The Dirtbags will be without head coach Troy Buckley for the opening weekend against the Wolverines. Buckley was suspended for a violation of NCAA rules in Fall 2014. Assistant coach Jesse Zapada will step up in Buckley’s absence.
With the Dirtbags losing Buckley and several key contributors both in the rotation and their lineup, the Wolverines will have an advantage when it comes to roster experience.
“We lost six everyday-position players,” Buckley said. “Seven guys out of their lineup are back.”
Buckley enters his fifth season as the Dirtbags head coach. Last season was statistically the best pitching staff Buckley has had in his four-year tenure. The team had a collective 2.97 ERA, which ranked them 29th in the nation.
Gone are right-handers Andrew Rohrbach and Josh Frye, left-hander Nick Sabo, first baseman Ino Patron and outfielder Richard Prigatano. Frye was a Second Team All-American selection last year, while Rohrbach, Sabo and Prigatano were all selected in the 2014 MLB Draft.
The Dirtbags will rely heavily on senior right-hander Kyle Friedrichs and junior right-hander Ty Provencher, their two most experienced pitchers. Friedrichs led the team with six saves last year and Provencher was an All-Big West second team selection.
Friedrichs said he is focused on staying loose and building his strength so he can be a starter.
“I’ve been trying to visualize opening day just so it doesn’t come as a shock,” Friedrichs said. “So I imagine another team in the dugout.”
The Dirtbags’ only two returning infield starters are junior catcher Eric Hutting and sophomore shortstop Garrett Hampson. Hampson had a stellar year last season and he was named Big West Conference Freshman Field Player of the Year. Hampson tied for the team lead with a .308 batting average and had a team-leading 74 hits.
Hutting played in 46 games last year and threw out 19 base runners trying to steal. Hutting said they have a lot youth and inexperience, but the coaches have done a fantastic job of preparing them. Hutting said he is no stranger to the maize and blue of Michigan.
“I actually lived in Michigan a couple years,” Hutting said. “I used to go to Michigan games when I was 10 and 11.”
Erik Bakick is in his third year as head coach of Michigan. The Wolverines led the Big-10 in strikeouts last year, and they were third in league play in earned run average. Sophomore left-hander Brett Adcock was an All-Big 10 freshman selection last season as he posted a team-best 2.87 ERA.
Senior centerfielder Jackson Glines was an All-Big 10 second team selection last season. He led the team with a .332 batting average.
Buckley said the team probably has more overall team speed than Michigan does, and the Dirtbags will game plan against the Wolverines’ strengths and what they like to do. Buckley said they can’t take their strengths completely away but they will be prepared for them.
“We’re going to get a feel for them in the first three or four innings,” Buckley said.
The Dirtbags will host Michigan for a three-game series starting Friday night at Blair Field at 6 p.m.