Feb. 10, 2012
Air Force baseball head coach Mike Kazlausky took a moment from his busy schedule to talk about his Falcons as they prepare for the 2012 baseball season.
How is the team looking headed into 2012?
We are very excited to begin our second year with Falcon baseball. It is an honor and privilege for my staff and me to be able to coach this team of fine young men at the United States Air Force Academy. I am also excited to have all three coaches returning from last season. Coaches Tim Dixon, Toby Bicknell and Mark Crocco bring an invaluable amount of baseball knowledge to our program. There is no doubt that their enthusiasm and love for the game rubs off on our players.
I have walked the walk at the Academy and served our nation for 20 years. I understand what our players go through on a daily basis and I also understand the importance of competition, to bring out the best in our cadets in which will enable them to be at their best when our nation calls. Our cadets are different, and they are not normal college baseball players. They represent so much more. We will don the baseball uniform that says Air Force across the chest, but it may as well say USA. I expect total team commitment and not just on the field. I expect our team to be successful in the classroom, in the squadron, and in the community. These Cadets represent something so much bigger than themselves and the baseball team. They represent our Air Force Academy, our Air Force, and our Country!
What an exciting opening weekend for the Falcons! We are headed to Baton Rouge, La., to play LSU and Alcorn State twice. There is no better venue in the country than Alex Box Stadium and there is not a man I respect more than LSU coach Paul Mainieri. Coach Mainieri was my coach at the Academy while I was a Cadet and I had the ability to coach under him for two years while he was at the Academy. He has made me into the man that I am today and without his mentoring and tutelage, I would not be coaching at the Air Force Academy. You will not meet a better coach or a better man than Coach Mainieri. He represents everything that is good for college baseball and for all the people that he comes in contact with. Coach Mainieri is my mentor and it will be bittersweet to play the Tigers.
We return several starters with lots of experience as well as break in a handful of newcomers. Our team strength will be our starting pitchers as we return out entire starting rotation from last year.
As a team, we don't put a lot of emphasis on the final outcome at the end of the game; we're more concerned about how we play pitch-by-pitch. At the end of the game, whether the scoreboard is in our favor or not, we are more concerned on if we played Falcon baseball. Have we hustled? Have we put ourselves into a situation to be successful? Those are the things we're more concerned with.
Is there a team motto this year?
Our motto for this year is pretty simple. It's W.I.N. It stands for What's Important Now. It summarizes all that encompasses what our players go through, not just on the field, but as cadets in their squadron, as students and as future military officers. We just want our cadets focused on the task at hand.
What is the teams' goal this year?
Our number one goal this season is to make the Mountain West Championships. It's been years since we've been to the championships and this is what our team will be striving for. It's going to be a challenge, but we feel our program is headed in the right direction and that this goal is attainable.
Who are you looking at to lead the team?
We have a veteran group of seniors that we expect to provide leadership to our team. Having a big group of six seniors is an added benefit to us as a coaching staff. Our seniors, Evan Abrecht, Michael Ceci, Adam Hill, Victor Iacobbo, Mike Kazakoff and Blair Roberts have plenty of game experience and have developed into leaders through their four years at the Academy. The leadership they provide to our team is unprecedented and top-notch.
Tell us about your pitching staff, first with the starting pitchers?
Our starting pitching will be our team strength. We will lean heavily on seniors Evan Abrecht and Michael Ceci, as well as our juniors Sean Carley and Ben Bertelson. Evan has been solid for us over the past three years and Sean is a returning All-Mountain West selection. Michael continues to improve with each year and we look for Ben to continue to make the strides he made as a sophomore last year. Cameron White made big strides as a freshman last year and he will also push for a spot in our rotation.
How is the bullpen coming along?
As we enter the season, we're looking for several pitchers to step up in the bullpen. With last year's closer Stephen Colangelo lost to injury, we expect Alex Baker to step in and close for us this year. He had a solid sophomore season as our setup man and we expect him to excel this year.
Sophomore Cameron White will be a factor for us in both the bullpen and starting rotation. Freshman Ben Yokley and sophomore David Baska, who comes to us from the football team, have looked good in practices and will be called upon to give us quality innings.
We have a group of juniors in Matt Zettler, Jack Hourin and Todd Del Toro that we expect to improve from last year. Senior Mike Kazakoff gave us solid appearances out of the pen as a situational guy last year, and we expect more of the same from him this year.
At First Base we have three quality options. Senior Adam Hill will start the season at first and could also see time at third. Adam missed his entire junior season to injury, but we look for him to be back and ready to help us out on offense and defense. Sophomore Seth Kline contributed offensively last year and will see time at first and designated hitter.
Freshman Tyler Saleck has a made a lot of improvements since the fall both offensively and defensively. Noah Pierce and Casey Gibson are freshman that have come on strong in their first year. Noah Pierce is the projected starter at third and Casey Gibson could see a good bit of time in the line-up as well.
Who will be catching for you?
Junior Garrett Custons will anchor our offense and lead our defense when behind the dish. As a returning first-team All-Mountain West player, we're going to ask a lot out of Garrett again. He finished his sophomore season hitting well and continued it into summer ball in the Northwoods League. We expect him to be even better as an upperclassman. Freshman Taylor Ausbun and freshman Brian Sicher will also see action at behind the plate.
How is the outfield shaping up?
Junior Alex Bast, our returning team MVP, will anchor the outfield in center field. Alex will also be counted upon to produce for us in the middle of the batting order as well. Patrick Lobo returns for his sophomore year after finishing second on the team in batting.
Adding to Bast and Lobo we have several other players who could see time in the outfield; freshmen Jake Sortor and David Thomas, sophomores Jacob Schomaker, Shaun Lovett and Ryan Kramer. In addition to catching duties, Taylor Ausbun will also get a look in the outfield.
As the season progresses, we look at getting a bunch of players back who are currently injured. So what we see at the start of the season may not be what we see at the end of the season lineup-wise. It's a tough situation to put our young guys in, but they will get a chance to learn on the fly and gain valuable live game experience right away.
Looks like you have another tough schedule this year?
This is year we have put together a pretty tough schedule, especially with the fact we play 41 road games, including our first 20 games on the road to start the season. We also play three teams ranked in preseason Top-25 polls in LSU, Oklahoma and TCU. In addition, we will face NCAA regional teams in Alcorn State and Navy.
As we did last year, we will be playing Navy at a neutral-site. We are honored and so thankful for the first-class event the folks in Kinston, N.C. have setup for us. We look forward to a spirited series with our brothers in arms at the Naval Academy and at a great city and ball field in Kinston.
We feel that the tough non-conference slate we play will only prepare us in our goal of competing for a tournament slot in the always-tough Mountain West Conference.
At the end of the day, who we play doesn't matter as much as how we play. We stress to our players the importance of playing the game right, one pitch at a time. And in doing so, the results will speak for themselves.
We try to stress upon our cadets about the importance of character, integrity and the drive to succeed; both on and off the field. We are looking to develop winners not just on the field, but in life and beyond. By playing this game right, with focus and intensity, we hope to instill skills and habits that these young men will be able to use as they go on to become officers in the United States Air Force.