All-American closer Brandon Belanger returns in 2000 for his senior season.
Jan. 21, 2000
NEW ORLEANS - Tulane enters the 2000 season riding the momentum of the 1999 season that included a 48-17 record, a Conference USA Tournament Title, a No. 1 seed in an NCAA Regional, a final national ranking of 15th according to Baseball America, the Conference USA Player of the Year, the 1999 national freshman of the year, the Conference USA Tournament MVP, five NCAA Regional All-Tournament selections, eight All-Conference USA First Team picks and three All-Americans. Still, the ultimate goal of reaching the College World Series remains the primary challenge for 2000.
Tulane returns its entire infield, the Baseball America Freshman of the Year, one of the deepest pitching staffs in Rick Jones' tenure and begins the year with the program's highest preseason ranking - 13th according to Collegiate Baseball. The combination of three All-Americans and five first team All-Conference USA selections, coupled with an outstanding incoming class, should give all Green Wave fans hope for even greater accomplishments in 2000. After a fall that mirrored the intensity the Wave played with last season, Tulane is ready for the challenges the upcoming year holds.
"Our pitching was very good this fall," head coach Rick Jones said. " We were able to see some guys in different roles. I thought our focus and attitudes were very solid. With so many returners, our experience in the postseason has really helped us as far as knowing how much preparation we need to have for the season. We have a mature club that understands what it takes."
For fans that got used to Tulane's hard hitting and high scoring offense, the 2000 squad's style of play may take on a different look. The Wave lost three power hitters from last season's line-up but return over half of the home runs hit in 1999.
"There are other ways to win a ballgame than by hitting home runs," Jones said. "I think we still have a lot of power in our line up and we are going to have some guys surprise us. We also understand that we may have to play the short game a little more and play it confidently. We worked toward this in the fall."
One of Tulane's strengths in 2000 is the deep and talented pitching staff led by preseason All-Americans Henry Bonilla and Brandon Belanger, along with All-Conference USA selection Jared Berkowitz and starter Dan O'Gara.
Bonilla, one of four seniors on the Wave's pitching staff, returns this season after a successful summer in the Cape Code League and an outstanding junior year. Bonilla, a right-hander, went 11-1 with 131 strikeouts in 124 innings pitched and an ERA of 3.34 for the Wave. He was undefeated in Conference-USA play and led the league in strikeouts (131), struck out looking (46) and innings pitched (124).
All-American closer Belanger returns for his senior season as the Tulane record holder for saves in a single season. Last season, Belanger led Conference USA in ERA (2.45), appearances (41) and saves (16) and was ranked 11th in the nation in ERA and third in saves.
Senior co-captain Berkowitz heads into this season six wins shy of tying the Tulane career wins record. The lefty finished last season with 13 wins, a 3.78 ERA, 87 strikeouts and only 20 walks in 123 2/3 innings. He earned NCAA Regional All-Tournament honors for his complete game, one earned run performance against N.C. State. His 13 wins were the fifth best in the country.
O'Gara capped off his junior season with a complete game victory in a must-win game at the NCAA Regional against Auburn. The senior right-hander had an eight win season in 1999 and a tremendous summer in the Cape Cod League. O'Gara went 8-2 and recorded a 4.59 ERA in 12 starts for the Wave.
Sophomore Bryan Vogel, one of the most improved pitchers on staff, is expected to be counted on heavily this season after a strong fall. Junior Barth Melius, who posted a win over LSU last year, is expected to see more action on the mound for the Wave in 2000.
Newcomers on the pitching staff that are likely to make an impact are Louisiana 5A Player of the Year Nick Bourgeois (LHP) who recorded an 0.81 ERA as a senior and Matt Foster (RHP) who was named to the Florida Class 5A All-State Team. Also expected to make an impact are freshmen Keith Hennegan (LHP) who went 5-3 with a 1.35 ERA as a senior and Steven Blades (RHP) a Louisiana all-state selection.
Behind the plate for the Green Wave in 2000 is returning senior Nick Herz. Herz, a two-time draftee of the New York Yankees, hit.265 with three home runs last season. After a strong postseason, Herz is the Wave's primary catcher in 2000.
Backing Herz is freshman Grant Burruss, who played for the National Connie Mack Champion East CobbYankees. Burruss hails the same program that produced Chad Sutter, the 1999 Conference USA Player of the Year. Senior Mickey McKee could also see duty in a catcher's role.
Tulane returns its entire starting infield from 1999 which includes Mickey McKee, a Collegiate Baseball defensive All-American, James Jurries, Baseball America's Freshman of the Year, Jake Gautreau, Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American, and Andy Cannizaro, an All-Conference USA selection.
"When you look at the run production and the ability to play defense, it would rank up there as one of the best infields in college baseball," Jones said.
Senior co-captain McKee played very solid at first base for the Wave last season and was named the Conference USA Tournament MVP. McKee hit .326 and recorded a .984 fielding percentage.
Jurries, a sophomore second baseman, finished 13th in the nation in runs scored, averaging 1.38 per game. He also led Conference USA in total bases (194) and runs scored (90) and rounded out the top five in slugging percentage (.698), hits (104), RBI (79), home runs (20) and doubles (22). Jurries is recovering from a summer knee surgery this summer but had an outstanding fall. Both the league's coaches and Baseball America named Jurries the Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year.
Gautreau, who returns at third base for the Wave, is an excellent defensive third baseman and adds power to the Tulane line-up. Gautreau set a school freshman record with 21 home runs last season.
Cannizaro, a junior shortstop, capped off a tremendous sophomore year only to be followed by an outstanding summer in the Cape Cod League. In 1999, Cannizaro hit .370 with 38 RBI, 14 doubles, a league leading 31 stolen bases and was named an All-Conference USA First Team member.
Junior Steve Shirley is also expected to see time in the infield and as the designated hitter. Shirley who served in both the designated hitter's role as well as a back up at first base hit .311 with eight home runs.
Also projected to see action in the infield are freshmen Russell Taylor and Nick Bourgeois. Bourgeois hit 17 home runs as a high school senior and should add power to the line-up. Taylor hit .416 with 16 home runs in his high school career.
The Green Wave returns one starting outfielder from the 1999 squad but has a lot of depth to choose from to fill the other two positions.
Matt Groff, an NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team selection, fills the centerfield position. Groff, who is recovering from a summer ACL surgery, hit .367 with 17 doubles, 37 RBI and stole 20 bases last season.
Other players likely to see time in the outfield are freshmen redshirts Aaron Feldman and Jon Kaplan, both coming off outstanding falls, as well as freshman Beau Hearod, who hit .588 with 11 home runs as a senior, J.P. Losman, a member of the Tulane football team, Mike VanDaele, who hit .470 with seven home runs and 45 RBI in 1999, and James Burgess, a 1999 draft pick of the Boston Red Sox. Junior Jay Heintz is an anticipated sight in the outfield and may also be seen on the mound in a setup and relief role.
"This is by far the toughest schedule we have ever played" Jones comments. "Our conference has made great strides and has become one of the best baseball conferences in the country as evidenced by the fact that three schools were No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Regionals last year."
The Green Wave opens the 2000 season at Turchin Stadium with a three-game series against San Diego State, a program rich in baseball history, followed by the annual Winn-Dixie Showdown. This year, the Showdown features No. 3 Alabama and No. 12 Auburn, as well as UNO. Tulane travels to No. 19 Arizona for three games against the Wildcats and hosts Rutgers, a team who has played in three of the last four NCAA Regionals. In addition, the Wave also plays the traditional home and home series with LSU, with the April 19th game to be played at Zephyr Field.
Midweek games against instate rivals including McNeese State, Louisiana-Lafayette, UNO, Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana are also on the Green Wave's schedule.
Tulane begins Conference play with a home series against Louisville beginning on March 17th. This season the Wave also plays host to Conference USA rivals Saint Louis, UNC Charlotte and Southern Miss. Conference USA road games include tips to Houston, Cincinnati, UAB, Memphis and South Florida. The 2000 Conference USA Tournament is hosted by USF and is to be played at Power Park in St. Petersburg, Fla.