PULASKI, Tenn. – Playing in its final TranSouth Athletic Conference competition, the Martin Methodist Baseball Team ensured it went out on top as it rallied for two wild, thrilling victories to upset Bethel (Tenn.) University and win the 2013 TranSouth/Gulf Coast Unaffiliated Group Tournament at the East Campus Friday afternoon.
Needing a pair of victories to knock off their conference rivals, the RedHawks rallied ahead in for a 6-5 win in the opener before completing the upset with a five-run comeback to claim an 11-10 victory that sent the East Campus ballpark crowd into a frenzy.
The wins lifted the RedHawks (38-17) to their first-ever TranSouth Baseball title in the league's final campus-hosted tournament.
"I'm not sure you could write a better script for our team," RedHawks head coach Kelly Bratton said. "We put ourselves in a bit of a hole but our guys just simply would not give up. I am so proud of their performance and the way they battled – not only today, but all tournament long."
After storming from five runs down in the sixth to tie the game, the RedHawks found themselves trailing the Wildcats (29-15) by a pair of runs with just nine outs remaining.
That's when the RedHawks turned to the longball, cranking back-to-back homers to stun the Wildcats and re-take the lead.
After the RedHawks recorded two quick outs, Erick Bonifacio slapped a single through the right side of the infield to get aboard. On the ensuing at-bat, Evan Fergerson took advantage of gusty winds and laced an 0-1 fastball over the fence in left-center to tie the ballgame.
The RedHawks would not have long to enjoy the tie as Charles Hill sent a mammoth shot over the left-field scoreboard on the very next pitch to give the RedHawks a one-run lead they would never relinquish. The solo shot was the second of the day for Hill, who launched a left-field dinger in the RedHawks first win of the afternoon.
The 5-6-7 lineup combination of Bonifacio, Fergerson and Hill proved to be fatal all afternoon for the Wildcats, as the trio combined for 8 of the RedHawks 13 hits. Matt Thomas, who played the entire tournament with a lower-body injury, finished the game 2-for-6 and was the only other RedHawk to record more than two hits. As a team, the RedHawks drove in 10 of their 12 runs, highlighted by Fergerson (3) and Clint Gobbell (2) and Ryan Jett (2).
After Hill's home run put the RedHawks ahead by one, the RedHawks turned to an unlikely hero out of the bullpen to help secure the victory.
"The middle of our lineup was huge for us in these ballgames today," Bratton said. "Charles Hill had a rough outing yesterday but was absolutely huge for us this afternoon. Erick Bonifacio had clutch hits all tournament long, not just today. And Evan Fergerson came up with some big hits when we needed them as well, especially that homer. Ryan Jett had some pop for us towards the bottom of the lineup as well. Those guys were vital for us."
Clay Brown, who tossed a complete game on Thursday to lift the RedHawks to the title game, nailed down the final six outs of the ballgame out of the bullpen, allowing just one baserunner to earn his first career save. The freshman struck out two of the six batters he faced and allowed just one walk as the lone blemish.
Brown came on in relief of RedHawks starter Josh Brown, who tossed 2.1 innings of clutch relief work after throwing over 90 pitches while starting Friday's first ballgame. Ironically, Josh Brown (7-4) picked up his lone victory on the day in his relief appearance, not his start.
Blake Beavers (9-3), who picked up the victory in the first game out of the bullpen, pitched 2.2 innings of middle relief to help bridge the ballgame into the late innings in the second contest.
Jake Shadix pitched three innings in a starting role for the RedHawks, before giving way to Ross Potere. In all, the RedHawks used five pitchers to record the 27 outs that lifted them to their first-ever conference championship.
"Our guys knew what was at stake," Bratton said. "We told everyone that they might be needed and we wound up needing quite a few of them. It was just one of those things that makes tournament baseball so unique. I was proud of the way that staff gutted out some big performances."
With the wins, the RedHawks advance to next week's NAIA National Tournament, which kicks off at nine (9) regional sites nationwide next Thursday.
The RedHawks will learn their opponents and destination during a selection ceremony on Monday.
PULASKI, Tenn. – For the final time in the league's 17-year history, the TranSouth Athletic Conference has announced its All-TranSouth baseball awards. Each of the Conference's five teams are represented with a total of 29 student-athletes honored. The TranSouth baseball coaches selected the All-Conference Team, as well as recognizing the nine best defenders in the league on the TranSouth's Gold Glove team, by a vote in the coaches' meeting prior to the postseason tournament for the Unaffiliated Group tournament at Martin Methodist Conference in Pulaski.
The coaches voted Matt Thomas of Martin Methodist as the Conference's Player of the Year, after Thomas put up an unbelievable season for the RedHawks. Thomas finished the regular season as the NAIA's batting champion, hitting a sizzling .450 and finishing 13 points clear of the rest of the field. Thomas accounted for 93 runs on the season for the RedHawks, hitting three homers, driving in 52 runs, and scoring 44 times. He also finished fifth in the NAIA in triples with six, and he ranked in the top-25 individually in 10 different statistical categories.
Bethel University head coach Rusty Thompson was also honored, as he was named the TranSouth's Coach of the Year. Thompson guided the Wildcats to their first ever TranSouth Regular Season Crown, leading the team to an 11-1 mark in Conference play despite losing his team's top three pitchers to injury during the season. The Wildcats started 9-0 in the TranSouth, after playing a tough non-conference schedule that saw Bethel post a 15-12 record in non-league play.
Freed-Hardeman University led the way with seven selections on the All-TranSouth team, followed closely by Bethel (6), Martin Methodist (5), and Blue Mountain College (4). Mid-Continent University rounded out the All-TranSouth team with two selections. Bethel and Martin Methodist each placed three on the Gold Glove team, with Freed-Hardeman (2) and Mid-Continent also having players recognized for their defensive prowess.
P - Chris Hatfield Freed-Hardeman
P - Dan Creighton Freed-Hardeman
P - Blake Chandler Bethel University
P - Blake Beavers Martin Methodist
P - Luke Deaton Mid-Continent
P - Justin Daniels Blue Mountain
RP - Ryne Fisher Bethel University
RP - Zack Brewer Martin Methodist
RP - Drew Suttles Freed-Hardeman
C - Nick Flanagan Martin Methodist
C - Will Wallis Blue Mountain
1B - Tyler Roberson Bethel University
2B - Matt Thomas Martin Methodist
SS - Kyle Dearing Freed-Hardeman
3B - Ryan Huber Freed-Hardeman
UTL - Joe Mike Freed-Hardeman
UTL - Brandon Berry Blue Mountain
OF - Justin Mackey Freed-Hardeman
OF - Brian Ferrell Bethel University
OF - Lance Jerrald Bethel University
OF - Hunter Bolden Mid-Continent
OF - Clint Gobbell Martin Methodist
OF - Gardner Richey Blue Mountain
DH - Tyler Murphy Bethel University
TranSouth Gold Glove Team
P - Josh Brown Martin Methodist
C - Taylor Follis Bethel University
1B - Joe Mike Freed-Hardeman
2B - Brett Adams Bethel University
SS - Charles Hill Martin Methodist
3B - Ryan Huber Freed-Hardeman
OF - Lance Jerrald Bethel University
OF - Hunter Bolden Mid-Continent
OF - Rob Holley Martin Methodist
MAYFIELD, Ky. – The TranSouth Athletic Conference has announced its final spring Scholar-Athlete honorees, and once again, the baseball teams in the TranSouth have excelled both on the field and in the classroom. Among the five TranSouth teams, 49 individuals have earned recognition as TranSouth Scholar-Athletes, with 14 of the athletes also qualifying as NAIA Scholar-Athletes. To earn TranSouth Scholar-Athlete status, a player must be a varsity player who possesses a 3.0 or higher grade-point average and has attained sophomore status or higher academically. To qualify as a Daktronics NAIA Scholar-Athlete, a varsity athlete must have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher, be at least a junior academically, and must have been at the nominating institution for a full calendar year. Below is a breakdown of all 49 TranSouth Scholar-Athletes, listed by school. Those marked with an asterisk (*) also achieved Daktronics NAIA Scholar-Athlete status.
Bethel University (11): Brett Adams, Ryne Bivens, Cade Chambers, Caleb Crocker*, Will Erwin, Brian Ferrell*, David Gardner, JD Newsom, Jason Overton, Jordan Stack*, Joey Wilder
Blue Mountain College (7): Brandon Berry, Justin Daniel, Gardner Richey, Matt Roberts, Brent Townsend, Ben Wallis, Will Wallis
Freed-Hardeman University (15): Tyler Anderson*, Joe Creasy*, Kyle Dearing*, Ryan Fares, Connor Kohlscheen, Jackson Lockhart, Mark Malone, Casey Overturf, Drew Suttles, Jake Todd, Eric Thompkins*, Pete Trollinger, Zack White*, Ryan Wood, Greg Young*
Martin Methodist College (8): Zach Bailey, Evan Fergerson, Nick Flanagan, Rob Holley*, Jerry Jeter, Justin Lumpkins, Jacob Ray*, Dillon Sands*
Mid-Continent University (8): Cory Ames, Hunter Bolden, Austin Clark, Luke Deaton, Michael Edwards, Caleb Luttrell, Jordan Manney*, Bill Schroeder*
2013 POST SEASON AWARDS
|P||Chris Hatfield||Freed-Hardeman||Chris Hatfield||Freed-Hardeman|
|P||Dan Creighton||Freed-Hardeman||Dan Creighton||Freed-Hardeman|
|P||Blake Chandler||Bethel University||Blake Chandler||Bethel University|
|P||Blake Beavers||Martin Methodist||Blake Beavers||Martin Methodist|
|P||Justin Daniels||Blue Mountain|
|RP||Rye Fisher||Bethel University||Ryne Fisher||Bethel University|
|RP||Zack Brewer||Martin Methodist|
|C||Nick Flanagan||Martin Methodist||Nick Flanagan||Martin Methodist|
|C||Will Wallis||Blue Mountain||Will Wallis||Blue Mountain|
|1B||Tyler Roberson||Bethel University||Tyler Roberson||Bethel University|
|2B||Matt Thomas||Martin Methodist||Matt Thomas||Martin Methodist|
|SS||Kyle Dearing||Freed-Hardeman||Kyle Dearing||Freed-Hardeman|
|3B||Ryan Huber||Freed-Hardeman||Ryan Huber||Freed Hardeman|
|UTL||Joe Mike||Freed-Hardeman||Steven Brock||Edward Waters|
|UTL||Brandon Berry||Blue Mountain|
|OF||Justin Mackey||Freed-Hardeman||Justin Mackey||Freed-Hardeman|
|OF||Brian Ferrell||Bethel University||Brian Ferrell||Bethel University|
|OF||Clint Gobbell||Martin Methodist||Clint Gobbell||Martin Methodist|
|OF||Lance Jerrald||Bethel University||Nerio Baretto||Talladega College|
|OF||Gardner Richey||Blue Mountain|
|DH||Tyler Murphy||Bethel University||Travonne Fuller||Edward Waters|
Gold Glove Teams
|P||Josh Brown||Martin Methodist||Josh Brown||Martin Methodist|
|C||Taylor Follis||Bethel University||Rey Otero||Edward Waters|
|1B||Joe Mike||Freed-Hardeman||Joe Mike||Freed-Hardeman|
|2B||Brett Adams||Bethel University||Brett Adams||Bethel University|
|SS||Charles Hill||Martin Methodist||Chase Benefield||Talladega College|
|3B||Ryan Huber||Freed-Hardeman||Ryan Huber||Freed-Hardeman|
|OF||Lance Jerrald||Bethel University||Lance Jerrald||Bethel University|
|OF||Hunter Bolden||Mid-Continent||Hunter Bolden||Mid-Continent|
|OF||Rob Holley||Martin Methodist||Rob Holley||Martin Methodist|
* - Group Teams Will be Considered for NAIA National Awards
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Brian Ferrell of Bethel (Tenn.) has been named the NAIA National Baseball Player of the Week Ferrell was selected based on his performance from April 1 – 7 and was chosen out of a pool of conference/independent/unaffiliated group winners.
Ferrell, a senior from Jackson, Tenn., hit .706 (12-of-17) with three doubles, two home runs, a triple and eight RBI as he led the Wildcats to a perfect 4-0 week, including a sweep of TranSouth Athletic Conference rival Martin Methodist (Tenn.) April 5 – 6. Ferrell, who recorded a 1.353 slugging percentage over the four games, was also 3-for-3 in steals and tallied 11 runs scored.
Ferrell opened the week with his second multi-extra base hit performance of the season, recording two doubles in a 3-for-4 effort against Brescia (Ky.) on April 1. In Bethel's series opener against Martin Methodist on April 5, he played a key role in the Wildcats' seven-run fourth inning with a two-strike, two-run single to give Bethel at the time a 4-1 lead. The next day, the senior outfielder recorded his second home run of the season in the bottom of first en route to a second of three-straight days with three runs scored. He capped the week by going 4-for-5 – a double shy of the cycle – with another RBI and three runs scored as Bethel edged Martin Methodist, 10-9, in extra innings.
Ferrell, who leads the team in batting average (.387 – minimum 70 at-bats), RBI (31) and stolen bases (16), is 25th in the NAIA in total bases per game (2.24).
Bethel Coach Rusty Thompson commented on Ferrell's award. "Brian is such a great person and player. We are thrilled for him. He has worked hard and is a pleasure to coach. When he gets hot with the bat it is really fun to watch him. He can be unconscious at times at the plate. He has so many dimensions to his game. The speed and pop in his bat is as good as I have seen here at times. His hand/eye coordination is outstanding." He added, "Another thing which has helped him this year is our seven, eight, and nine hitters have consistently got on base and opponents have not been able to pitch around him."
MAYFIELD, Ky. – As five teams begin their quest for a title in what will be the final season of baseball in the TranSouth Athletic Conference, the depth of quality teams in the TranSouth appears to be as good as ever. The five remaining teams in the conference include the defending regular season champion Freed-Hardeman University, and the Lions are the preseason favorites to win the Conference again in 2013. As a part of the NAIA's postseason qualification plan, the five TranSouth teams have been put in an Unfailliated Qualifying Group with the three teams from the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, and the TranSouth schools occupy the top five positions in the Unafilliated Grouping's Preseason Ranking.
Below are season preview articles for each TranSouth school, in the order they appear in the preseason ranking.
Freed-Hardeman University (2012 TSAC Regular Season: 1st; 36-23, 16-8 TSAC; Tournament: 0-2)
HENDERSON, Tenn. – The 2012 season was definitely an historic one for the Freed-Hardeman University baseball team.
The Lions won the program's first regular season conference championship since 1997 and made its first-ever appearance in the NAIA National Championships. For a team picked to finish fifth in the eight-team conference last season, it was most certainly a year of exceeding expectations for a senior-heavy squad.
Things will be different for the Lions and head coach Jonathan Estes as the 2013 season begins, with higher expectations and a long list of newcomers after graduating 14 seniors from last year's squad. The Lions are picked the win the now-six-team TranSouth in the conference's final season of existence and are ranked No. 22 in the NAIA Preseason Coaches Poll.
The biggest changes will be in the pitching staff, where five of the team's top six pitchers graduated, but the offense returns the majority of its firepower including leading hitters Robert Prieto and Justin Mackey.
Prieto was named an honorable mention All-American last year after a highly productive year at the plate (.417/.466/.554). He tied the program's single-season hits record with 85 while adding five home runs, 48 RBIs and swiping 16 bases in 17 attempts. He also had one of the best strikeout rates in recent memory for FHU, fanning only nine times in 228 plate appearances. Mackey built on a solid sophomore season to hit .374 with 15 doubles and 44 RBIs, many of which came in key situations.
Also returning are everyday players Kyle Dearing, Joe Mike and Jake Todd. Dearing's 64 runs scored ranked second in program history, and the speedy shortstop was successful on 37-of-42 stolen base attempts as well. Mike started 56 games and hit .298 with 12 doubles and 37 RBIs, while Todd emerged as the team's primary catcher midway through the season.
Estes identified Bobby Seda and Ryan Huber as two newcomers who showed in the fall that they could have an immediate impact in the lineup in helping replace the production lost by the graduation of Evan Mansell (10 HR, 46 RBIs), Jesse Hykes (.304/.436./.545, 9 HR, 33 RBIs) and Ben Ihde (.352/.420/.525, 29 RBIs).
Although last year's team exhibited significant speed on the basepaths with 116 steals, the most by any Lion team since 2007, Estes believes this year's squad will be even faster and will create more scoring opportunities.
One of Estes's goals for last season's squad was defensive improvement, and the numbers indicate it happened. FHU reduced its errors by one-half an error per game and improved its fielding percentage by 15 points. He looks for that to continue in 2013.
One major change will be the move of Prieto from second base to third base. It will be the third infield position the senior has filled as he started at shortstop his first two seasons. The incoming recruiting class was built with a lot of defensive flexibility as several can play multiple positions. Estes expects to move players around as the situation calls for it.
The team's major area of concern in the new season will be pitching, where only 11 percent of the team's innings pitched from last year return. Five of the team's top six pitchers graduated and the sixth, Daniel Wallace, will redshirt this season as the result of an injury. Relievers Drew Suttles and Joe Creasy are the only pitchers returning that threw over 10 innings last year.
Estes believes several pitchers are ready to make an impact after working most JV last season, including Ryan Fares, Joe Creasy and Eric Tompkins. Chris Hatfield, a transfer who red-shirted last season, enters the spring as the No. 1 pitcher.
Several transfers are poised to make an impact as well. Dan Creighton, Derek Emily and Greg Young are three who had solid fall seasons and look to carry that over into the spring.
With only six teams in the TranSouth Conference this year, conference series will be of even greater importance as fewer games will be on the schedule.
FHU will face teams coached by a pair of Lion baseball alumni in Saint Catharine (Ky.) College and Harris-Stowe State (Mo.) University. SCC is coached by Luther Bramblett, a former Lion baseball assistant; HSSU is coached by Estes' brother, David, who also played at FHU. In addition, No. 25 Judson (Ill.) University comes to Carnes Field for an early-season series between two nationally-ranked teams. The Lions will also play seven games in Winter Haven, Fla., over spring break.
Martin Methodist College (2012 TSAC Regular Season: 4th; 31-24, 14-10 TSAC; Tournament: 1-2)
PULASKI, Tenn. – Regardless of how the season pans out, the 2013 Martin Methodist Baseball team will be forever etched in RedHawk lore.
After spending the last 17 seasons traveling back and forth to nearby Sam Davis Park, the RedHawks will play their first-ever on-campus baseball game this season as they debut the new RedHawks East Campus Baseball Complex.
And while the new facilities might get much of the attention this season, the RedHawks also figure to field a pretty competitive team in 2013. Featuring a roster that boasts 11 seniors and a total of 14 upperclasmen, the RedHawks will look to build upon a 2012 season that saw the squad rally down the stretch to earn a third-place regular season finish.
Leading the charge on the hill for the RedHawks this season will be senior left-hander Josh Brown. Appearing in 19 games a year ago, the southpaw racked up a 6-4 record while compiling a 4.53 ERA.
Other weekend starters for the RedHawks could include freshmen Blake Beavers and Johnny Garcia, both of whom are expected to bring great velocity and control to the rotation. Blayze Parsons or Zack Brewer could see innings out of the bullpen and in potential save situations this season.
2012 All-TranSouth first baseman Nick Flanagan will take on a different role this season for the RedHawks, serving as the team's everyday catcher. The senior was an offensive force for the RedHawks a year ago, hitting .358 while clubbing a team-high 12 home runs and 55 RBIs.
Joining Flanagan in the infield will be second baseman Matt Thomas. Thomas, who batted a team-high .362 a year ago, figures to provide pop at the top of the lineup for Bratton's bunch. The senior also led the squad in hits (79) and runs scored (52) last season.
Joining Thomas in the infield will be senior utility man Charles Hill. Hill, a transfer from East Central (Miss.) Community College, could provide solid defense and speed along the basepaths for the RedHawks in 2013. Other infielders that could see times at various positions include: Erick Bonifacio, Zach Bailey and Trey Coats.
The outfield figures to be the strongest spot on the field for the RedHawks, who will likely start three upperclassmen in seniors Rob Holley and Ryan Jett and junior Clint Gobbell. Holley, who started 54-of-55 games a year ago, posted a .349 batting average while notching a team-high 18 doubles. Jett, meanwhile, logged a .352 batting average and pounded out 56 hits. Gobbell finished second on the team with a .360 clip at the plate while slugging out eight home runs. Zack Jordan, who appeared in 35 games a year ago, could also see time in the outfield for the RedHawks this season.
Playing in their final season as a member of the TranSouth, the RedHawks will have the opportunity to claim both the league's final championship as well as the school's first-ever TSAC title.
"This is always such a tough league," Bratton said. "But this year, it's kind of up for grabs. We are obviously very familiar with all of the other schools. Freed will be very good with all the talent they have coming back. Bethel will be solid with their strong pitching staff and Blue Mountain was one of the hottest teams in the country at the end of the regular season a year ago. Everyone is capable of going out and winning a series on any given weekend."
Bethel University (2012 TSAC Regular Season: 3rd; 31-22, 15-9 TSAC; Tournament: 0-2)
McKENZIE, Tenn. - Entering his sixth season, Bethel University Coach Rusty Thompson (138-104) and his staff look to make a run at the TranSouth Conference Championship in what will be the last year of competition within the league for the program. Bethel will move to the Southern States Conference next year.
Returners for 2013 campaign include 2012 New York Mets 21st round draft pick Gary Ward, who decided to return for his senior season. The 6'1 195 senior lefty from Chesapeake, Virginia; was a first team All-TranSouth pitcher with an 8-1 record this past season. He also had a 1.95 era, along with 122 strikeouts. Also returning are Second Team All- TranSouth outfielders Lance Jarreld and Brian Ferrell. Jarreld hit .355 with six homeruns and had a team-high 55 RBI's. Ferrell had a team-high 20 doubles and six home runs. The Wildcats also return Second Team All-TranSouth catcher, and four-year starter Tyler Roberson.
Key Members of 2013 squad:
Seniors: Brian Ferrell, Jordan Stack, JD Newsom
Juniors: Alonzo Powell (Southwest Tenn.) and Lance Jarreld
Third Base: Junior Martin Key (Jackson State)
Middle Infield: Senior Brett Adams, Sophomores Will Erwin, Hunter Frey (Christian Brothers), and Freshman Michael Brasili (Pope John Paul HS)
First Base: Junior Celtic Rush, Sophomore Ryne Bivens, and 2012 NJCAA 1st Team All-American Tyler Murphy (Motlow State)
Senior Tyler Roberson, Junior Taylor Follis (Motlow State), Sophomore Tyler Lyons, and Redshirt Freshman David Gardner.
The five seniors on the pitching staff include LHP Gary Ward, LHP Cade Chambers, LHP Turner Cripps, RHP Joey Wilder, and RHP Jason Overton. These five seniors will bring experience and leadership to a pitching staff that will have underclassmen needing to pitch important innings for the team to have success this year.
Juniors: Turner Bush, Keaton Gregory, and Hayden Smith (Dyersburg State)
Freshman: Blake Chandler (McNairy Central), Jon Tyler Roach (Hardin Co. HS), Ryne Fisher (Riverside), Dustin Warmath (Clarksville Academy), and Brandon Baggett (Pope John Paul II HS).
Assistant Coaches Nick Thompson and Eric Patton are back, both in their sixth year with the program. Jake Ramsey and Derek Hinson return as graduate assistants.
The Wildcats are coming off a 31-22 season and finished with a 15-9 mark in conference play.
Blue Mountain College (2012 TSAC Regular Season: 6th; 25-31, 7-17 TSAC; Tournament: Runners-Up)
BLUE MOUNTAIN, Miss. – Repeating last year's magical run to the finals of the TranSouth Athletic Conference baseball championships won't be easy, says Blue Mountain College coach Curt Fowler, but the Toppers have every intention of giving it another shot.
BMC, playing only its second season of intercollegiate baseball, made into the tournament the last week of the regular season, then won three games before falling in the finals, 2-1, to Union University.
"That whole week is still pretty much a blur," said Fowler, "but it was probably the most fun I've ever had coaching. That was a very special team. But like the saying goes, ‘That was then; this is now.'
"It's just hard to tell how we're going to do because we've got so many new guys. We've got lots of good players; they just need to get some game experience."
BMC finished last season with a 25-31 overall and went 8-17 in the TSAC. The 2013 season will be the final season for the TranSouth and Fowler would like to take a league championship into the Southern States Athletic Conference next year.
"The teams that are back for the final TranSouth year (Bethel, Freed-Hardeman, Martin Methodist, Mid-Continent) are all really good teams," he said. "You add that plus our losing a lot of good players from last year, and that comes out to a pretty tough season ahead."
OFFENSE: The Toppers have a strong nucleus returning in Gardner Richey, Ben Wallis and Zack Scott, but Fowler says they're going to need some help from the new players to replace all-conference players Hunter Mize, Nate Bell and Seth Kennedy, along with Channing Walker.
Richey, a first-team All-TSAC outfielder, put up some serious numbers a year ago: .365 batting average, .680 slugging percentage, 17 doubles, 2 triples, 12 home runs, 38 runs batted in, 54 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 15 attempts.
Wallis, a two-time all-conference third baseman, will move to second base and center field this year. A year ago, Wallis hit .311, had 7 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers, 38 RBI, and stole 13 bases. Scott, a designated hitter and outfielder, hit .293 and drove in 22 runs.
The Toppers will count on the experience of first baseman Josh Swords and utility player Brent Townsend to shore up their offense, as well as Jeb Clark at third base, and Trae Allison and Brandon Barry at shortstop.
Fowler said for the first time in three years BMC catching should be strong with three solid players available: Vinny De Melo, Will Wallis and Thomas Russell.
PITCHING: The Toppers will call on three returnees and three new players to handle most of the mound duties: Sam Cruse, Will Basil and left-hander Alex Arntfield are back from a year ago, while junior college transfers Bo Cummings, Justin Daniel and Channing Sanders will provide depth.
"I think this could be the best staff we've had in our three years," Fowler said. "But we're just like everybody else right now – we need to play some games and see how things shake out. It's time."
Mid-Continent University (2012 TSAC Regular Season: 7th; 27-37, 9-15 TSAC; Tournament: DNQ)
Despite a sluggish start to the 2012 campaign, the Mid-Continent University baseball team was able to finish the season strong, earning the team just their second ever berth to the NCCAA World Series – a feat which head coach Shawn Yarbrough sees as a key motivating factor for his 2013 team.
"Going to the NCCAA World Series last year has been pure motivation for these guys," Yarbrough said. "For all of us – coaches included – to have gotten that taste last year, it makes us that much hungrier to go back or go higher."
The 2012 campaign also marked the program's second consecutive season in which they set their own single season wins record, a factor which continues to drive expectations higher for the Cougars.
"Our expectations are always high," Yarbrough explained. "When we took over here, we did so to raise the bar, and we have raised it enough now to where each year expectations grow. It's nice to see that from our players too."
While this year's team may not be as deep on paper, the Cougars do have a good core of players who got to enjoy some success last year, and got to learn from some good players. Add to that, some very talented new faces, and this looks to be another highly successful season for MCU baseball.
"We have really good chemistry among this year's team," noted Yarbrough. "And we have also had some guys step up to replace some of our key clubhouse guys from last season."
According to Yarbrough, two players have stepped into leadership roles very well throughout the fall season – Jimmy Braswell and Blake Balderaz. "Braswell on the field is a physically intimidating corner infielder," Yarbrough opined, "and off the field he is a guy who the guys see as a great teammate. He has a lot of characteristics we had last year in guys like Hunter Burge and Daniel Edwards."
"On the mound this fall, Blake Balderaz has really stepped to the forefront," he continued. "He is a passionate like [Tomas] Rodriguez, and he has very good stuff like Burge."
Behind the plate, the Cougars must replace the defense of the departed Sam Cheng, but they have a pair of options who gained valuable experience last season. Joseph Blair was one of Mid-Continent's leading hitters a year ago, and the Cougars will need him to continue to produce offensively as a senior. Defensively, his game grew through the course of 2012, a fact Yarbrough attributes to learning from a catcher like Cheng and catching pitchers like Rodriguez and Burge. "Catching those guys forced him to grow up as a catcher," Yarbrough explained. "This fall we have already seen improvement in the way he learns pitchers behind the plate."
Dondre McCarter is a local product who spent his freshman season with Mid-Continent's junior varsity squad, but the young man took advantage of opportunities to grow his game, and he has shown himself to be a very good defensive option behind the plate. "We really like what we have in Dondre defensively behind the plate," said Yarbrough. "Obviously he will need to grow offensively as this is his first varsity year, but right away he will be ready to go should the need arise defensively."
The Mid-Continent Outfield is very deep, returning four players who saw significant time a year ago, and bringing in some very talented players to augment what was already in place. Uriel Hawkins spent much of last season in Left field for the Cougars, splitting time early in the year with Jordan Manney, who is also back. Those two figure heavily in Yarbrough's plans in Left Field, and Hunter Bolden figures to get the nod in Center Field after a strong junior campaign in 2012. Over in Right Field, the battle appears to be open with newcomer Dain Burress holding the early edge, though Manney and Dylan Rasch will also battle for time in Right Field. Blake Vaughan and Andres Rodriguez also will contribute to the depth of the Cougars in the outfield.
Only Richard Arias returns from Mid-Continent's 2012 infield, but Arias is most definitely a key piece for the Cougars. A middle-of-the-order presence, Arias led the team with eight homers last year, and finished just one off the team lead in RBIs with 43. In addition to Arias at short, Braswell looks to be a power threat in the middle of the lineup, as he holds down the duties at the hot corner. Across the diamond at first base, the Cougars will have Jordan Adams and Zack McCarthy battling for playing time. Adams saw some time at first base a year ago, and McCarthy has been more relaxed defensively since the coaching staff elected to move him in from the outfield after last season. "Playing first base suits McCarthy's footwork a little better," noted Yarbrough explaining the reason for the move, "and that has allowed him to focus more on offense." The one question mark heading in to the season for the Cougars is who will step into the role of the everyday second baseman.
Mid-Continent must replace all three weekend starters from last year's club, and if the fall is any indication, the Cougars have plenty of talent to do just that. Balderaz and Brett Tabor will be competing the title of Weekend Ace for this year's club. Tabor played really well last year at Vincennes University, while Balderaz has a bulldog mentality and is a very fierce competitor. Behind those two will be Luke Deaton to round out the weekend rotation. A left-hander out of Memphis, Tenn., Deaton features a good mix speed and control.
In the mid-week, the Cougars have Michael Edwards and Caleb Luttrell leading the rest of a relatively young staff. "Edwards is probably the biggest two year improvement we have," noted Yarbrough. "He will be a good midweek starter, and he will get some opportunities out of the bullpen on the weekend. His stuff keeps getting better."
After a rocky start to the year in 2012, Luttrell turned his season around in late march, picking up a pair of saves at McKendree University. and he pitched well for MCU down the stretch. "Luttrell needs to continue the momentum he had at the end of last year," said Yarbrough. "He is a passionate guy and a hard worker."
Out of the bullpen, look for players like Cory Ames to be used in short relief roles. The Closer's role is still wide open for the Cougars. Todd Adams will have an opportunity to compete for it, along with Marc Brandenburg. Adams has been plagued by some injuries during his Mid-Continent career, but Coach Yarbrough looks for him to bounce back this season. Brandenburg will be primarily used as a situational specialist, though he could close some as well. He has very good stuff, with a lot of movement.
On paper – the Mid-Continent schedule does not appear as grueling as last year's, but there are also no weak links on the schedule. Mid-Continent will open their season in Coastal Georgia once again, this time heading to Brewton-Parker College for the opening weekend. Their first two home weekend series will be no picnic either, as they welcome Judson and Olivet Nazarene down from the Chicago area. The TranSouth Schedule will also look a little different, as there are only five teams in the league for this season.
"We know Brewton-Parker will be tough to open up with," said Yarbrough, "and Judson and ONU are a pair of tough teams from up north who will be ready to play. This will be a different year in the TranSouth, and we must learn to play without being on an emotional roller coaster."
He continued "If we can get off to a good start in the early portion of the season, I think we can definitely contend for a TranSouth title. Do we have the talent? Absolutely. But we do need some confidence and momentum to make that happen."
Coach Yarbrough realizes going into the 2013 season, that balancing out the highs and lows of the season will be a key. "We do have some big expectations," he said, "but we also understand that we have a team that has a mix of youth and experience and that is always a delicate balance. We built this year's schedule so that we have the opportunity to build momentum, and we are hopeful that we can do that and continue to build on our success."
Union University (photo): Jim Martin, Wacey Russell, Hunter Smith, Jared Davis, Benjie Fesmire*, David Leisey*, Cole McAdams, Danny Grimm*, Kian Jost, Jeremey Stack, Derek Roof
Martin Methodist College was voted third, Bethel University fourth, Freed-Hardeman University fifth, Mid-Continent (Ky.) University sixth, Lyon (Ark.) College seventh and Blue Mountain (Miss.) College eighth.
BETHEL UNIVERSITY WILDCATS:
McKENZIE, Tenn. - Entering his fifth season, Coach Rusty Thompson (107-82) and his staff look to build on the 27-22 record and runner up finish in the 2011 TranSouth Tournament. Picked 4th in the TranSouth Preseason poll, the Wildcats return one first team Transouth and five second team Transouth All-Conference players.
Outfielder Gardner Richey from Tupelo, a transfer from Samford, had four hits against Belhaven, including a two-run home run, and drove in three runs. Outfielder and designated hitter Zack Scott had a two-run double, and shortstop Dalton Kulas from Olive Branch, a transfer from Mississippi Delta Community College, pounded out four singles and made only one error in 13 chances on defense.
LEBANON, Tenn. - Cumberland University's Woody Hunt has been named the Rawlings-NAIA Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to the second national championship in school history.
It marks the second national Coach of the Year honor for Hunt during his 29-year career as head coach at Cumberland. He was named the Rawlings-National Coach of the Year after the Bulldogs lost in the NAIA World Series title game in extra innings.
The award will be presented at the 2011 Rawlings-NAIA Awards Luncheon in Nashville, Tenn., on January 7. The luncheon is part of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention which runs from Jan. 6-9 at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.
"This is a very prestigious honor, but it's really a team accomplishment," said Hunt. "Everything we get as coaches reflects on our team. We were such a singular unit as a team this season and I'm more proud of our team than any individual accomplishments."
Hunt is one of only six coaches in history to register 1,000 career victories in the NAIA and owns a career record of 1,284-523-3. The Bulldogs have appeared in 11 NAIA World Series, including five in the last seven seasons, claiming national championships in 2004 and 2010 as well as runner-up finishes in 1995 and 2006.
Cumberland has won 17 conference championships during Hunt's tenure, including 10 in the Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Conference (TCAC), five in the Mid-South Conference (MSC) and two in the TranSouth Conference (TSAC). CU has four district championships, 12 NAIA regional titles and has played in five super regionals as well.
The program has posted 21 seasons with 40 or more victories in 27 years as a four-year program, including 17 of the last 18 campaigns, while registering 50 or more wins eight times, all since 1997. The 2004 squad set the school-record for victories with 59, followed closely behind by the 2010 club with a 58-9 mark.
The Bulldogs have produced 56 NAIA All-Americans, including 2010 National Player of the Year Matt Greener and Steve Green, the only three-time All-American in program history. Seventy-four of Hunt's former players have signed professional contracts.
Hunt has also achieved individual success in the awards category, claiming 17 Coach of the Year honors. He is a seven-time Southeast Region Coach of the Year and has also been a finalist for the National Coach of the Year Award five times.
Deberry is excited about the opportunity. "First I would like to thank God. Without him, none of this would be possible." Deberry said, "I am not sure yet where the Giants will send me. I would imagine it will be rookie ball. They will be in touch with me in the next few days."