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College baseball: Aurora U. has pitching to burn

AurorUniversity junior Oswego East graduate Brad Warnecke compiled an 8-0 record mound last year. | Phocourtesy AurorUniversity

Aurora University junior and Oswego East graduate Brad Warnecke compiled an 8-0 record on the mound last year. | Photo courtesy of Aurora University

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Updated: April 1, 2013 7:20AM

Nobody expects Lane Stahl to better what Aurora University’s baseball team accomplished a year ago.

Then again, Stahl isn’t exactly in a rebuilding campaign in his first season as head coach.

“You never try to match what the other team did,” Stahl said. “Last year’s team was a special team.”

Stahl was one of Shaun Neitzel’s assistant coaches on last year’s team which was indeed special. The Spartans finished 2012 with a glittering 38-10 record, won the Northern Athletics Conference championship and went 2-2 in the NCAA Division III Regional.

While graduation did take away a large portion of the regular lineup, the 2013 Spartans have a returning strength that will be hard to match.

The top three starting pitchers — senior Drew Gay, junior Brad Warnecke (Oswego East) and sophomore Eric Palmer — all carded 8-0 records last season, and there is quality and depth behind them with senior Kevin Day (Plano) at 3-2 as a part-time starter.

“We’re excited about what we return on the mound and we feel good about the young guys too,” Stahl said.

Seniors Tom Ozlanski and Luke Gilbertson (Yorkville) will work out of the AU bullpen along with freshman Tyler Findlay (Plainfield Central) and junior transfer Jared Steck (Joliet Junior College). Plus, junior Greg Fox is back after missing last year with an injury.

Freshman Christian Smith is another possibility on the mound. The Crystal Lake South graduate is 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds and could work his way into the rotation or be a bullpen specialist.

There are holes to fill in the lineup but not at designated hitter where senior Cory Walden returns. The West Aurora and Waubonsee Community College grad hit .352 with nine home runs and 57 RBI last year.

He isn’t the only heavy hitter in the Spartans lineup. Senior Mike Foley drove in 42 runs in 2012 and will likely be one of the outfielders, and sophomores Carlos Olavarria (.286) and Tanner Oymian (.280) will patrol the middle infield positions.

Freshman Jake Monson and junior Tim Brann (Sandwich) are in a battle for the starting job at third base, and first base is a logjam with several candidates.

Senior Ryan McMahon (.322) will be the No. 1 catcher with senior Kyle Spooner (West Aurora) backing him up.

“Ryan McMahon has probably the best arm in the region and Spooner has worked real hard in the offseason,” Stahl said.

Foley, a returning all-region player, will patrol right field with the other two outfield spots up for grabs with sophomore Corey Landers (Kaneland), freshman Nick Turner and sophomore Sean Stevens among those in the mix.

“It’s a great, competitive, atmosphere out there,” Stahl said. “We just want to continue the tradition that has been set for so many years.”

AU opens the season against Loras College on March 2 in Florida. The Spartans play their first home game at 3 p.m. March 27 against North Central College at Solfisburg Park.

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