JACKSON, Tenn. - The 2009 TranSouth Conference Preseason Baseball Poll has been released. The poll, as voted by the coaches, tabs Cumberland (Tenn.) University as the favorite to win the league. Cumberland received six first place votes, with Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) University coming in second, receiving two first place votes.
In November, the NAIA also released their Preseason Rankings. Three TranSouth teams were listed among the nation's best. Cumberland is No. 11, Trevecca Nazarene is No. 20, and Union (Tenn.) University is receiving votes in the national rankings.
Finishing off the TranSouth Preseason Poll is Union at No. 3; Martin Methodist (Tenn.) College is No. 4; Lyon (Ark.) College is No. 5; Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) University is No. 6; Bethel (Tenn.) College is No. 7; and Mid-Continent (Ky.) University is No. 8.
In 2008, Trevecca Nazarene won the regular season title, with Cumberland taking the TranSouth Tournament Title. Cumberland also won their fifth straight Region XI Title, the MidEast Super Region Title, and made another appearance in the NAIA Baseball World Series. This marked the fifth straight season that Cumberland has represented the TranSouth Conference in the NAIA World Series. The Bulldogs won the national title in 2004.
2009 TranSouth Baseball Preseason Poll (as voted by the coaches)
TEAM POINTS (1st Place Votes)
1. Cumberland University 62 (6)
2. Trevecca Nazarene 58 (2)
3. Union University 46
4. Martin Methodist 34
5. Lyon College 32
6. Freed-Hardeman 25
7. Bethel College 23
8. Mid-Continent University 8
BETHEL COLLEGE | McKenzie, Tennessee
The Bethel Wildcats baseball team enters the 2009 campaign looking to improve on their 31-17 record in the 2008 season with the leadership of nine seniors. With the experience returning and the loss of only three seniors, 2nd year Head Coach Rusty Thompson and his coaching staff have high hopes for this year's team.
Along with the tough TranSouth schedule, the Wildcats have a challenging non conference schedule including Division II powerhouse North Alabama, preseason #12 Southern Polytechnic State University, preseason #25 Belhaven College, Division II Christian Brothers, Division I University of Tennessee Martin, Olivet Nazarene, and McKendree College. The team wants to improve on its .319 batting average, 357 runs, and 50 homeruns from a year ago. With the addition of many key players to the experienced roster the coaching staff has high hopes for the 2009 Wildcats. The Wildcats open the 2009 season at North Alabama on February 3rd. The first home series is February 7-8 versus Clarke College.
Pitchers - The pitching staff this year hopes to build on its performance from last season. The loss of starting pitcher Blake Willis and closer Rhett Hughes leave big shoes to fill. Last year's staff was 15th in the nation in batters struck out per nine innings. A positive for the Wildcats is the return of 11 pitchers and the addition of 2 junior college and 5 freshman pitchers. Last season's inexperienced staff looks to be the strength for this year's staff. The staff includes the leadership of 4 seniors; Chris Crenshaw, David Rodriguez, Tyler Newman, and Brian Nellett. Chris Crenshaw enters his senior year after posting 3-3 record in 2008. David Rodriguez posted a 5-3 record with 47 strikeouts in 2008. Tyler Newman returns to the staff after having Tommy John surgery in 2008; adding much needed depth to the staff. Brian Nellett rounds out the senior class and looks to add stability in a youthful bullpen.
The Wildcats added two junior college transfers to the pitching staff with Southwest Tennessee C.C's Colby Fitzpatrick and Columbia State C.C's Shane Tilley. Fitzpatrick has shown signs to be a quality starter and should give the ‘Cats a chance to win when he takes the mound. Tilley, a left handed pitcher could see work as a starter and from the bullpen as well. Jonathon Keck returns on the mound for his junior season after posting a 4-2 record with 44 strikeouts in 33 innings. Left handed junior pitcher Jon Patterson comes into his junior season after he threw a perfect game. Patterson was undefeated posting a 6-0 record with 36 strikeouts in 2008.
Juniors Jim Evans and Chad Blanton look to get innings on mound this season and both should help fill in the bullpen gaps from 2008. Sophomore Ron Plemons posted a 3-0 record with a 1.17 ERA in 15.1 quality innings of work in his freshman year. Sophomores Jacob Hatchel and Glenn Smith both are working hard to get valuable innings on the mound this season. Freshman Billy Keck joins his brother Jonathon at Bethel after having an outstanding career at Lexington High School. Former Adamsville pitchers Jason Foley and Dustin Blakney have the ability to help the pitching staff right away. Rounding out the freshman class on the mound is former McKenzie pitcher Clint Kee.
Infielders - At First Base Jonathon Keck enters his junior season looking to add to his school record thirty career homeruns. Keck, a two time All-TranSouth player should be one of the more feared power hitters in the conference. Newcomer Courtney Hardaway, a transfer from Dyersburg State Community College will be asked to handle the duties at second base and looks to be a very tough out at the plate. The Wildcats return 1st team All TranSouth and 1st team All Region XI Shortstop, Craig Massey. Massey hit .382 as a freshman. Last year's Team MVP, Andrew Maddox returns for his senior year looking to play third base and some left field after hitting .362 with six homeruns last year. Tyler Newman returns to the wildcats after sitting out the 2008 season due to Tommy John surgery. Newman will be asked to be a utility infielder as well as his designated hitter duties after hitting .370 with sis homeruns in 2007. Junior Jim Evans and former Lexington High School Standout Billy Keck will handle the duties behind the plate. Evans, a two year starter at catcher looks to use his experience to help bring along a somewhat young pitching staff. Billy Keck comes in as a highly touted player and will also be asked to also play some third base. Junior Zach Tippitt looks to compete for playing time after hitting .455 in limited games in 2008. Milan High School standout Alex Jackson, former Huntingdon shortstop Kevin Smothers and former Adamsville All West Tennessee player, Dustin Blakney look to compete for playing time as freshman.
Outfielders - Heath Sharp, 2nd on the career homerun list, enters his senior year after hitting .365 with 8 homeruns a year ago. Junior Johnathan Deberry will move from left field to center. Deberry scored 42 runs and had 25 stolen bases in 2008. Senior Will Cripps returns in the outfield for the Wildcats after posting a .354 average in his junior year. Sophomores Jay Lowery and Jake Ramsey enter this season after seeing valuable playing time as true freshman. Due to injuries, Lowery as a freshman was asked to play out of position and now returns to natural position in the outfield after hitting .345 in 28 games. Ramsey, as a freshman had very good run production numbers with four homeruns and 31 runs batted in. Seniors Jon Dyer and William Winfree, junior Josh Wharton and a host of freshman are other outfielders who are looking to receive playing time this season.
CUMBERLAND UNIVERSITY | Lebanon, Tennessee
Head coach Woody Hunt and the Cumberland Bulldogs head into the 2009 season with a lot of excitement but also many questions as the squad looks for its fifth trip to the NAIA World Series in the last six seasons. The Bulldogs fell one game shy of the World Series in 2008, falling in the Super Regional to Union College. This season Cumberland returns four starters and should get the services of two players who missed all of last season, but the club has just one returning pitcher and must reload on the mound.
CU was ranked 11th in the NAIA Preseason Poll. This season's schedule features five teams in the Preseason Top 25 and four others who are receiving votes.
FREED-HARDEMAN UNIVERSITY | Henderson, Tennessee
Over the last three seasons, the Freed-Hardeman Lions have seen their win totals improve. Head Coach Patrick McCarthy, who is beginning his fifth season at the helm of the program, is hopeful that trend will continue this year.
The Lions lost only four players to graduation, but among them was All-American pitcher Josh Hester. Hester, who was drafted in the 17th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, holds nearly every pitching record at Freed-Hardeman. His dominant arm will be difficult to replace, but McCarthy sees more depth on the mound this year for the Lions.
Last year's team leader in wins returns in Javy Gomez. Gomez won 10 games, led the team in appearances, and has excellent command as demonstrated by his 56 strikeouts against only nine walks in 2008. Joey Gildea is also back after posting a 3.86 ERA as a freshman last year. The team is excited about the return of Derek Williford, who was dominant in 2007, from injury. FHU also added several transfers to the pitching staff including left-handers Carlos Pertuz and Les Rodriguez that should help increase the team's depth at the position in 2009.
The Lions averaged 6.3 runs per game in 2008 and could very well have an even stronger offense this season with the returns of the team's top four hitters and the additions of some more big bats. Junior 1B Brian Bullard led the team in homeruns (six) and RBI (52) while hitting .311. Senior IF Greg Allen (.464 OBP) and junior OF Noslen Labrada (.411 OBP) both reached base in more than four of every 10 plate appearances. Junior OF Derek Bush was tops on the team in batting average, hitting at a .360 clip.
Freed-Hardeman also added the big bat of OF Angel "Willy" Hernandez, a transfer from St. Thomas (Fla.) University who was an NAIA All-American in 2007 after hitting .344 with nine homeruns and 69 RBI. McCarthy also expects contributions from newcomers Michael Clayton, a sophomore transfer from Florida International University, and freshman Mitch Cox.
LYON COLLEGE | Batesville, Arkansas
The Lyon College Scots are hoping to bounce back from a rain-soaked 2008 season in which the team never got its rhythm due to a record-10 games canceled by wet weather. Lyon finished 2008 with a 28-20 record and placed seventh in TranSouth Conference play with an 11-11 mark.
In 2008, Lyon ranked fourth in the TranSouth in team hitting with a .308 average and placed fifth in runs scored per game at 6.67 in 48 contests. The Scots were fourth in team pitching with a 4.88 ERA.
This season is already expected to be a landmark campaign for Lyon Head Baseball Coach Kirk Kelley, who is in his 17th year at the helm of the Scots and is just five games away from his 500th career victory.
Speed and experience is expected to make mighty contributions to help the Scots reach that landmark and more in 2009. Lyon returns six part-time or full-time starters from last season, and many of those players helped Lyon collect 83 stolen bases a season ago.
Outfielders: The Scots are especially strong in the outfield with three impact players returning to the starting lineup. Junior right fielder Zac Wallace (Prairie Grove, Ark.), a 2008 second team all-conference player, led the TranSouth in batting average in 2008 and was the only conference player to top .400 with a .402 average and also led the team in doubles (15). Senior center fielder Nick D'Amico (Riverview, Fla.) won a TranSouth Conference Gold Glove for his fielding and stole a team-high 20 bases (fifth in the TranSouth) in 24 attempts in 2008. The speedy center fielder scored a team-high 43 runs and hit 12 doubles and four triples. Senior left fielder Sam Neal (Pine Bluff, Ark.) led the team in home runs (10), RBIs (40) and slugging percentage (.610) and ranked seventh, 14th and eighth in those categories among TranSouth Conference players.
Infielders: Lyon's starting infield sports a nice mix of both youth and experience. First baseman Lans Hardin (Keystone Heights, Fla.) is slated to begin the year as the Scots starting first baseman. Hardin started just four games and played in 19 as a freshman in 2008. Senior Josiah Haas (Tulsa, Okla.) is Lyon's starter at second. Haas is far from a rookie in the Scots lineup, evidenced by his 34 games as a starter last season. The senior hit .304 in 42 total games with seven stolen bases in eight attempts. Sophomore Garry Richards returns to start at short, where he missed 14 games due to injury last year. When he was on the field, however, Richards shined at the plate and hit .352 with eight doubles and eight stolen bases. Senior Justin Cunningham (Valley Center, Kan.) and sophomore Aaron Thorton (Batesville, Ark.) are set for a time-share at third base to start the season.
Catchers: The Scots start from almost from scratch at the backstop in 2009 with two inexperienced players in sophomores Jerrod Compton (Paragould, Ark.) and Kyle Kallsnick (Batesville, Ark.). Both players combined for only one start in 2008 and have 28 games of experience combined, but Kelley expects both to make a contribution to the team's successes in 2009.
Pitchers: The Scots pitching staff lost stalwarts Justin McGarity (second on all-time wins list), Derek Bond and Brian Carr to graduation, but returns a quality trio of starting arms and a veteran closer in second team all-conference reliever Nick Salahub. Salahub, a 6-9 junior from Phoenix, Ariz., was second in the TranSouth with seven saves and struck out 39 batters in just 28.2 innings of work. The big righty won two games and posted an ERA of 3.45 in 18 appearances. Chad Brock, Craig Page and Garry Richards are expected to comprise the Scots' starting rotation this season. Brock, a senior righty from Chiefland, Fla., suffered through arm issues last year, but still managed to win three games in six starts with 31 strikeouts in 35.2 innings pitched. Page (Bradenton, Fla.), a lefty control pitcher with a great changeup, was a relief pitcher and mid-week starter for the Scots last season. Richards suits up on the mound when he's not starting at shortstop. According to Kelley, Richards has good velocity and great stuff and could be the staff's wild card.
Key Newcomers: Juco transfer Evan Segler (Arlington, Tex.) will factor in at a variety
of infield and outfield positions and is expected to make an immediate
impact, according to Kelley. The right-handed hitting junior hit over
.400 in two years at North Lake Community College in Texas and was a
huge signing for Kelley in the offseason. Segler's multi-positional
talent should allow for plenty of playing time in 2009. Juco transfer Kyle Castelo (Los Angeles, Calif.), a left-handed hitting outfielder, should give the Scots an added weapon from the bench to begin the season.
MARTIN METHODIST COLLEGE | Pulaski, Tennessee
The 2009 Martin Methodist season is looked at from the outside as a rebuilding year. There are quality players in place to follow-up on a strong finish in 2008 but it remains to be seen how they will compete in 2009. The RedHawks lost 13 seniors in 2008 and will be a fairly inexperienced team this season.
The TranSouth Conference does not make things easy for those that might be trying to rebuild but the recruiting has been solid during the off season and the RedHawks have added several transfers for the 2009 season. The Martin Methodist team will need to succeed during the pre-conference schedule to build confidence going into the TranSouth Conference schedule. It should be fun to see how they respond to the challenge of the rigorous road ahead.
The pitching staff will be solid and has good depth. The RedHawks do not have a proven winner but the staff is expected to compete. Defensively the RedHawks will be solid. Brendan Palm is back at short and he has been solid on defense and on offense for the past two years. The rest of the infield will be new and will make a huge impact on the success of the team. The outfield is led by Darin Holt in centerfield and he has proven that he is one of the better players in the league. Rudy Lyles is ready to be an impact player in left field and right field will be determined after a few weeks of practice. The RedHawks have a few different guys that will see time behind the plate.
Offensively, Martin Methodist lost some key weapons at the plate. There are several transfers and freshman in place to that should be able to fill those big shoes. The RedHawks are looking forward to another competitive season in the tough TranSouth Athletic Conference.
MID-CONTINENT UNIVERSITY | Mayfield, Kentucky
MCU is about to take several giant steps toward where first-year head coach Shawn Yarbrough wants to take Mid-Continent baseball in the future. Yarbrough, who is widely respected in the western Kentucky and Tennessee region as hitting coach and owner and instructor of Diamond Academy, and scout for the. "We're much improved," says Yarbrough, "but we're not very deep. Staying healthy will be a key to our success this season."
MCU is scheduled for 36 road games and 24 home contests, and plays 21 conference games in the eight-team TransSouth Athletics Conference (TSAC).
Yarbrough's 2009 prospects include much-improved veteran pitching, more discipline and better execution offensively, and a hard-nosed defense that will not give away many extra outs. Yarbrough says, "The defense and pitching will have to keep games close, giving a potent offense a chance to win them."
Yarbrough and pitching coach Tyler Pittman will rely on the starters to go as deep as possible into games. Sophomore righthander Mitchell Baumgardner (Mayfield, KY/Graves County HS), junior lefthander Josh Bowman (Toronto, Ontario, Canada/Wexford CI), senior righthander Chris Buckman (Sturgis, KY/Union County HS), and sophomore righthander Caleb Luttrell (DeSoto, IL/Murphysboro HS), a transfer from Southwestern Illinois Community College, head the starting rotation.
Bowman started 12 times and ate up 68 innings in 17 appearances last season with 51 strikeouts, and Buckman started 13 games and struck out 31 batters in 63-2/3 innings in 15 appearances. Baumgardner struck out 15 in 36-2/3 innings in 15 appearances (4 starts). The "B's" accounted for 30 decisions and half of MCU's innings in 2008.
All-TSAC second team utility man Sean Aldrich (Paducah, KY/Community Christian Academy) heads the bullpen corps after posting a 4-2 record with one save in 15 appearances (4 starts) and 30 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 32-2/3 innings last season, and sophomore catcher Sam Cheng (Taiwan/Crescent HS, South Carolina) moves from behind the plate to close games for the Cougars as needed. Righthander Tanner Hall (Wingo, KY/Graves County HS) moves from centerfield for long relief or game-closing help, and senior righthander Corey Adler and freshman righthander Cobey Adler (Lewisburg, KY/Logan County HS) also will see mound time.
"The keys for our pitchers are locate pitches early in the count and get lots of ground balls so the infielders can make plays," notes Yarbrough. "Our object is to keep the game close so the offense can have a chance to win it. Defensively, we have one of the best units MCU has ever put on the field."
Sam Cheng, who hit. 254 with 8 doubles, one home run and 22 RBI last season, is MCU's number one catcher with the ability to "shut down the opponent's running game," according to Yarbrough. Hard-nosed freshman Bennie Mullins (Princeton, KY/Caldwell County HS) backs up Cheng.
At the corner infield positions, Baumgardner plays both first and third base and is a capable middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Freshman Adam Connor (DeSoto, IL/Murphysboro HS/Rend Lake CC, IL) also will see action at first and third base and will hit in the middle of the lineup also. "He can flat out hit," claims Yarbrough. Senior Korey Young (Bowling Green, KY/Warren East HS), a likely number eight hitter, who hit .271 with 2 doubles and 5 RBI in 48 at-bats last season, is a candidate for first-base action and is likely to get swings as a designated hitter.
Senior second baseman Daniel Williams (Shelbyville, KY/Shelby County HS) and sophomore shortstop Lance Davis (Paducah, KY/Heath HS) strengthen the Cougars up the middle. A likely number two hitter, Williams hit. 284 with 11 doubles, 22 RBI, 20 walks, and 26 runs scored in 147 at-bats last season, and also delivered 7 sacrifice bunts.
A number seven or eight hitter, Davis hit .230 with 6 doubles, 9 RBI, 16 walks, and 23 runs scored in 139 at-bats, and had 4 sacrifice bunts. Sean Aldrich backs up both positions, after hitting .212 with 17 walks, 8 RBI, and 15 runs scored in 113 at-bats.
Hall gives MCU a solid leftfielder and middle-of-the-lineup hitter, and senior centerfielder Alex House (Hodgenville, KY/LaRue County HS), a transfer from Kentucky Wesleyan College, provides a capable lead-off presence and speed to cover the huge centerfield expanse at Cougar Field. Returning senior rightfielder Dustin Kennon (Collierville, TN/Collierville HS) has nearly recovered from a summer league hip injury after leading MCU last season with 13 doubles, 26 runs scored, and 5 home runs and ranking second on the team with a .289 average and third with 24 RBI. Cobey Adler and Caleb Luttrell back up the outfield positions.
TREVECCA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY | Nashville, Tennessee
The 2009 season marks the first season at the helm of the program for former Trojan pitcher Jonathan Burton. Burton spent the past two years as the Trojans' lead assistant coach after completing his pitching career for Trevecca in 2004. The Trojans return 13 seniors from last year's TranSouth championship squad.
Trevecca's pitching staff, which has been the team's strength in years past, looks stronger than ever for the 2009 campaign. Nick Shoup and Wesley Griggs return to the weekend rotation and will be joined by junior transfer (Logan College) Tim Dunn. Shoup earned first team all-TranSouth honors last year and Griggs was named to the all-TranSouth second team. Four new faces enter the fold along with Dunn. Chase Dixon (York College), Ryan Whitson (Dyersburg State), and Jeff Hughes (Austin Peay).
Six of the seven outfielders were on the 2009 roster. Marty Parks has power and speed at the top of the order. Chris Lowe, who enters his fourth year as the team's starting right fielder. Omar DeJesus scored 25 runs last year. Nathan Wright showed power and new outfield is Matt Tidwell (Jacksonville State) will provide a deep outfield.
Three of four starters return in the infield. Cody Heggie and Adam Bland return at first base. Up the middle, Ross Muirhead and Aaron Bree form a double play tandem. Third base will be handled by Trey Morrison from Dyersburg State and Chase Birdwell.
At catcher Brian Dirheimer, Matt Lyle (Calhoun CC) and Chase Patrick (Volunteer St.) will battle.
The 2009 Trojans are in position to build upon their recent success, but with the schedule set before them, Coach Burton knows this will be no easy task.
UNION UNIVERSITY | Jackson, Tennessee
The 2009 version of the Union University Bulldog baseball team will be full of new faces. Eight seniors left the field in 2008, while two other starters will not be returning for the 2009 campaign. Included in the players lost from last season are three infield starters, two outfield starters, and two of the three weekend starting pitchers. Also, four other senior hurlers who saw valuable time on the mound graduated.
However, this team Head Coach Brent Fronabarger (fourth season as head coach at Union) has assembled to replace those players will be just as strong, if not stronger. He returns eight players, including four seniors that will contribute to the success of the squad. Helping reload the 2009 roster will be 17 new players.
A small group of four seniors highlight the returning class, led by four-year starting catcher Allen Williams (C/OF/Covington, Tenn./Covington HS). Williams is the only four-year senior in the group. In addition to catching, Williams can also play right field. Carl Harken (RHP/Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Kirkwood CC) also returns after a successful junior season as Union's number two weekend starter. Harken, a 2008 All-Conference player, will be called on to anchor the pitching rotation in 2009. Danny Alberty (RHP/Miami, Fla./Jackson State CC) returns for a senior year after leading the team in appearances (16) in 2008. Joe Gahan provides senior leadership and depth in the outfield.
The junior class is the largest of the four classes with nine players. However, only Grant Luke (OF/Birmingham, Ala./Troy University) is a returning player from 2008. Luke hit .308 last season while starting 40 games in left field. Eight juniors transfer to Union in 2009 including Josh Jones (1B/OF/Gardendale, Ala./Jackson State CC), Brad Davis (LHP/Newbern, Tenn./Dyersburg State CC), Alex Turner (IF/Adamsville, Fla./Jackson State CC), David Maristany (3B/Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Jackson State CC), Derek Blackwood (OF/Medon, Tenn./Jackson State CC), Greg Harrington (RHP/Grand Rapids, Mich./Lincoln Trail CC), Corey Rudolph (OF/1B/Memphis, Tenn./Southwest Tennessee CC), and Bobby Stierwalt (2B/Woodbridge, Va./Virginia Tech Univ.).
Three of the five sophomores on the roster return to Union after contributing as freshman. Colby Starks (C/Murray, Ky./Calloway County HS) played in 32 games, with 27 starts, as a freshman as a catcher or designated hitter. Kevin Kirksey (RHP/1B/Gastonia, N.C./Ashbrook HS) played in 33 games, 24 starts, as a first baseman, pitcher, and designated hitter. Ross Garrett (RHP/Parsons, Tenn./Riverside HS) saw limited action, but looks to build on the hard work of his freshman season. Two sophomores enter Union for the first time this season. Andrew Haley (LHP/Memphis, Tenn./Univ. of Memphis) and Dan Beck (RHP/Middle Georgia CC) will help provide punch to the pitching staff.
The freshman class boasts the second high player numbers with seven. Each of these freshmen enters the program highly touted with high expectations. Wade Collins (1B/3B/Cookeville, Tenn./Cookeville HS), Clint Barnes (OF/C/Bolivar, Tenn./Bolivar Central HS), Danny Grimm (SS/Jackson, Tenn./University School of Jackson), Cole McAdams (3B/Huntingdon, Tenn./Huntingdon HS), Jackson Nichols (2B/Franklin, Tenn./Christ Presbyterian Academy), Cody Dew (RHP, Halls, Tenn./Halls HS), and Jeremey Stack (RHP/Jackson, Tenn./Madison Academic HS).
This team looks to improve on the program last season that posted a third place finish in the TranSouth Regular season standings, missing the region playoffs by mere percentage points. The roster of filled with talented players that have valuable experience at the college level. However, the roster also boasts numerous young players that will find themselves in starting roles in 2009.