March 4, 2008

Baseball Visits Dayton, Murray State This Week

March 4, 2008

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The First Pitch: Butler continues its season-opening nine-game road trip this week, stopping at Dayton for a single game on Wednesday (March 5) beginning at 2:00 p.m. before heading to Murray Kentucky for a three-game set against Murray State. The Bulldogs battle the Racers in a double-header at noon on Saturday (March 8) before closing the series on Sunday (March 9) at noon.

Previewing The Bulldogs: If pitching is truly the key to winning championships in baseball, then the 2008 Bulldogs could be playing late into the spring. Butler's entire starting rotation and almost every one of the relievers will be back in uniform this season, and an influx of rookie arms could make the Bulldogs' staff one of the best in the Horizon League. Senior right-hander Jon Dages returns as Butler's ace for the second season in a row after finishing ranked among the Horizon League's best in six categories, including a league second-best 3.40 ERA. Senior southpaw Bryan Bokowy, senior righty Brian Deter and junior right-hander Ryan Kruszka round out the bevy of experienced arms in the Butler arsenal. The development of the Bulldogs' newcomers will be key for the team's success on offense this year, as five freshmen position players have already earned starting nods in Butler's first four games of the season, including Grant Fillipitch (3B), Luke Duncan (2B), Michael Letzter (C), Brian Bajer (C) and Steve Darragh (LF). Shortstop and first will be two of the few positions anchored by seasoned vets. Senior shortstop Joe Pauley, the team's top returning hitter from 2007, holds down the spot after batting .324 with a team-best 68 hits and 41 runs scored last season, while senior first baseman Ryan Neat adds steady hands at the right corner of the infield. The veteran outfield corps of seniors Nate Hart and Kyle McLaughlin and junior Rick Betsch give the Bulldogs consistent hitting in the lineup and speed in the field, while junior Alex Montagano could see regular time at DH. Head coach Steve Farley, the winningest baseball coach in school history, is 415-465-1 in his 17th season with the Bulldogs.

No. 17 Kentucky Slugs Past Bulldogs: Kentucky gave the Bulldogs a very unpleasant reception when Butler opened up the regular season in Lexington last weekend, as the No. 17 ranked Wildcats claimed all four games in convincing fashion. After scoring 14 runs in the first two games of the series, Kentucky erupted for 21 in the third game while allowing the Bulldogs just three runs total in the first three contests. Butler began to show progress in the final match-up, collecting a weekend-high nine hits and scoring four runs before falling 12-4.

Neat Yard Work: Senior captain Ryan Neat provided all the offense for the Bulldogs in the second game of a twin-bill on March 1. He ripped the first home run of his career, as well as Butler's first of the season, in the fifth inning before doubling home Steve Darragh in the seventh. He finished the weekend with three hits, two runs scored and two RBI.

Rookie Sensations: Butler received a lot of help at the plate from its freshman class this weekend, as seven of the team's 21 hits came off the bats of rookie players. Third baseman Grant Fillipitch led the way, collecting a team-best five hits while adding two RBI and a run scored. Second baseman Luke Duncan had a hit and two runs scored, while catcher Brian Bajer added a single.

Pitching In: The Bulldogs return 12 of their 14 pitchers who saw action last season, accounting for 448.1 of the 476 innings pitched in 2007. Butler finished second in the Horizon League with a 4.78 team ERA and with 170 walks allowed.

Dages Takes The Lead: Right-hander Jon Dages enters his senior season as the team's ace after logging a team-best 98.0 innings during the 2007 campaign. One of the top pitchers in the Horizon League last year, he ranked in the top-10 in the conference in six categories, including starts (16), ERA (3.40), strikeouts (62) and innings pitched (98.0). He is also just 87.2 innings away from becoming Butler's all-time leader in career innings pitched (309.1).

Not Your Average Joe: Senior shortstop Joe Pauley is Butler's top returning hitter after batting .324 with a team-leading 68 hits, 41 runs, 11 doubles and 96 total bases in 2007. An all-league first team member as a sophomore and all-league second team honoree as a freshman, he is 47 runs away from becoming Butler's all-time runs leader (150).

A Professional Touch: The Butler baseball team's 2008 schedule features a professional touch, as the Bulldogs take on cross-town foe Marian at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis. Victory Field serves as the home of the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Major League Calling: Former Butler pitcher Pat Neshek continued to thrive with the Minnesota Twins in his second year at the MLB level in 2007. He finished with a 7-2 record, a 2.94 ERA, 74 strikeouts and only 27 walks in 70.1 innings of work and was one of five players named to the Final Vote Ballot for the All Star Game in just his first full season. Neshek, a three-year letterwinner with the Bulldogs, holds school records for strikeouts in a game (18), season (118) and career (280).

Milestones Ahead For Farley: The 2008 season will be one of milestones for head coach Steve Farley, who enters his 17th season with the Bulldogs and his 20th as a collegiate head coach. In his 19 years on the bench, Farley has been a part of 981 ball games and is just 19 shy of his 1,000th. Meanwhile, with 468 career coaching victories to his credit, he could very well be celebrating his 500th win by the end of the spring. After notching his 400th victory at the school just last season, Farley stands as the program's most successful mentor with 415 Butler wins.

On Deck: Following a stop at Tennessee-Martin on March 10, Butler returns home to Bulldog Park on March 11 for the home opener against Taylor starting at 3:00 p.m. The Bulldogs then return to the road for a three-game set at Tennessee Tech from March 14-16.