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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Kernen dislikes the term "rebuilding."
But he acknowledges that's where his Cal State Bakersfield baseball program is heading into the 2014 season.
The Roadrunners held their first official practice on Friday, and Kernen said there's enough talent to contend for a second straight Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship.
"I don't know if we can," Kernen said, comparing this squad to the team that went 37-22 last season and 18-9 in its inaugural WAC season. "But whether we're a team that can do that again is the question because it takes time to put it together.
"I can't give them experience playing other teams until they do. We can work as hard as we work out here but until that happens, it's not something I can give them until they go out and get it."
Four players from last season's squad were drafted by major league teams, and the starting pitchers who carried the bulk of the load are gone.
Before last June, the last time CSUB had four players drafted was following the 2011 season, when Bakersfield went 33-22. The Roadrunners went 25-30 in 2012.
"The 2012 team had the same guys as last year's team, but they had another year of experience and another year of battles under their belts and maturity," Kernen said.
"So when they came back in 2013, we knew that was going to be a special team.
"We want to overcome the rebuilding year mentality and try to have it where we play well from year to year."
"We can't let the middle year, that bridge ... affect us like it did my sophomore year," Sanay said. "We've got some good guys who can play. They just need experience."
Last season's pitching staff was anchored by seniors Jeff McKenzie, Scott Brattvet and Jonathan Montoya, who combined to start 45 of CSUB's 59 games.
This season, Kernen said he envisions senior left-hander Taylor Aikenhead as the opening day starter, followed the next two days by junior Hayden Carter and sophomore Austin Davis, both right-handers. Stockdale High graduate James Barragan is scheduled to start the first Tuesday game of the season vs. UC Santa Barbara.
"Those are our top starters right now," Kernen said. "Davis and Barragan haven't won a college baseball game yet. Aikenhead's won maybe seven or eight games his two years here but we feel he's going to be very effective."
"It's pretty exciting. I'm very blessed," Aikenhead said of his opening-day assignment.
Aikenhead said he isn't thinking about replacing the three quality senior pitchers from last season.
"You can only worry about what you can control," he said. "You can't worry about duplicating what someone else has done.
"But what this program's always done is produce quality starting pitchers and I don't think this year will be any different."
Shortstop Tyler Shryock and catcher Cael Brockmeyer each had a year of eligibility remaining but signed pro contracts after being drafted.
Kernen said three-year starting second baseman Oscar Sanay, who has led the Roadrunners in batting each season, is slated to move to shortstop.
Freshman David Metzger has been impressive and will start at second base.
Mylz Jones, the starting third baseman as a freshman last season, was recruited as a shortstop but is such a strong defensive player Kernen said he'd rather leave him at third
Junior Liberty High graduate Ross Hough and Logan Trowbridge from College of San Mateo are both solid and will handle the catching spot, Kernen said.
But lineup and batting order questions remain and could continue into the season, Kernen said.
"Until we see guys on the field against other teams, who knows how many lineups we'll have this year?" Kernen said. "Who knows about our pitching situation? We'll get them out there and see what happens."
CSUB's season opener is Friday, Feb. 14, the opener of a three-game series at Hardt Field against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.