Senior southpaw Sam Murphy will take the mound Friday in Omaha's season opener at UNLV.
Courtesy: Omaha Athletics

Omaha Opens 2017 Campaign at UNLV Classic

Omaha Athletics | February 16, 2017
Leading Off
The Omaha baseball team opens the 2017 season at a breakneck pace this week, playing five games in five days. The Mavericks begin with four games at the UNLV Classic at Earl E. Wilson Stadium in Las Vegas, Nev., first facing host UNLV on Friday, Feb. 17 at 8:05 p.m. CT. They then take on UC Davis on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 4:05 p.m. CT and Saint Mary's on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 1:05 p.m. CT, before a second matchup with UNLV on Monday, Feb. 20 at 2:05 p.m. CT. Omaha immediately hits the road for Kansas on Tuesday, Feb. 21, with first pitch at 3 p.m. at Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence, Kan. Live stats, audio and video, as available, will be linked on OMavs.com.

Quick Hits
•Omaha is 39-27 over 66 recorded season openers in program history.
•Omaha has never faced a team from the state of California in the Division I era. This weekend, the Mavericks face two in UC Davis and Saint Mary's.
•Three Mavericks hit over .300 in 2016: junior utility player Ryan Cate (.317), junior outfielder/catcher Adam Caniglia (.310) and sophomore infielder/right-handed pitcher Grant Suponchick (.302).
•In 2016, Omaha averaged its most home runs per game (.46), runs scored per game (5.77), walks per game (3.93), RBI per game (5.13) and stolen bases per game (1.38) of any season in the Mavericks' Division I era.
•UNO scored at least one run in the first inning 26 times last season. That included 14 times in conference games, where the Mavericks went 10-4.
•The 2017 season marks Omaha’s second with full NCAA Division I postseason eligibility for the Summit League and NCAA Tournaments. The Mavericks completed a required four-year Division I reclassification period from 2012 to 2015.
•UNO returns 19 letterwinners this year, including six position players with starting experience: Cate, Caniglia, Suponchick, senior infielder Sam Palensky, sophomore infielder/outfielder Riley Herold and sophomore infielder Jack Kalina.
•Cate is the Mavericks' lone returning All-Summit selection. Omaha lost four former all-league players in four-time selection Clayton Taylor, three-time pick Cole Gruber and two-time honorees Tyler Fox and Alex Schultz, all of whom graduated in 2016. Fox was a two-time Summit League Pitcher of the Year (2014, 2016), and Taylor was the 2016 Summit League Player of the Year.
•UNO was picked fourth in the Summit League Preseason Coaches’ Poll for the second straight season. In 2016, the Mavericks went on to finish as the league's regular-season runner-up.
•Omaha is 253-278 all-time against all opponents on the schedule this year and 145-123 all-time against the five other teams in the Summit League. The Mavericks have compiled a 65-45 record in Summit League play since 2013.

Scouting the UNLV Rebels
UNLV went 24-32 (14-16 Mountain West) last season and was picked to tie for fifth in the 2017 Mountain West Preseason Poll. Kyle Isbel was named to the Mountain West Preseason All-Conference Team after claiming Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America honors, a share of the league's freshman of the year award and second-team All-MW recognition in 2016. The Rebels, who open the season with nine straight home games, return 22 letterwinners from a year ago. The returning corps comprises six starting position players, including Payton Squier, who was a first-team All-Mountain West pick last year.

Head coach Stan Stolte is in his second season at UNLV with a career record of 24-32.

UNLV leads the all-time series with Omaha, 3-1. The two programs last squared off April 14-15, 2012 in Las Vegas, with the Rebels winning game one, 10-7, game two, 11-2, and game four, 20-1. The Mavericks won the third game of the weekend series, 8-6.

Scouting the UC Davis Aggies
UC Davis went 17-36 (5-19 Big West) last season and was picked ninth in the 2017 Big West Preseason Poll. The Aggies return 23 letterwinners from last year's squad, including seven position starters.

Head coach Matt Vaughn is in his sixth season at UCD with a career record of 116-160-1.

Saturday marks the first meeting between Omaha and UC Davis.

Scouting the Saint Mary's Gaels
Saint Mary's went 33-25 (18-9 WCC) last year and won its first WCC regular-season and tournament championships en route to the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance with the NCAA Raleigh Regional. This season, the Gaels were picked fifth in the 2017 West Coast Conference Preseason Poll. Preseason third-team All-American Zach Kirtley hit .323 with seven homers and 20 doubles in 2016, earning first-team All-WCC recognition before spending the summer playing in the Cape Cod League. Kirtley and starting pitchers Johnny York and Cameron Neff were all named Preseason All-WCC, with York also having garnered second-team All-WCC plaudits in 2016. The Gaels return 19 letterwinners in all, including five position starters.

Head coach Eric Valenzuela is in his fourth season at Saint Mary's with a career record of 77-91.

Sunday marks the first meeting between Omaha and Saint Mary's.

On Opening Day
On Friday vs. UNLV, Omaha looks for its first win in a season opener in the Division I era, as well as its first since 2010. The Mavericks' last opening day triumph was Feb. 13, 2010 with a 10-9 win at Regis.

    Omaha's Season Openers in the Division I Era
    2012 -- at Texas A&M Corpus Christi (Corpus Christi, Texas) -- L, 3-0
    2013 -- at UTSA (San Antonio, Texas) -- L, 5-0
    2014 -- vs. Milwaukee (Port Charlotte, Fla.) -- L, 5-4
    2015 -- vs. Bradley (Phoenix, Ariz.) -- L, 6-1
    2016 -- vs. Eastern Michigan (Emerson, Ga.) -- L, 16-3

Mavericks Selected Fourth in Summit League Preseason Poll
Omaha was picked fourth in the 2017 Summit League Preseason Coaches Poll, the conference office announced Feb. 9.

Defending league champion Oral Roberts was tabbed the league favorite and received all five of its possible first-place votes for 25 total points. South Dakota State came in second with 18 points and one first-place vote, and North Dakota State was third with 17 points. With Omaha garnering 13 points for fourth, Western Illinois (nine) followed in fifth and Fort Wayne (eight) rounded it out in sixth.

Maverick Mound Notes
•Omaha returns two starters from its 2016 weekend rotation with senior southpaw Sam Murphy and junior right-hander Corey Binger. Murphy was primarily the Mavericks' Saturday starter, while Binger had the Sunday spot.
•Both Murphy and Binger were honored with Summit League Pitcher of the Week awards last year, as Binger earned the recognition on March 14 and May 16, and Murphy was tabbed on April 4.
•The duo finished in the top 10 in the Summit League in multiple categories. Binger was first for complete games (two) and shutouts (one), third for wins (seven) and seventh for ERA (4.06) and innings pitched (75.1). Murphy was fifth for ERA (3.86), strikeouts (65) and strikeouts per game (8.09) and ninth for innings pitched (72.1).
•Binger's two complete games came vs. Bowling Green (March 12) and at Western Illinois (May 15), with the latter a 14-0 shutout.
•Sophomore right-hander Grant Suponchick is slated to start Sunday's game vs. Saint Mary's. In his freshman campaign, he made four mound appearances with 10.1 innings pitched, including two starts. He got the ball for his first career start at Wichita State (March 1), throwing a season-long 4.0 innings while allowing one run on four hits and a walk with one strikeout.
•Junior right-hander James Smith is tabbed for Monday's start vs. UNLV. A transfer from Trinidad State JC, he went 11-1 on the mound with a 3.42 ERA last season for the Trojans, totaling a team-high 84.1 innings of work and issuing 79 strikeouts to 22 walks.
•Junior right-hander Ryan Cate led the Mavericks with five saves in 15 relief appearances last season.
•The Omaha bullpen returns four more experienced arms in junior right-hander David Flattery and senior right-handers Shane Meltz, Brett Sasse and Eric Moreno. Flattery made 17 appearances with four starts and two saves, totaling 45.2 innings of work, while Meltz made 16 appearances with four starts, one win and one save over 34.1 innings. Moreno also made 16 appearances with one save over 23.1 innings, and Sasse tallied two wins in 14 appearances and four starts, compiling 37.2 innings.
•Omaha's 2016 pitching staff was better on the bump in Summit League play, lowering its ERA to 4.17 in league contests from 5.98 in non-conference games.

Road Warriors
Omaha opens the 2017 season with 13 straight road games in four different states, visiting Nevada once, Kentucky once, Texas once and Kansas three times. Out of the gate, the Mavericks will see two 2016 NCAA Tournament teams in the first two weekends, first facing Saint Mary's this Sunday, then visiting Louisville for a three-game series next week.

Porter Enters First Season as Head Coach
Head coach Evan Porter enters his first year as the skipper of the Omaha baseball program in 2017 after serving four years as an assistant coach. One of the most decorated players in UNO history, Porter was four-year starter at shortstop from 2005-09 and a two-time All-American. He was also a three-time all-region selection from 2007-09, earning awards from Daktronics and Rawlings/ABCA. Additionally, Porter was a two-time All-NCC pick (2007-08) and was first-team All-MIAA in 2009.

Porter's name runs through the Omaha record books, as he remains the program's all-time leader in games played (239), at-bats (869), hits (323), doubles (75), home runs (43), runs batted in (249) and total bases (527). His 97 hits recorded as a senior were a UNO single-season record that still stands.

A member of the UNO squad that earned a berth to the 2007 NCAA Division II College World Series, Porter was part of two Maverick teams (2006, 2008) that set a school record with 45 wins. During his time, UNO made four straight NCAA regional appearances and won the 2008 NCC championship.

Following his senior campaign, Porter was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 23rd round. He has played professionally overseas for the Solingen Alligators in Germany (2010), Gothenburg Sharks in Sweden (2011), Victoria Park Reds in Australia (2011-12), ADO AamigoO Lakers in Holland (2012) and Sölvesborg Firehawks in Sweden (2014, 2016).

Porter is assisted by assistant coach Chris Gadsden, in his 18th year, and pitching coach Brian Strawn, in his second year, as well as volunteer assistant coach Brett Swain, who is in his first year.

2017 Slate Takes Mavericks Around the Nation
Omaha’s 2017 schedule includes 55 games, and the team will play in 12 states against schools from 10 other Division I conferences. Four opponents – Louisville, Nebraska, Saint Mary's and Oral Roberts – played in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Entering the season, the Mavericks have never faced three of their opponents: UC Davis, Saint Mary's and Louisville. Omaha holds a combined all-time record of 253-278 over all teams on the regular-season slate.

Counting on Cate
Junior utility man Ryan Cate is Omaha's leading returning hitter, as he batted .317 with 21 runs scored, seven doubles, one triple, five home runs and 31 RBI in 2016. Cate also made 15 relief appearances on the mound and tallied a team-leading five saves as a sophomore, which ranked fourth in the league and helped him to first-team All-Summit honors.

Cate picked up his fifth save of the 2016 season on April 26 against Air Force, which moved him into the top 10 in school history for career saves. His mark matches former Mavericks Mike Jones (1985-86) and Anthony Falcone (2011-14) for eighth in that category.

Murph on the Mound
Senior left-handed pitcher Sam Murphy leads the way for Omaha's pitching staff in 2017, as the Lake Worth, Fla., native is the Mavericks' active career leader for appearances (48), wins (eight), innings pitched (121.2) and strikeouts (125). Last year, he went 4-6 with one save and a 3.86 ERA and held his opponents to a .254 average.

In his junior campaign, Murphy returned to the mound for the first time in nearly a year on Feb. 20, 2016, picking up the win in UNO's 2-1 victory over Eastern Michigan. He threw three innings of scoreless relief, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out two. Murphy had previously been sidelined since early in the 2015 season due to a broken hand.

Murphy threw a season-long 7.0 shutout innings last season vs. Western Illinois (April 2), giving up just two singles and two walks while striking out a career-high 11. The performance netted him Summit League Pitcher of the Week recognition for the first time in his career. Later that month, Murphy took a loss vs. Fort Wayne (April 29) but recorded his second double-digit strikeout performance of the year with 10 Ks.

Binger Set for Junior Campaign
Junior right-handed pitcher Corey Binger served as Omaha's Sunday starter last year, going 8-3 with a 4.06 ERA. The Victoria, Minn., native threw the second-most innings on the team (75.1) and was a two-time Summit League Pitcher of the Week. Binger issued 51 strikeouts to 19 walks and held his opponents to a .269 batting average, all while ranking third in the league for wins.

What Makes Up the Mavericks
•In terms of offensive production, Omaha's 2017 returners accounted for 57 percent of the Mavericks’ hits, 46 percent of their runs scored, 48 percent of their RBI, 47 percent of their extra-base hits and 14 percent of their stolen bases last season.
•Omaha’s returning pitchers are credited with 70 percent of the team’s innings pitched last year, 70 percent of its strikeouts, 61 percent of its wins and 100 percent of its saves.
•Adam Caniglia was third on the team for at-bats (210) in his sophomore season, the most of any returner.
•UNO’s 2017 roster includes seven seniors, eight juniors, 11 sophomores, one redshirt freshman and eight freshmen.
•The Mavericks hail from eight different states. Twenty-two are from Nebraska, four are from Minnesota, three hail from Colorado and two are out of Iowa, while Florida, Kansas, Illinois and Missouri are all represented once on the roster.

Fresh Faces
A total of 15 newcomers -- freshmen, redshirts or transfers -- are on the Omaha roster in 2017. Eight true freshmen are in the mix: Adam Gadsden (Omaha, Neb.), Cole Thibodeau (Omaha, Neb.), Adam Rellihan (Lenexa, Kan.), Mark Ehresman (Eden Prairie, Minn.), Mike Brown (Omaha, Neb.), Cam Fowler (Moline, Ill.), Zac Zagozda (Omaha, Neb.) and Joey Machado (Omaha, Neb.). Andrew Hall (Colorado Springs, Colo.) redshirted in 2016.

Six transfers also joined the Mavericks this season: Parker Smejkal (Columbus, Neb.) from Coffeyville CC, Nate Mallott (Omaha, Neb.) from Scottsdale CC, Payton Kinney (Firth, Neb.) from Southeast CC, James Smith (Brighton, Colo.) from Trinidad State JC, Nick Drahozal (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) from Kirkwood CC and Austin Groth (South Sioux City, Neb.) from Creighton.

Omaha Homaha
Sixteen of the 35 players on UNO’s 2017 roster hail from the Omaha area. The local pipeline has brought three Mavericks apiece from Papillion-LaVista South and Millard West, two each from Burke, Millard South and Creighton Prep and one apiece from Papillion-LaVista, Bellevue West, Millard North and Elkhorn South.

Promaha
Omaha had three players sign professional contracts last summer after the conclusion of their Maverick careers. Outfielder Cole Gruber was taken in the 27th round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Oakland Athletics as the 802nd overall pick, while right-handed pitcher Robert Calvano went in the 38th round to the St. Louis Cardinals as the 1,156th overall pick. The duo were the first draft picks in UNO's Division I and the Mavericks' first draftees since 2011. Right-handed pitcher Tyler Fox also signed a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Twins last June.

Gruber played his rookie season with the Mesa, Ariz.-based Arizona League Athletics in the Arizona League. He batted .214 with 29 runs scored, six doubles, two triples, seven RBI and 24 walks. Gruber also tallied 28 stolen bases, which led the league.

Calvano started his pro career with the Jupiter, Fla.-based GCL Cardinals in the Gulf Coast League. In his debut season, he went 1-1 with a 6.06 ERA and one save over 16.1 innings pitched in 15 appearances.

Fox spent his first season with the Fort Myers, Fla.-based GCL Twins, also of the Gulf Coast League. He went 2-3 with a 3.10 ERA and one save over 52.1 innings pitched, making the start in 10 of his 13 appearances. Fox issued 36 strikeouts to just 11 walks.

All in the Family
Omaha baseball is a family affair for a handful of Mavericks, two of whom have followed in their fathers’ footsteps by playing at UNO. Senior infielder Sam Palensky’s father, Jim Palensky, played from 1984-85 and also served as an assistant coach with the Mavericks. Sophomore infielder Riley Herold's father, Bob Herold, was an NAIA All-American at UNO in 1971 and served as head coach for 17 seasons.

On the sibling side, Palensky’s brother, Caleb, was an All-Summit infielder and lettered from 2011-14. Sophomore infielder Jack Kalina’s grandfather, Phil Gradoville, also played at UNO, and sophomore right-handed pitcher/infielder Grant Suponchick’s brother, Beau Suponchick, lettered two seasons for Omaha (2011-12).
    
In addition, freshman infielder Adam Gadsden's father is current Maverick assistant coach Chris Gadsden.

Up Next
Omaha continues its road swing with a single midweek game at Kansas on Tuesday, Feb. 21. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. at Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence, Kan., and links to live stats, audio and video will be available on OMavs.com.

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