Fifth-Year Seniors Bolster Lineups

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Carlos Lopez did not actually play with Tim Wallach at Cal State Fullerton. It just seems like he's been around that long.

To put Lopez's career in context, consider that he originally committed to play for Dave Serrano—at UC Irvine. When Serrano left for Cal State Fullerton in 2008, Lopez followed him to play for the Titans. Now Serrano is beginning his second fall at Tennessee—and Lopez is still anchoring the middle of the lineup at Fullerton.

"I've been around here a long time. I pretty much feel like I should have my own parking spot," Lopez said.

The fifth-year senior first baseman—who redshirted because of a knee injury in 2009—admitted he takes some ribbing from his younger teammates.

"Especially since I'm old for my grade—I'm already 23 right now," Lopez said. "I'm definitely the grandfather of the team."

Grandpa jokes come with the territory for fifth-year seniors, who typically bring invaluable wisdom to the clubhouse in their capacity as elder statesmen. Coaches seldom count on having key players around their programs for five years, but getting an impact fifth-year senior back to show the younger players the ropes is a welcome bonus.

That is especially true of players like Lopez and Wichita State first baseman Johnny Coy, who have long histories of being productive players and have been on scouts' radars for years. Lopez was a 37th-round pick as a redshirt freshman in 2010, but he went undrafted each of the last two years despite posting an OPS greater than .800 in both seasons with less lively bats. Talk about a mature approach: Lopez  has more walks (69) than strikeouts (56) in three seasons as a regular.

Being an older, physically mature first baseman who racks up doubles but hasn't shown much home run power (just three homers over the last two seasons) has hampered Lopez's standing among scouts, but the Titans were delighted to get back their line-drive machine for another season.

Playing Coy

Coy has a more distinguished prospect pedigree. An athletic, projectable 6-foot-8 masher, he was drafted by the Phillies in the seventh round out of high school in Missouri, but he elected to honor his basketball commitment to Arizona State. Baseball was an afterthought at that point, but Coy agreed to play baseball for the Sun Devils when then-coach Pat Murphy called him that summer. He was an intriguing piece of an ASU baseball recruiting class that ranked No. 1 in the nation that fall and included future big leaguers Josh Spence and Kole Calhoun.

"It's crazy how everything worked out," Coy said. "I always wanted to play in the NBA growing up; I never would have thought I'd be where I am today, playing just baseball at Wichita State."

He redshirted on the hardwood that first season at Arizona State and decided to transfer to Wichita during the semester break that winter, partly to be closer to his father, who was ill. He said he tried to absorb as much as he could from Shockers coach Gene Stephenson by sitting on the bench in the fall of 2009, when he had to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules.

That summer, Coy found success in the MINK League, where he ranked as the No. 5 prospect. In the fall, he determined that working out with both the baseball and basketball teams was taking a toll on him, and he needed to make a decision. He chose baseball.

Coy has justified his choice by producing strong numbers on the baseball field. He has hit at least seven home runs in each of his three seasons at Wichita State, and he had his best season as a junior this spring, batting .344/.413/.564 with nine long balls and 63 RBIs. He had been drafted in the 45th round as a redshirt sophomore in 2011, and Coy said scouts told him to expect a call in the 12th to 15th round this spring. But the call never came.

"I was pretty upset about it, pretty mad," Coy said of going undrafted. "But there's not much I can do about it; I need to go out next year and have an even better year. I took it as, 'I get another year of college baseball to go out and get my degree.' I was over it in about a couple of days."

Hit The Books

Coy will try to lead the Shockers to NCAA regionals for the first time since 2009. As a fifth-year senior bearing down on his degree, his academic workload is lighter than it had been earlier in his career, which has helped him spend more time focusing on baseball and taking younger teammates under his wing.

For Lopez, on the other hand, this fall presents a more rigorous course load than usual, because he graduated last spring and is now going back to add a new minor. Going back to school feels different to him this time around than it ever has before.

"It's almost weird, to be honest: At the end of last season, I had almost no classes and I was graduating," Lopez said. "I walked (in the graduation ceremony) last year—my mom wanted me to walk because I didn't know what would happen with the draft. But I ended up not getting drafted, so I came back.

"Especially with the job market today, it's nice to have another year in school."

And if Lopez and Coy can take advantage of their last go-round in college baseball, maybe they will find a friendlier job market on draft day next June.