ranked No. 20 in the Sports Weekly/ESPN Coaches Poll and Baseball America's Top 25. He also threw a complete-game three hitter in a 1-0 loss to Northwestern.
Other pitchers returning are right-handed sophomores Anthony Bingham (1-0, 5.93), Tyler Heid (9.2 innings, 7.45) and Bryce Searle (2.1 innings, 0.00); and senior Michel Bergeron (6-3, 5.37).
Justin Su'a, a 2001 All-MWC second team pitcher, returns after serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nicaragua. As a freshman, Su'a was voted first team Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball. He finished his freshman year with a 3-0 record, 3.41 ERA and 23 strikeouts.
Five junior college pitchers, four of them right-handed pitchers and the other a southpaw, transfer to BYU for the 2004 season.
With the transfer of Eastern Utah's Patrick Wells, BYU gained another left-handed pitcher. Wells pitched a no-hitter last year against Colorado Northwestern Community College. He finished with an 8-2 record and a 1.29 ERA.
The other four transfers joining the Cougars are right-handed pitchers Nathan Hess (SLCC, 4-2, 4.64), Kalen Parsons (Eastern Utah, 3-5, 3.31), Bryce Burger (UVSC, 9 innings, 7.00) and Nick Lemon (Cosumnes River College, 7 appearances, 9.00).
One of two prepsters joining the Cougars for the 2004 season is southpaw J.D. Stambaugh from Memphis, Tenn. He joins BYU after being named the team MVP at Collierville High where he lettered four years in baseball.
Junior Ryan Chambers returns after a spectacular season in right field. He takes over the vacant spot in center left after Brock Jacobsen signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent. Toward the end of the season, Chambers had a 17-game hit streak. He finished with a .327 average, 51 RBI and 11 home runs. His 10 home runs in conference play were the most by any Cougar in 2003.
The leading candidate in right field appears to be junior Kory Knell who started nine games for the Cougars in 2003. Knell finished the year with a .206 average and three RBI in 34 at-bats.
Seeing time in left field after the departure of Doug Jackson will most likely be seniors Kevin Bills and Rob Itri. Bills started six games in the outfield in 2003, hitting .231 with 10 RBI. Most of his offensive numbers came in the final home game of 2003 when he hit two home runs in the game, including a grand slam.
After spending the majority of 2003 at second base, Itri will most like see time in left field, third base and second base. He started 34 games last year, hitting .316 with five home runs and 26 RBI.
Freshman Mike Kessler from Claremont, Calif. will also compete for playing time in the outfield.
Returning to the infield is the 2003 All-MWC second team shortstop Ranger Wiens. As a junior, Wiens led the team in many of its offensive categories. He set a MWC record for juniors with his .415 batting average. He also led the team in hits with 89 and multiple hit games with 27.
Sophomore Brandon Taylor will also likely see time at shortstop. He joins BYU after returning from a Church mission. Before his mission, Taylor hit .340 for UVSC in 2001.
With the departure of Jake Stubblefied at first base, Tim Law returns as the most experienced player at the position. Law started 12 games in 2003 and finished with a .279 average.
Sophomore Ben Saylor should also see time at first after returning from a Church mission. Saylor hit .331 with seven home runs and a region-leading 58 RBI at UVSC in 2001 where he was teammates with Taylor. He was named first-team All-Region and third-team All-American.
Also competing for playing time at first base will be John Pace.
Senior Wade Vest returns to play second base after hitting .281 with 11 RBI in 2003. He will compete for playing time with sophomore Brad Hales, a return missionary who played for BYU in 2001. In his freshman year, Hales started 10 games at shortstop for the Cougars, hitting .196 with six doubles.
Kainoa Obrey, last year's starting third baseman, was the only BYU player taken in the 2003 Major League Baseball Draft. The St. Louis Cardinals picked him up in the 13th round. Competing for his spot will be Itri and senior Blair Lucas. Lucas started nine games for BYU in 2003, finishing with a .347 average in 49 at-bats. Centerfielder Brock Jacobsen ended up signing as a free agent with the Texas Rangers to forego his senior season.
Junior Casey Cloward and senior Adam Wilkes both return after splitting the catching duty for BYU in 2003. Cloward finished the year with the fourth best batting average on the team, hitting .356. He also threw out 20-of-32 base runners from behind the plate. Wilkes hit .254 last year in 19 starts.
Sophomore catcher Jeff Hiestand returns to BYU after serving a mission. Hiestand started 34 games in 2001 mainly as a designated hitter. He hit .301 with eight home runs and was voted as an honorable mention Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
The Cougars' season begins with a heavy barrage of west coast games beginning with a three-game series against the University of California on Jan. 29. Beginning Feb. 26, BYU will also play in a three-team tournament hosted by Pacific and its new head coach Ed Sprague, a two-time World Series champion with the Toronto Blue Jays.