CHICAGO – The 65th season of UIC baseball is set to begin on Friday, Feb. 15 as the Flames journey to College Station, Texas for a three-game series against 24th-ranked Texas A&M. UIC returns 22 letterwinners from the 2012 campaign, a season in which the Flames fell one win short of the NCAA Tournament, claiming runner-up honors in the Horizon League Championship.
“It’s impossible not to be excited for a new season,” said head coach Mike Dee. “We’re at the point where we need to go out and start playing and see what we need to improve upon. We didn’t like what happened last year and all of us spent a lot of time evaluating what we need to do to make this season better and I think we did that. The attitude is night-and-day better than a year ago and there’s a tremendous amount of trust between the players and coaches.”
This year's challenging schedule includes 18 games against five 2012 NCAA Tournament teams, including #24 Texas A&M, # 2 Vanderbilt, Purdue, Indiana State and Valparaiso. After the first four weekends of action, UIC is expected to have played one of the toughest opening schedules in the country.
“That’s by design,” said Dee. “We feel like that gives us the best way to evaluate how our talent stacks up. I think we’ve recruited the kind of athlete who enjoys the challenge of playing such a tough schedule.”
After the first nine road games, the Flames will host 28 of their remaining 46 games at Les Miller Field, the most home contests since 2003.
“We’re very excited about playing that many home games,” said Dee. “We’ve been able to reconfigure our schedule to make that happen, which is a rarity in this part of the country.”
Dee returns for his 15th season as the Flames General, the longest tenured head coach in the Horizon League. After a disappointing fourth-place finish in the conference regular season, Dee piloted the Flames through the Horizon League Tournament and ultimately to the title game, their eighth appearance since 2000. UIC was eventually defeated by preseason favorite Valparaiso, but the Flames hope to carry that momentum into 2013 with a wealth of returning talent.
Pitching Staff The UIC pitching staff returns nine players that logged time on the mound last season, which includes 22 of the Flames’ 23 wins and nearly 72 percent of their innings pitched. Leading the group of hurlers is senior Joey Begel who paced the Flames with seven wins in 2012. Begel made 16 starts and tossed 98.2 innings a year ago and currently sits 10th on UIC’s career innings pitched leaderboard with 210.1. Senior Tim Suminski will also return for his senior season with UIC. Suminski made two starts and 21 appearances last season with a 2-1 record. Senior Charlie Weinberg will sit out the 2013 season with an arm injury, using a medical redshirt. A pair of junior relievers, Collin Weyer and Mike Schoolcraft, will be relied upon for an increased workload in 2013. Last season, the duo combined for a 4-1 record and 31 total appearances. Brian Evak, Tomas Michelson and Ryan Hinchley make up the sophomore contingent of UIC pitchers. Evak was selected to the conference’s All-Newcomer Team last year after compiling a 5-6 record, a 4.70 ERA and a 92 innings pitched. Michelson appeared in 10 games and tallied an ERA of 4.24 over 34 frames, while Hinchley tossed three innings in two games. Redshirt junior Mike McKinley will be available out of the bullpen after playing one year each at Indiana and Heartland Community College.
Outfielders Junior Jon Ryan and senior Alex De LaRosa return to guide a gifted group of outfielders for UIC. Ryan was recently selected by the conference coaches to the Preseason All-Horizon League Team as he stands as the lone Flame to start every game for UIC in 2012. Ryan hit .302 on the year and paced the team in runs scored (37) and RBI (40). The Oak Lawn, Ill., native is currently recovering from a back injury and his return this season remains questionable. De LaRosa returns for his final campaign after starting two full seasons in left field for the Flames. Last season, he ranked second on the team in hits with (67) and was named to the conference All-Tournament Team by recording nine hits in six games. Sophomores Tyler Detmer and Zenon Kolakowski will look for increased playing time as they appeared in nine and seven games, respectively, last season. Sophomore Josh Nevers returns to field after redshirting in 2012. As a true freshman in 2011, Nevers started 20 games for UIC and played in 30. Redshirt freshmen Conor Philbin looks to make his Flames debut after being redshirted one year ago.
Infielders The Flames return, quite possibly, the most talented group of infielders in the Horizon League. Senior Alex Grunenwald, a Preseason All-Leaguer, led UIC in hitting last season with a .345 average, which ranked fourth in the conference. He also fronted the Flames in hits (68) and slugging percentage (.508). Redshirt junior and designated hitter Ryan Boss was also voted to the Preseason All-League squad as he belted a team-high seven homers in 2012 and owns 13 dingers so far in his two seasons. Senior third-baseman Joe Betcher will conclude his four-year Flames career in 2013 as he owns 124 career starts to date. Last season, Betcher held the team’s second-highest batting average of .311 and was named to the Horizon League All-Tournament Team. Seniors Ryan Shober and Harry Kammholz will also complete their collegiate careers this season as they look to provide veteran leadership for the young infielders. Junior catchers Alex Jurich and Jacob McNamara will give the Flames bullpen reassurance from behind the plate. Jurich started 47 contests last season, split between catcher and designated hitter, while McNamara started 26 games. Junior John Coen hopes to see more time at second base as he started the final 18 games last year, finishing the season with a .279 batting average. Redshirt junior Andres Ortegano will be available for the Flames in 2013 after playing two years at Morton College and redshirting with UIC last spring. Junior Alex Lee will be using a medical redshirt this season after starting 32 games at shortstop in 2012.
Newcomers Three of the four newcomers to the 2013 Flames are pitchers. Alex Posey comes to Chicago from Rend Lake Community College where he racked up a 4-2 record and allowed just 19 hits in 20 appearances. Freshmen Jack Andersen and Ian Lewandowski will be looking for their time on the mound as both players had heralded prep careers at Fremd and Naperville Central, respectively. The lone freshman position player on UIC’s roster is outfielder Tommy Field. Field helped guide his Bishop Gorman Gaels to a No. 1 national ranking by USA Today and its seventh straight class 4A Nevada state title last spring.