Cyclone baseball opens season this weekend

Joe Randleman

The 2000 ISU baseball squad will be looking to regain respect this season after suffering through a dismal 1999 campaign.

The Cyclones posted a 17-36 record last year, including an abysmal 2-28 mark in Big 12 conference play. ISU head coach Lyle Smith, who is entering his fifth year at the Cyclone helm, said he is looking for his team to pick up the improvements it made two years ago when they won 10 games in Big-12 play.

“Last year nothing clicked,” Smith said. “We suffered through a lot of injuries and bad weather, but this year we’re looking to get back on track.”

Leading the way for Iowa State will be senior left fielder Aaron Runk, a pre-season NWBCA All-American. Runk paced the Cyclones in runs (48), stolen bases (22) and batting average (.415) in 1999 despite suffering a season-ending injury on April 18 when he dislocated his shoulder in a 6-5 victory over Nebraska.

Smith said Runk will be counted on to ignite the ISU offense from the leadoff spot once again, and that he is looking forward to his presence returning to the lineup.

“I hope he can continue where he left off last year,” Smith said. “He made great strides and should be a great spark plug for us.”

Runk should receive plenty of support this year, as the Cyclones return several key players and boast a solid core transfers.

Second baseman Spencer Allen will be the glue to the infield once again after turning in a Big-12 best 58 double plays a year ago. Smith said he is also looking for vast improvements from the left side of the infield with the addition of transfers Robert Conway and Steve Goldberg at third base and short stop respectively. Senior Joe Siple will provide an experienced reserve at second base.

First base will be split among transfer Joe Urban, freshman Brian Somoza and junior Jade O’Brien. O’Brien will start for Iowa State as the designated hitter after hitting .303 with 39 RBI last year. Transfer Ryan Wickham will share time behind the plate with junior Jason McNertney.

Joining Runk in the outfield for Iowa State will be Ben Van Iderstine in right field and Joe Ferin, a redshirt freshman, in center. Van Iderstine hit .306 with a team best 46 RBI last year. Matt Nordby and Bobby Mestas provided the team with added depth.

Depth will certainly be a luxury for Smith this year.

“Our junior college kids have a lot of experience coming in,” Smith said. “There is more competition at each position, which has elevated the performances of the players.”

On the mound Iowa State will be led by Brian Curtin, who paced the club in ’99 with 78.2 innings pitched and 44 strikeouts. Curtin was named Big 12 player of the week during the final week of the season when he pitched the Cyclones to a 7-5 victory over seventh ranked Baylor.

Charly Bigwood returns after posting a 4-3 mark last year, and he and Curtin will be joined by veterans Mike Laesch and Dave Rossman in the starting rotation.

Darin Nelson, Kyle Butt and Josh Twedt give Iowa State needed experience in the bullpen, while freshmen Brian Asproth, Alan Bomer and Lincoln Mincks, along with transfers Tyson Martinez, Mark Hanrahan and Ben McKay look to make immediate contributions.

Smith said he is looking for consistency from his pitching staff.

“All our starters had good performances last year,” Smith said. “We just need more consistency, and hopefully growth and maturity will allow them to do this.”

With all of the added talent Iowa State has acquired this season, Smith said the Cyclones should be able to move out of the cellar of the Big 12 and contend for the conference tournament in May.

“We have the kids this year who’ll help us be more competitive and get into the conference tourney,” he said. “It’s a tough conference, but once you make the tourney who knows.”