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Baseball - Mon, Jan. 31, 2011
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JACKSON, Tenn. - The Cumberland (Tenn.) University Bulldogs have been selected as the No. 1 ranked team in both the NAIA and TranSouth Conference Preseason Rankings. Cumberland is the defending NAIA National Champion, as well as, the regular season and conference tournament winners. Cumberland's No. 1 ranking the first time since March 30, 2005 that the Bulldogs have occupied the top spot and the fourth time, dating back to 1998, that they have been ranked No. 1.

NAIA Rankings

Union (Tenn.) University was voted second in the league by the conference coaches and was also selected No. 16 in the NAIA Preseason Ranking. Union finished runner-up in both the TranSouth Regular Season and the conference Tournament.

Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) University and Bethel (Tenn.) University were selected third and fourth in the TranSouth Preseason Poll. Both teams also received votes in the NAIA Rankings.

Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) University and Martin Methodist (Tenn.) College tied for fifth in the ranSouth Preseason Poll. Lyon (Ark.) College was voted seventh, Mid-Continent (Ky.) University was picked eighth, while Blue Mountain (Miss.) College was picked ninth.

Longtime TranSouth member Blue Mountain will be fielding a varsity baseball team for the first time in school history.


No. School - Points (1st Place Votes)
1.   Cumberland - 80 (8)
2.   Union - 73 (1)
3.   Trevecca Nazarene - 52
4.   Bethel - 45
5.   Freed-Hardeman - 43
5.   Martin Methodist - 43
7.   Lyon - 42
8.   Mid-Continent - 17
9.   Blue Mountain - 10


Bethel University Wildcats - McKenzie, Tenn.
The Bethel University Baseball Cats are excited about the upcoming season and have every right to be so. Bethel is coming off a 32-17-1 season. They finished 10-10 in the TranSouth Conference which placed them fourth in the regular season standings.  The year also marked the first time the program reached the NAIA Top 25 at No.13.  The Cats received votes in the 2011 Preseason NAIA poll. Last year's team sported a 19-4-1 record at home.

Coach Rusty Thompson enters his fourth season as head coach. He has an 80-60 record with the Wildcats.

The squad lost four seniors, among them Johnathan Deberry who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants.

The Cats return two First Team All-Conference players. 2010 First Team All-TranSouth Utility player Craig Massey will play shortstop this season. He hit .423 with 71 hits and 46 RBI last year. He had eight home runs and scored 55 runs. 2010 First Team All-TranSouth Conference Reliever Derek Hinson enters his senior year after posting a 3.38 ERA. He was 2-1 with seven saves on the season.

Bethel also returns two Second Team All-TranSouth Conference members. LHP Turner Cripps was 8-1 with 45 K's in 50 innings last year. RHP Colby Fitpatrick was 4-3 with a 4.42 ERA and 40 strikeouts.

Rawlings TranSouth Gold Glove Award Outfielder Jay Lowery (.336 BA) returns for his senior season.

Senior RHP Nick Purcell with a team high 64 strikeouts returns.

Junior catcher Billy Keck could also see some action on the mound this season. He hit seven home runs last year. Sophomore catcher Tyler Roberson will compete for action behind the plate also.  

Other pitchers the Cats will look for big things from include: Gavin Lindsey (Jackson State), Turner Bush (Goodpasture), Taylor Reeves (Dyersburg State). Joey Wilder, who started and came out of the bullpen for the Wildcats last year, has worked hard on making some minor adjustments during the off season.  He should play a major role this season according to pitching coach Nick Thompson.

Providing leadership in the outfield will be seniors Lowery and Hunter Deberry. Sophomore Jordan Stack made a late push for playing time in 2010 and looks to build on that this year. Newcomer Chris Cain (Wallace State) has made an impact to the team with his knowledge of the game and his hard work. Kurtis Bramlett (Tennessee Wesleyan) brings a solid bat along with depth and experience to the outfield.

In the infield Bethel brings back Massey at shortstop who has been a dominant player for the program. Senior first baseman Jake Ramsey (.317 BA, 38 RBI), a four year starter returns with leadership and his defensive skills.  Freshman Celtic Rush will compete at that position as well.  At second base the Cats will see sophomores Cody Crocker and Tyler Roberson compete for playing time. Third base looks secure with junior Chase Pilkenton bringing power to the middle of the line-up.

Along with Coach Nick Thompson, Eric Patton returns as assistant coach on Coach Thompson's staff.

Blue Mountain University Toppers - Blue Mountain, Miss.
After nearly two years of preparation, Curt Fowler is eager for Blue Mountain College to play some baseball.

"I'm getting excited," said of BMC's historic opener - Feb. 4 against Belhaven University at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. "We've been building for almost two years now to get this program off the ground, and we're all just ready to play."

Fowler, a highly successful coach at New Albany High School before being named the Toppers coach in June 2009, says he feels good overall about the fledgling program, "but in a case like this, you just really don't know.

"I do know that we've got some guys who can play several positions and we've got good speed in the outfield," Fowler says. "I expect our top five pitchers to be really competitive. They'll challenge hitters and throw a lot of strikes. After that first five, though, we going to need some of our younger players to step up."

BMC signed several junior college players for this first team - by design. "We're fortunate in that Mississippi has some strong junior college programs," Fowler said. "We signed 14 juco players and they've come and shown the leadership we need on and off the field. It's easy to see that they've played at a higher level."

The Toppers' leading pitchers are John Paul Barber from Nettleton and Southwest Mississippi Community College, B.J. Johnson from Itawamba AHS and Itawamba Community College, Sam Cruse and Blake Jolly, both from South Pontotoc and ICC, and Zane Treadway East Union and Northeast Mississippi Community College.

Offensively, Fowler said early leadership is coming from: Channing Walker, a utility player from Tupelo and ICC; Seth Kennedy, a left fielder from Tishomingo County and NEMCC; Dustin Lunn, a catcher from Pontotoc and ICC; Joel Rich, a designated hitter and first baseman from Southaven and Northwest Mississippi Community College; and Nate Bell, a first baseman from Jackson, Michigan and Jackson Community College.

Like most every other program in the South, it's been difficult for BMC to get in much outdoor practice. Fowler says liked what he saw, most of the time, during fall practice, though.

"We had stretches were we looked really good, and stretches where we looked like a first-year team," he said. "I guess we'll know pretty soon where we stand."

Cumberland University Bulldogs - Lebanon, Tenn.
Cumberland returns three everyday starters as well seven pitchers from the Bulldogs 2010 NAIA National Championship team, but with Preseason All-American hurler Aaron Wilkerson and a Preseason No. 1 ranking in the NAIA Coaches Poll, big things are expected from coach Woody Hunt's club in 2011.

Cumberland was also a unanimous pick to win the TranSouth Conference in a poll of league coaches released in the fall. The Bulldogs have won the TranSouth Conference regular season title in each of the last two seasons, including last year's 17-2 league record.

Wilkerson posted a 14-1 record with a 2.13 earned-run-average and 125 strikeouts in 101.1 innings last season. The Waco, Texas, native appeared in 17 contests with 15 starts, tossing 11 complete games with three shutouts. He posted 14 straight victories after losing his first start of the year.

Catcher David Fanshawe, first baseman Greg Appleton and second baseman T.J. Murphy are the Bulldogs three returning position players.

Fanshawe batted .342 with 15 doubles, 13 home runs and 49 RBIs while catching more than 90 percent of the innings last season. He was one of the biggest reasons for the Bulldogs great pitching staff in 2010, which posted a 3.76 team ERA, struck out 464 and walked just 150. He threw out 34 percent of potential base stealers and also drove in all four runs in the NAIA championship game.

Appleton played mostly first base but also saw action at second and third last season. He batted .361 with 13 doubles, 17 homers and 58 RBIs, part of the Bulldogs potent offense that belted a school-record 141 home runs.

Murphy played in 48 games with 36 starts last year, batting .315 with three doubles and 10 RBIs. He scored 23 runs, walked 16 times and was also hit six times. He started everyday during the last month of the season, as the Bulldogs won 29 of their last 30 games to end the year.

Cumberland must replace five First Team All-Americans from a year ago and will do so with a trio of Division I transfers - outfielders Antonio Butler (Lipscomb Univ.) and Cory Farris (Univ. of Kentucky) as well as lefthander Will Locante (Univ. of Tennessee). Canadian Richie Seaton will also look for playing time in the outfield, while Mike Mandarino, Tommy Winegardner and Tommy Crews should fill infield spots.

Freed-Hardeman University Lions - Henderson, Tenn.
The Freed-Hardeman Lions won 33 games in head coach Jonathan Estes' first season, but Estes - a former Lion pitcher - sees an opportunity for his team to improve on that in the new season.

Four of the team's top five hitters from last year are returning to the field, led by sophomore Robert Prieto.  The switch-hitting shortshop hit a team-best .372 last season while swiping 19 bases in 22 attempts.  Senior catcher Leamond Arthur also had a solid first season with FHU after transferring in, hitting .344 with an on-base percentage of .480 while his 21 doubles were the second-highest single season total in school history.

Junior Evan Mansell emerged as the everyday third baseman early in the 2010 season with good defense and solid production in the middle of the lineup, while sophomore Joe Mike came in with a .329 batting average.

However, one thing that the Lions will be looking for offensively is players who can fill the void left by the team's top two run-producers from 2010 as the departures of Noslen Labrada (.344/13 HR/59 RBI) and Brian Bullard (.315/9 HR/53 RBI) leave a big hole in the heart of the order.

Estes hopes that some of that production will come from the outfield, which will have an entirely different look this season with three juniors and a freshman competing for spots.  Kirkland Wheeler, a transfer from Motlow State (Tenn.) CC, hit .345 in his two seasons there with 14 home runs, including 10 last season.  Another transfer, Jesse Hykes, hit .324 in his two seasons at Itawamba (Miss.) CC with a slugging percentage of .619.  Kyle Day, a freshman, hit .496 as a senior at Nettleton HS.

The pitching staff should prove to be deeper this season with the additions of several solid arms to go along with five returnees that all worked in the starting rotation last year.  Juniors Roberto Ferguson and Jonathan Soto are expected to make an impact in the weekend rotation.

Leading the list of returning pitchers is Charlie Overturf, who went 6-1 last season.  Hunter Newby also won six games while leading the team in innings pitched and strikeouts.

The Lions open their season on Feb. 6 hosting No. 18 South Carolina-Beaufort and follow with a visit to No. 12 Belhaven (Miss.) University.

Lyon College Scots - Batesville, Ark.
Despite the cold, wet weather, the Lyon College Scots baseball team has been hard at work preparing for the upcoming 2011 campaign. 

With excitement around the Lyon practice facility, second year head man Tony Roepcke (30-23) looks to navigate a strong schedule this season. The 2011 slate is highlighted by the always-tough TranSouth Athletic Conference contests, which include a road trip to No. 16 Union (Tenn.) on March 18 and 19, at Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) on April 15 and 16, and the Scots will wrap up the regular season with a three-game set on the road at Bethel (Tenn.) on April 28 and 29. Both Trevecca Nazarene and Bethel were receiving votes in the preseason National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Coaches' Top 25.

Lyon will have home field advantage on April 22 and 23 when they host defending NAIA National Champion powerhouse and conference foe Cumberland (Tenn.). Cumberland finished 2010 with a 58-9 record, and enters 2011 with a No. 1 ranking in the NAIA.

Other notable dates on the Scots' schedule include multiple in-state NCAA Div. II programs like Arkansas-Monticello (Feb. 19-20), Harding (March 22, April 5) and Arkansas Tech (April 26).

Former longtime Lyon head coach Kirk Kelley brings his up-and-coming Oklahoma Wesleyan team to Batesville on Feb. 4 and 5. Kelley won 532 games from the Scots' dugout.

Returning as a big bat in the line up is senior Aaron Thornton (Batesville, Ark.). Last season, Thornton hit .354 and blasted a total of 10 home runs and drove in 51 runs, both of which were team highs.

Other offensive players to watch for the Scots include Kyle Kallsnick who hit .369 last seasons with three home runs, 44 runs batted in and 18 doubles. Coach Raepcke also has high expectations for hitters like Garry Richards (DeQueen, Ark.), Jay Husband (Ada, Okla.), Michael Armenteros (Miami, Fla.), Jim Gossett (Henderson, Texas) and Zach Malone (Pulaski, Tenn.).

Highlighting the transfer list for the Scots are Chris Kennedy (Adair, Okla.) and Mickey Sepaneck (Highland Village, Texas). 

Kennedy is a junior catcher who played junior college baseball at Butler Community College (Kan.). He is known for his defense behind the plate, but will contribute offensively at the plate as well.

Martin Methodist College RedHawks - Pulaski, Tenn.
MMC baseball looks to continue their rise back to the top in the TranSouth, coming off a third place finish in 2010, their best in recent years. The RedHawks went 24-28 overall, posting an 11-9 league mark, finishing just behind NAIA National Champion Cumberland University and Union University. This year, MMC is tied for TSAC fifth place pick with Freed-Hardeman University.

Head Coach Kelly Bratton's squad returns several key players, including All-Conference Second Team selection, Travis Garcia (Senior/Nolensville, Tenn.). The senior doubles as a pitcher and an infielder, going 10-3 on the mound last season, and .333 at the plate. Also returning are veteran pitchers Matt Fiser (Senior/Kingston Springs, Tenn.) and Jerry McMurty (Senior/Mt. Juliet, Tenn.), alongside catcher Mike Gizewski.

Losing All-Conference First Teamers Darin Holt and Kris Ruderer, Bratton hopes to fill his gaps with promising newcomers. Adding to the pitching rotation are Columbia State Community College transfers Rob Holley (Sophomore/Pulaski, Tenn.) and Steven Dodson (Junior/Columbia, Tenn.), while Brock Glass (Senior/Loretto, Tenn.) will be added back to the bullpen after an arm injury sidelined him last season. Matt Franklin (Junior/Goodlettsville, Tenn.), also a junior-college transfer will be expected to add to Bratton's infield. Assistant Coach Jody Evans is new to the staff in 2011, but returns after a two-year career with MMC baseball as an All-Conference, All-Region, and All-America honorable mention selection in 2003.

MMC opens their 2011 campaign on February 4th on the road with a series at Emmanuel College, and then two road trips to NCAA Division II opponents University of North Alabama and University of Alabama-Huntsville.  The RedHawks officially begin their home schedule on February 12th with a string of non-conference series that include St. Francis, Indiana Southeast, and Faulkner University. March 4th marks the beginning of MMC's TranSouth effort, as they travel to Trevecca-Nazarene. 

Mid-Continent University Cougars - Mayfield, Ky.
"Mid-Continent has a good balance in its attack, better chemistry, more experience and more maturity," says third-year head coach Shawn Yarbrough.  "We are a year older and a year wiser."

MCU returns 23 letter-winners and loses two starting position players from last season's team that went 9-40 and 3-18 in TSAC play, giving Yarbrough a solid corps from which to choose along with seven JC transfers, one four-year college transfer and 15 high school players.  Yarbrough hopes to guide a hungry MCU squad into the TSAC Championships for the first time since MCU joined the TSAC in 2006.

Yarbrough begins with a three-man crew of starters that he believes "stacks up well with our TSAC opponents," including senior RHP Kalip Merrill, junior RHP Tomas Rodriguez, from Rend Lake CC, and junior LHP Seth McCabe, from University of Evansville.  In the mix for starts are two southpaws: sophomore Allen Haase and junior Kyle Bugg and junior right-handers Caleb Luttrell and Hunter Burge.

The closer role is likely to be handled by committee.  Freshman RHP Todd Adams is a top candidate for late innings with junior LHP Tyler Hall and sophomore right-handers Sam Toby and Tyler Johnson competing for short-relief duties.  Yarbrough can choose among junior righthanders Kyle Hall (Shawnee CC) and Edger Melendez (Pratt CC, Kan.), and freshman RHP Adam Bell for long-relief innings.

In 2011, MCU returns junior catcher Sam Cheng, who sat out 2010 after playing in 2008 and 2009 for the Cougars, and recruited junior Drew Bennett from Vincennes (Ind.).  "We have two older players who can lead behind the plate," says Yarbrough, who started two freshmen behind the plate last season.

Two-year starter Adam Connor (.338, 2 HR, 26 RBI) returns at first base with senior William Ruthven (.300, 2 HR, 19 RBI) returning in reserve.  The keystone combo includes junior Trevor Buford, from Lake Land CC, at second base and senior four-year veteran Lance Davis (.286, 4 HR, 26 RBI) at shortstop.  Junior Daniel Edwards (.289, 8 RBI, 12 SB) starts at third base with Tyler Johnson (.205, 11 RBI) backing up.  Freshman Dylan Peters lends versatility at three positions.

Freshman Taylor Wortham begins 2011 in left field alongside senior Nathan Lawrence (.339, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 35 runs, 12 HBP) in center field.  Senior Cory Bowling (.237, 2 HR, 21 RBI) platoons in right field with senior William Brown (.200, 1 HR, 9 RBI), and sophomore Cameron Kimball backs up all three positions.

Trevecca Nazarene University Trojans - Nashville, Tenn.
Coming off a disappointing 2010 season, Trevecca baseball Coach Jonathan Burton enters his third season at the helm of the Trojan program focused on one specific goal. "We have worked very hard this summer and fall on getting back to doing things the right way," says Burton.

The Trojans went 29-23 and failed to qualify for the TranSouth Championships, Coach Burton wants to see his team get back to doing the things that led to success in previous seasons. "We have prided ourselves in this program over the past several years on being the type of team that fights and scraps from the first pitch to the last," says Burton.

The 2011 schedule will be daunting, with 21 games against teams that qualified for last season's NAIA Championships. Of those 21 games, nine are against 2010 NAIA World Series participants, including a three-game set with TranSouth rival and 2010 NAIA Champion Cumberland. 

The top returning players are junior outfielder Matt Tidwell and senior outfielder Edwin Borbon. Tidwell was the Trojans' top hitter last season, earning Second Team All-TranSouth honors while leading the team in batting average (.477), hits (74), doubles (21), on-base percentage (.541), slugging percentage (.755), and total bases (117), while tying for the team lead in home runs (4) and runs scored (44). Borbon also had an excellent 2010 season, batting .376 while leading the team in triples (6), RBI (37), and stolen bases (15) and scoring 44 runs to tie Tidwell for the team lead in that category. Other returning players who made solid contributions last season include senior infielder Chase Birdwell (.331, 31 RBI), sophomore catcher Luke Fennell (.301), sophomore outfielder Trae Weiss (.300), and senior infielder Chad Reynolds (.280, 35 RBI). Seniors BJ Boston, Caleb Longshore, Blake Payton, and Michael Son give Trevecca's pitching staff plenty of returning experience.

Newcomers include pitchers Justin Dailey (Clarksville, Tenn.), PJ Francescon (Nolensville, Tenn.), Dylan Kuhn (Buena Park, Calif.), Will Elkins (Florence, Ala.), Brandon VanderLoop (Nashville, Tenn.) and Craig Stem (Nashville, Tenn.), as well as infielders Michael Maxwell (Miami, Fla.), and Matt Dobbins (Franklin, Tenn.), catcher Zach Polzin (Brandon, Miss.), and outfielders Ryan Fitzpatrick (Nashville, Tenn.), Jordan Foreman (Orange, Calif.), Troy Weiss (Nashville, Tenn.), and Mitch McClay (Carterville, Ill.). "These newcomers have really pressed our returners, which has created a fun and energetic atmosphere," says Burton, adding, "It has been very healthy through the fall and we have made some strides."

The Trojans open the 2011 season in Hattiesburg, Miss., with a three-game series against William Carey Feb. 4-5; TranSouth Conference play gets underway March 4-5, when Martin Methodist pays a visit to Jackson Field.

Union University Bulldogs - Jackson, Tenn.
The 2011 season for the Union University baseball team is one of high expectations. The Bulldogs enter the season as the No. 16 ranked team in the NAIA preseason poll and are picked to finish second in the TranSouth Conference preseason coaches' poll. Union is coming off back-to-back appearances in the NAIA National Tournament Opening Round. The Bulldogs look to make the next step in 2011.

Despite graduating their top weekend starter and five starters in the lineup, Union is reloading to continue the momentum started by the previous teams. Union head coach Brent Fronabarger and assistant coach Joseph Talley have assembled 15 newcomers to go along with 13 returning players. Of the 13 returners, three starters are back along with the second, third and fourth best starting pitchers from last season.

The senior class has just five players, including two that are new to the program in 2011. Returning seniors include Kevin Kirksey, Derek Copley and Dan Beck. Kirksey is the only four-year player and returns after posting a .997 fielding percentage and earning a TranSouth Gold Glove award last season at first base. He also was second on the team with three saves. Copley was a first team all-conference performer as a weekend starter last season with eight wins. Beck is coming off his first season as an offensive player, in which he excelled as one of Union's top pinch-hitters. New to the program is right handed pitcher Matt Fike and outfield slugger Oscar Depablos. Both will be counted on often this season.

The junior class is the largest on the roster with 12 players. Five of the 12 are returning for Union. Jeremey Stack, Danny Grimm, Clint Barnes and Cody Dew are back for their third seasons with the Bulldogs. Stack was the No. 2 weekend starter last season before injury caused him to miss several starts during conference play. However, Stack remains one of the best arms on the staff and will be among the leaders in the rotation in 2011. Grimm was named a second team all-conference player and gold glove winner at the shortstop position last season. Barnes was one of the leaders in on-base percentage and led the team with 28 steals. Dew returns as a quality arm out of the bullpen, leading all relievers with three wins. Tim Anderson returns for his second season, having provided quality backup at the catching position last season, demonstrating a great arm behind the plate by throwing out 4-of-12 would-be base stealers. R.J. Rayborn, Kian Jost, Doug Joyce, Brett Pawlen, Ben Monticello, Bryan Hill and Justin Bryan are all new to the program this season. Each will be called on often to contribute to the success of the team.

Six sophomores are on the roster, including four returning after a successful freshman season. Jared Davis went 8-1 on the season as a starter, earning a second team all-conference selection. Benjie Fesmire pitched in six games and also played in the field for Union as a freshman. David Leisey saw limited action out of the bullpen, but will be called on more after developing his game as a freshman. Cole McAdams sat out last season, but made a huge impact as a freshman in 2009, earning a gold glove at first base. He is the team's most versatile infielder, plus a very valuable stick at the plate. Colin Hatch will red-shirt this season after going 2-0 with a save in eight appearances last season. He missed the second half of the season with an injury. Derek Roof is new to the program and the right-hander will add more depth to the pitching rotation as a sophomore.

The freshman class includes five players. Kyle Bryan, Logan McDougall, Jim Martin, Martin Key and Wacey Russell. Bryan, McDougall and Russell will each provide depth in the outfield. Martin and Key will solidify the infield.

The Bulldogs face a tough schedule in 2011. Union plays at No. 1 Cumberland April 1-2. Cumberland is the defending NAIA National Champion, and is picked to repeat as conference champs. Union's win over Cumberland in the conference tournament last season was the only loss for Cumberland in their final 29 games of the season. Conference opponents Bethel (Tenn.) and Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) are receiving votes in the preseason rankings.

In the non-conference schedule, Union plays several ranked opponents. Union host No. 18 South Carolina-Beaufort on Feb. 5. and No. 12 Belhaven (Miss.) on March 16. On March 21, Union plays No. 6 Embry-Riddle (Fla.) in Lebenon, Tenn. and then at No. 12 Belhaven on March 29. Union host NCAA DII opponent North Alabama on April 26.

Fronabarger will be leading this team in his sixth season. He is just 30 wins shy of 200 for his career (170-98-1, .633).