Posted: Jan 31, 2013 9:10 PM
Updated: Jan 31, 2013 9:46 PM
KINGSVILLE, Texas -- The Texas A&M- Kingsville baseball team takes to the Diamond Friday to open its 2013 season against national power Central Missouri at 1 p.m. in the Astros in Action DII Invitational at Minute Maid Park. The Javelinas will also face Emporia State, Arkansas-Monticello and Abilene Christian during the four-day tournament.
Kingsville, which was selected to finish second behind Angelo State in the Lone Star Conference preseason poll, is coming off a 31-18 season and 18-10 LSC mark. They advanced to the NCAA Regional for the third time in program history and the first time as an at-large team.
The Javelinas return a solid nucleus of players despite the loss of several key cogs including Jaden Dillon and Cameron Dullnig.
Offensively, the Javelinas return six of their top eight hitters - statistically - from a season ago. Taylor Taska returns with the top average at .346 and hit a team-best five home runs a season ago. Trent Wagner is back after hitting .306 with a team-best 39 runs scored and team-high 20 steals. James Black hit .284 and drove in 31 RBI to lead the returnees.
Ben Villafuerte, James Wallace, and Joe Tallerine are also amongst the everyday players a year ago that return in 2013. Also back are Cash Barker, who hit .302 a season ago in 27 games, and Matt Perez, who missed the final 43 games of the season due to injury.
Last season, the Hoggies exhibited tremendous speed on offense with 109 steals in 139 attempts. Wagner led the way with 20, while Dustin Aguilar had 19 and Ben Villafuerte added 12 and Taska nine.
Zach Pettiford and Dallas Ponder return as starters on the mound from one of the nation's top pitching staffs a year ago. The duo combined to go 9-3 a season ago. Lefty Matt Rhodes and Cody Williams will also figure into the mix at the onset.
In the bullpen, Jeremy Flores will assume the role as closer with assistance from Denver Diefenbach. Flores had three saves a season ago and has 10 in his career which is tied for third all-time. They also have Taska who is returning to form from Tommy John surgery. He set the then school record for saves as a freshman. Several newcomers and redshirts will be worked into the mix.
Defensively, the Javelinas will be solid up the middle. Barker leads a potential three-headed monster behind the plate with JUCO transfers Ryan Guedry and Clint Wallace. Perez and Villafuerte return in the middle of the infield with Justin Lee providing depth in the middle infield and at third. Black is a superb defensive third baseman. At the other corner, Wallace, who was second with four homers, has a lot of experience, while Chris Ballou and Taska will also be worked into the lineup.
The Javelina outfield boasts numerous athletes who are versatile enough to play any of the positions. Returning are Julian Duran, Aguilar, and Wagner, who offer tremendous speed along with Tallerine and Brian Frazier. Transfer Travis Laird and freshmen Miles Holcomb and David Massey bring intriguing potential and talents to the outfield.
After opening this weekend in Houston, the Javelinas return to South Texas to host the Holiday Inn Emerald Beach South Texas Baseball Classic at Whataburger Field.
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