Vanguard baseball preview: New coach oozing optimism

As a former all-conference catcher and 1997 team MVP at Vanguard University, first-year baseball coach Rob Pegg has already proved himself in a Lions uniform. And having spent seven seasons as a Vanguard assistant, his first season as head coach brings much more nostalgia than novelty.

But when it comes to building and leading winning teams from the first seat in the dugout, Pegg has seven seasons of struggle he hopes to bury under a string of success at his alma mater.

Pegg's tenure at Colorado Christian University, an NCAA Division II school in Lakewood, Colo., produced a 92-274 record. His best season was a 20-37 campaign in 2009.

And while Pegg oozes optimism when discussing the 2013 season, the vast majority of his projected contributors are anything but proven at the NAIA level.

Only two of the top eight hitters from the 2012 squad that posted a 23-21 record are back.

And while last year's top starter (senior Scott Simmons) and reliever (senior Kevin Ponzo) return for the mound corps, four of the top five starting candidates this season are transfers with modest to poor numbers at their previous stops.

Further, Pegg said he and his staff are still chipping away at the mind-set of a roster that includes 13 returners and 22 newcomers.

"I've tried to be forthright from Day 1 about what the expectations and standards will be," said Pegg, who takes over after Ralph Grajeda resigned having posted a 98-95 record in four seasons and is now an assistant at Golden State Athletic Conference rival San Diego Christian. "We have a very simple philosophy, which is to do things right and be a great teammate. Our job is to define for the guys what doing things right is, because sometimes their right isn't our right. I've had some teaching to do, getting guys to play my style the way I expect. I want us to be a blue-collar team. I want us to be talented and get after it, but I want us to be hustlers, workers and grinders."

Senior shortstop Bryce Arroyo has done things right in four seasons for the Lions. He hit .327 in 42 games as a junior with five homers and 35 runs batted in and Pegg says he is a five-tool talent who is gaining interest from professional scouts.

Arroyo anchors an all-senior infield that includes returner Adonis Tountas at second base. Tountas hit .291 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 41 games last season.

Jason Ochart, who last played in 2011 at San Francisco State, is projected to start at third base, while first base/designated hitter is expected to be a rotation of up to three players.

Ellis Whitman is a Cal State Dominguez Hills transfer, while Jordan Mould hit .163 in 27 games for the Lions last season. Sophomore Taylor McKnight transferred from Santa Barbara City College, where he was one for 15 (.067) in five games last season.

Returners John Collins, a junior, and senior Nikko Tountas are among the candidates behind the plate, where junior transfers Jack Daru and Cole McMath may also contribute.

Pegg said Adonis Tountas or Ochart are candidates to lead off. He also said he will not be shy in unleashing speed he said permeates the lineup.

Pegg believes the Lions' collection of athletes in the outfield are a team strength.

Matt Avery is a senior center fielder whose career has been slowed by injuries. He sat out last season after hitting .195 in 28 games for the Lions in 2011. He was eight for eight in stolen-base attempts that season and Pegg said he has shown middle-of-the-lineup power.

Junior Frankie Torres is slated to open in left field, while junior John Schwer is the top candidate in right. Torres hit .315 with 18 RBIs in 108 at-bats at Riverside City College in 2011. Schwer had one hit in nine at-bats last season at Cal State East Bay, but Pegg was also effusive about his power potential.

Pegg said juniors Thomas Mobley and Ian Sakry will add outfield depth.

On the mound, senior Travis Tomsen, a transfer from Hawaii, is scheduled to start Game 1 of a season-opening nonconference home doubleheader against La Sierra on Monday at 11 a.m., Pegg said.

Tomsen, whom Pegg said is extremely athletic and a fierce competitor, worked just 1 2/3 innings at Hawaii last season, posting no record and a 10.80 earned-run average.

Junior Richard Perry, senior Kamakani Usui and junior Clayton Voechting are also expected to join Simmons as starters, Pegg said.

Perry was 3-5 with a 4.45 ERA in 64 2/3 innings at Citrus College last season, while Usui, whose fastball has been clocked at 93 mph and has "electric stuff," according to Pegg, is a Hawaii native who last pitched at Cal State Los Angeles in 2011. That season, Usui was 0-2 with an 11.87 ERA in 25 2/3 innings with 16 walks and nine strikeouts.

Pegg praised Perry's "plus command," which helped him walk just six and strike out 37 last season.

Simmons was 5-3 with a 4.44 ERA as the Lions' staff ace last season, but Pegg listed him fourth among the five projected starters. Simmons had 26 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings in 2012.

Voechting was 4-5 with a 4.88 ERA over 66 1/3 innings at Palomar Community College last season, when he fanned 41.

Ponzo was 3-0 with a 4.58 ERA and had four of the Lions' seven saves last season. He struck out 31 in 35 1/3 innings.

Senior Brian Hopper is a returner who figures to add to the bullpen, while sophomore Jordan Moak provides the leading left-handed option among relievers, Pegg said. Moak was 0-3 with a 6.91 ERA at Golden West College in 2011.

Vanguard opens the GSAC season Feb. 1 at Arizona Christian.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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