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2013 Bronco Baseball Preview (Part 2 of 3) - Offense: Thunder in the Cage

Courtesy: Ryan Champine, media relations staff assistant
Release: 02/10/2013
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KALAMAZOO, Mich.- The Western Michigan Bronco baseball team looks to make some noise offensively in the 2013 season. 

The team finished last year with a .292 batting average, which ranked as the third highest average in the Mid-American Conference, and was WMU's highest in four years. Western Michigan remained among the nation's leaders in sacrifice hits and was aggressive on the base paths, totaling 43 stolen bases, the most for the program since 2005.

"The last two years we have broken the school record for hit-by-pitch," commented head coach Billy Gernon. "We've got to get back into the mentality of how do we get on base so people can drive those guys in and understand who the table setters are."

A key table setter for the Broncos will be junior outfielder and leadoff man Vinnie Booker. In his sophomore campaign Booker hit .292 and snared 18 stolen bases. He also contributed 10 hit-by-pitches to the team's 58 total. The 58 HBPs was the second highest total in school history behind the 67 in 2011. 

One player who will be responsible for driving in the ducks on the pond is senior third baseman Patrick Duncan. Duncan will man the hot corner for the Broncos and bat in the middle of the line up. Last season he hit .321 with three home runs and tied for second on the squad with 39 RBIs and 15 doubles, batting fifth in the lineup. Earlier this year, he was named preseason Second Team All-MAC by College Sports Madness.

"Last year I made huge improvements under Coach Gernon," said Duncan. "My batting average went up and my RBIs increased. I look forward to continue to produce in the middle of the order."

With the departure of First Team All-MAC selection Ryan McMillin, who last season hit .333 with 72 hits, seven home runs, 19 doubles and 52 RBIs, Duncan looks to emerge as the main run producer for the Broncos.

"Pat has made severe improvements offensively," said Gernon. "I think he's capable of hitting .350 and capable of 50 RBIs. He's also capable of playing a great defensive third base."

Other returning position players who gained valuable experience and are fighting for roles this year include juniors Kory Bauswell, Brooks Beilke, Steve Buglione, Theo Piccirilli and Dan Shutes, as well as sophomores Caleb Caton, Jared Kujawa, Andrew Sohn and Jordan Tillman. Bauswell, Beilke and Buglione all sat out last season with injury.

Kujawa was a mainstay behind the plate, but will move to the outfield in 2013 and is a tri-captain along with Booker and Duncan. He tied Duncan for the second-most RBIs last year with 39, led the team in triples with four, had eight doubles and batted .272.

"There's a lot more thunder in the cage this year," commented Gernon. " It may not show as early as I hope it does, but when it's going to be time for it to show I think we will have the discipline and the ability to sustain a really solid game of baseball both offensively and defensively." 

The Broncos have also brought in a strong freshmen class that includes Brandon Cable, Drew Farmer, Kurt Hoekstra, Hunter Prince and 2012 Michigan High School Gatorade Player of the Year Brett Sunde.

"One of our goals during the recruiting process was to increase and enhance the strength of the bench," said Gernon.

"When we don't give up free bases defensively and we play a solid game it typically boils down to some defining moments. In baseball a lot of it is the two out RBIs, a lot of it is the two strike approach where the guys can see that the at bat is for the team and that they become the team player and produce in the situation.  The more we have guys buying into that concept the more we are going to win close games. Close games require unselfish performances."