2013 Preview – Southern Conference

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 4th, 2013 in 2013 National Preview, Southern
 

2012 CONFERENCE ISR: 11

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HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2013:

1- Western Carolina

2- Elon

3- Appalachian State

4- College of Charleston

5- Georgia Southern

6- Furman

7-  UNC-Greensboro

8- Samford

9- The Citadel

10- Wofford

11- Davidson

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THE LOWDOWN.

Even though the ISR was down at No. 11, 2012 turned out to be another strong season for the SoCon with three teams going Big Dancin’, two of whom made it to the Regional championship round and each of the top six teams in the SoCon standings winning 30+ (ASU and Samford won 41 each). Appy State and CofC tied for the conference crown but the Bulldogs got on a wicked-hot streak to win the conference tournament and then eliminate Mississippi State in the Tallahassee Regional. There was a lot of improvement all through the league as the SoCon went from a 16 ISR in 2011 to last year’s 11. Will it get better in 2012? Well it certainly will for Elon and Western Carolina, who both missed the post-season last year but return everyone of note and could be the designated giant killers that the SoCon always seems to have.

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BREAKTHROUGH TEAM:

- Western Carolina.

All 56 starting assignments on the bump return for 2013, which bodes well for the Cats. And keep in mind that WCU went 4-2 vs. ranked teams last season, so the potential is there for a banner season. Now, if they can just put that horrid 7-13 finish to last season out of their minds, the Catamounts could be in for something big. Let’s see how the opening weekend of the season vs. Washington State goes.

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TRENDING DOWN:

- Samford.

There will be a large amount of turnover in the pitching corps as all three weekend starters moved on and a gaggle of JC transfers will have to adapt very quickly. After achieving school-record win totals in 2011 and 2012, look for a small step back for SU as coach Casey Dunn restocks the talent pool.

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BIGGEST CLEATS TO FILL:

- Ross Heffley, 2B, Western Carolina

The bad news is Heffley was the school career record holder in just about every offensive category and finished fourth in SoCon career hits with 354. But the remaining eight offensive starters return including Tyler White, the top hitter from a year ago at .354.

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BEST PLAYER:

- C.K. Irby, RHP/OF, Samford

Okay, sure, teammate Philip Ervin is getting a lot of run in the preseason rags, and with good reason. But how valuable is this C.K. Irby dude? On the mound he collected 10 saves to go along with five wins and he also hit a team-best .340 at the dish. As long as he doesn’t fall into a sophomore funk, Irby (along with Ervin) will be a huge key to the Bulldogs hopes of getting back to the Big Dance.

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BEST PITCHER:

- Matt Pegler, RHP, College of Charleston.

Pegs became just the fifth 10-game winner in CofC history after going 10-2 with a 2.83 ERA last year. He’ll be as valuable as it gets, being the only returning weekend starter for the Coogs.

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IMPACT NEWCOMER

- Alex Milazzo, RHP, Samford

A former Birmingham High School Player of the Year, Milazzo comes to the Dogs from the JC ranks and should fill a weekend starter’s role.

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STEAL A LEAR JET FOR…

- Western Carolina at Appalachian State, May 16-18.

Sure, I could’ve put Elon vs. WCU, which were my top two picks in the SoCon, but that series is in March. This one comes on the final weekend of the regular season, so there’s no telling what all will be at stake. Either way, it’ll be held in Boone, which is up in the mountains a bit, so the added fact that the temps will be much more comfy than in the lower elevations will help with the heat stroke factor.

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CAPSULES…

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- APPALACHIAN STATE (41-18, 21-9)

2012 ISR: 39

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

2B Hector Crespo (.308-3-23, 30SBs)

SS Will Callaway (.320-4-53, 23SBs)

OF Tyler Zupcic (.338-2-34, 12SBs)

LHP Rob Marcello (6-5, 5.31)

RHP Jamie Nunn (5-2, 4.24)

LHP Jeffrey Springs (2-1, 4.80)

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NOTES:

- THAT was one bitchin’ season for the Mountaineers. Yep. I had them pegged to finish sixth in the Southern Conference in this space last year. But I probably should’ve known better since ASU had nearly everyone back to the roster and a lot of experience, which helped lead them to the championship round in the Charlottesville Regional before losing twice to Oklahoma, squelching their upset bid to reach the Super Regionals. Not only that, but AppyState won a weekend series at LSU and then spent the entire season inside the top 40 of the RPI.

- Unfortunately, the head coach who led the Mountaineers to all this success, Chris Pollard, has cashed in his chips and moved on to the better money of the ACC – being named the new coach at Duke last summer. Billy Jones, an assistant under Frank Anderson at Oklahoma State the last few years, is the new head honcho in Boone. He was a really good recruiter at Boone Pickins U. so we’ll see how this transpires in the mountains of western North Carolina.

- There are some big time names that won’t be around for the 2013 season, including Ryan Arrowood, who went 11-0 last year including beating Oklahoma in the opening game of the Regionals, and Seth Grant, who went 7-3 and took down Virginia in the second round. Behind them, All SoCon reliever Nathan Hyatt has also taken his 16 saves and gone to the minor leagues. Offensively they’ll also say goodbye to Tyler Tewell and Daniel Kassouf, who were the top two hitters who played in all 59 games and went .357 and .339 respectively.

- Don’t worry ‘Neers fans, there is also a lot of talent coming back to the roster as well. Five hitters who went .295 and above come back to campus, led by the double-play combo of Will Callaway and Hector Crespo, who are good gloves and also combined for 52 stolen bases. In fact, ASU went an impressive 94-for-118 in the thefts department and return most of those numbers this year, so look for them to exert as much pressure as possible on the opposing pitching staff.

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- COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON (39-22, 18-12)

2012 ISR: 56

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Brandon Murray (.330-12-42, 2nd Team All-SoCon)

RHP Matt Pegler (10-2, 2.83, 2nd Team All-SoCon)

INF Brandon Glazer (.313-7-25)

INF Bradley Goodson (.276-8-42)

RHP Dre Watts (1-0, 2.70, 19apps)

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NOTES:

- Counting the win totals for the Cougars has become almost like counting age rings on an old-growth forest tree… you KNOW you’re going to get a lot. The last four years have seen win totals of 35, 44, 39 and now 38 wins in 2012. In other words, the ante has officially been upped. Can Coach Lee and his Coogs give us more than 38 for 2013? I’m guessing the answer is “yes.” Three starters come back on the mound, six starters in the field and a bevy of reliever out of the pen come back to the fore. I mean really, what’s not to like here?

- Although there is only one weekend starter coming back on the mound (that being Matt Pegler), the Cougars do have a lot of experience for the weekend rotation for 2013 as two mid-week starters will assimilate to weekend duty in LHP Jake Zokan (1-0, 5.11 in injury-shortened 2012 season) and RHP Ryan West (4-3, 3.73). These guys will be the basis to build around and all three being seniors.

- Two players the Cougars coaching staff are very high on for 2013 are OF Brandon Murray, who could turn into the next CofC All American, and also RHP Dre Watts, who has the make-up and mentality to become a stout late-inning closer. Dre also pulled a lot of DH duties last season, making 22 starts in the order, though he hit just .144.

- CofC will surely have some big-time talents they’ll miss for 2013, including Home Run Derby champion Daniel Aldrich and fellow slugger Marty Gantt, who both slammed 11 dingers and 46 RBI last season. The pitching staff will also miss staff ace Christian Powell and Sunday starter Josh Renfro, who combined for 31 starts and 150 Ks last year. And of course, if Dre Watts doesn’t fill the closer door well enough, the Cougars could be in a world of hurt considering 10-game saves specialist David Peterson has hit the bricks.

- Keep an eye on: Frosh INF/OF Morgan Phillips. The youthful New York City native redshirted last season but keep in mind he was a 17th round draft pick of the Reds in 2011 and has a highly-projectable 6’1″ 195-pound frame to intimidate pitchers. He also has very good speed and could be a firestarter at the top of the order.

- So there are some answers to be filled in the first month or two. Believe me guys, you’d rather have me on your good side, so feel free to make a big splash late in the season when the team gels and experience takes over. Advantage Cougars.

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- DAVIDSON (17-31, 8-22)

2012 ISR: 211

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Clark Beeker (2-3, 3.66, 2svs)

OF Forrest Brandt (.280-2-17, 16SBs)

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NOTES:

- The 2012 season was very much like most of recent seasons DC has had lately, as they went from 18 wins to 17 wins, 30 losses to 31 and a SoCon record that went from 8-21 to 8-22. That’s a bad rut.

- The 2013 season has all the earmarks of another tough campaign, especially with that glaring “zero” you see up there next to the weekend starters returning on the mound. Yep, Henry Sisson, Ryan Overcash and Brian Russell all moved on and take their 30 starts from last season with them. So look for a lot of newbies to fill those weekend posts, meaning it could be a rollercoaster ride.

- Four of the top six hitters in the order return this season, led by Forrest Brandt and INF Andrew Barna (.261, 10SBs), who will both have some speed for the basepaths and put pressure on opposing pitching.

- One of the more welcome returnees for this spring will be dual-threat senior Michael Zeblo, who hit .243 as the starting shortstop, while also saving a pair of games last season. He may be given more mound opportunities this year, depending on how new middle infield prospect Sam Foy adjusts to D1 baseball.

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- ELON (33-26, 20-10)

2012 ISR: 78

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

LHP Dylan Clark (9-4, 3.76, .244OBA)

RHP Nate Young (3-1, 2.13, 11svs, .230OBA)

RHP John Antonelli (1-1, 2.87, 2svs, .213OBA)

C Alex Swim (.357-3-45)

1B Ryan Kinsella (.316-8-54)

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NOTES:

- This should be a rebound season from the Phoenix. And what I mean is, even though last year was the 13th season in the last 15 years where EC won 30+ games, it still wasn’t your vintage Phoenix squads. Although to be fair, in mid-April Elon had an RPI ranking in the mid-20s. But a 2-to-1 weekend loss at Wofford and a Tuesday loss at UNC-W caused the Phoenix to fall all the way down to No. 46. From that point on they never threatened at-large land again.

- Look for big things from LHP Dylan Clark and RHP David Whitehead (5-3, 4.44, .253OBA), who both made appearances in the Cape Cod League All Star game last summer. They are part of a 9-man rotation that returns intact from a year ago, headed by all three weekend starters and the six best-ERA’d relievers. So the 4.41 team ERA should improve.

- Offensively, the Phoenix had a rather light .263 team average. But four of the top five sticks return, including steals leader Quinn Bower (.291, 14SBs), along with .300+ hitters in Alex Swim and Ryan Kinsella, who both have significant pop in their bats as the team’s RBI leaders.

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- FURMAN (28-31, 13-17)

2012 ISR: 129

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

- RHP Elliott Warford (6-0, 3.61, 7svs, Freshman All American)

- OF Taylor Johnson (.322-5-31)

- C/1B Paul Nitto (.303-4-47)

- 2B/OF Will Muzika (.284-3-33)

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NOTES:

- Lots of experience returning buoys hope that the Paladins can break through the middling finishes they’ve had in recent seasons. Furman hasn’t had a winning record, either overall or in Southern Conference play, since 2008 when they went 33-24 and 17-10. The Purple crew will have seven of their top nine pitchers from last season coming back. Of course, the bad part of that is the fact that the Paladins finished dead last in the SoCon pitching statsheet, with a 5.67 team ERA.

- The senior trio of OF Taylor Johnson, C/1B Paul Nitto and 2B/OF Will Muzika will provide great leadership and will be leaned upon heavily this season. Also look for the swift feet of SS Hunter Burton (.286, 15SBs) and OF Jake Jones (.284, 18SBs) to be difference-makers as long as they can get on base with regularity.

- One welcome bit of news is that RHP Drake Browne (2-2, 3.62 in 2011) is scheduled to return to his bullpen post after having to sit out 2012 with Tommy John Surgery. Every little bit will help here.

- The Paladins will have the luxury of sleeping in their own beds for the SoCon Tournament as it will be held at the downtown Fluor Field, home of the Boston Red Sox single-A affiliate, the Greenville Drive.

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- GEORGIA SOUTHERN (33-27, 15-15)

2012 ISR: 91

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 6

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Justin Hess (5-3, 3.76)

C Chase Griffin (.320-10-42)

INF T.D. Davis (.308-5-34)

P Kyle Rowe (6-2, 4.41, 6svs)

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NOTES:

- A little bad, a little good. The Eagles finished the 2012 season by going 11-11 from Tax Day onward, including a pedestrian 5-7 SoCon finish. But the better news was they rallied in the SoCon tourney and came THISCLOSE to earning their way to another NCAA tournament bid, losing to Samford in extra innings in the title game. And if you wanna big-picture this thing, GSU continued its 12 year string of winning 30+ games. So you have to admit the program is still humming along with few road bumps.

- I just thought I’d take this time to mention that the 33 wins in 2012 was the lowest win total since 1999. Sorry, hate to throw a pail of water on the situation here. Of course, it didn’t help that All-World talent Victor Roache only played in six games last season before getting shelved due to injury.

- This 2013 squad will have to forge on without their leading hitter Eric Phillips (.391, 30SBs), leading pitcher Chris Beck (6-7, 3.91, 103.2inns) and leading reliever Jarret Leverett (4-2, 2.81, 7svs). But Chase Griffin looks like a power-bat of the future and leads a group of five of the top six batters back to the order.

- On the mound, weekenders Will Middour (3-3, 3.60, .251OBA) and Justin Hess combined for 30 starts last season and even though it says there are no returning mid-week starters, four other pitchers had spot-duty starting assignments during the 2012 season, including sophomores Heath Durand (1-1, 4.15) and Sam Howard (3-1, 5.18) and seniors Kyle Rowe (6-2, 4.41) and Josh Stevenson (2-2, 6.18). So there is depth in the pitching corp, but the quality needs to be raised a tad.

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- NORTH CAROLINA-GREENSBORO (25-27, 10-20)

2012 ISR: 140

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

C/OF Zach Leach (.315-2-28)

1B/C Trevor Edwards (.289-14-35)

RHP Brennen James (1-3, 3.86, 4svs, .205OBA)

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NOTES:

- After 22 years and 657 wins, Mike Gaski was relieved of his duties after last season’s 10th place finish. He led the Spartans to two NCAA tournament appearances in 1994 and 1997, both of which were in Baton Rouge. The first team he had was led by outfielder Tonka Maynor, an All-Name Hall of Famer.

- Last summer, Link Jarrett was named the second-ever head coach for the Spartans, coming over after being a very successful assistant at Auburn the previous three seasons. Known as an offensive mastermind, look for the Spartans to improve dramatically on their .282 team average from last season.

- Between LHP Dylan Hathcock (4-4, 3.32), LHP Corey Taylor (3-2, 4.27) and RHP Max Povse (2-6, 6.55) combined for 30 starts last season and could be the weekend rotation. But relief ace Brennen James and RHP Lee Gilliam (2-3, 4.71, 1sv) will be the anchors to the bullpen, which will have to fill some holes.

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- SAMFORD (41-23, 19-11)

2012 ISR: 40

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Phillip Ervin (.330-9-45, 14SBs)

RHP/OF C.K. Irby (5-2, 2.06, 10svs & .340-5-49)

INF Zeth Stone (.321)

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NOTES:

- Wow! What a finish for the Dogs. The 2012 season almost could not have ended better for Samford, going 18-6 down the stretch, sweeping the field in the Southern Conference tournament and then eliminating Mississippi State on the way to the championship round of the Tallahassee Regional. Best season in program history? Probably, yes. Can the Bulldogs replicate that again this year? Hmmm… probably not.

- Samford lost a lot of key pieces to that best-ever team from a year ago, including slugger Brandon Miller (4th round pick), Lex Rutledge (6th round) and Josh Martin (10th round), the first-ever top 10 round draft picks in program history. Martin and fellow weekend starters Charles Basford and Kyle Putkonen have all moved on after combining for 48 starts and 295 innings of work last season.

- C.K. Irby is one of the best two-way players in the country and with all the pitchers hitting the golden road out of town, Irby will be leaned on much more this season.

- Baseball America lauded the Samford recruiting class, which unsurprisingly is very JC-transfer heavy. According to Aaron Fitt, two of the weekend starters will be JC talents RHP Alex Milazzo and LHP Patrick McGavin. The middle infield could be filled by incoming freshmen Fransico Navarette and Danny Rodriguez, who will have to adjust to D1 baseball very quickly for this team to improve on its .962 defense from last year.

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- THE CITADEL (25-33, 13-17)

2012 ISR: 159

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

2B Mason Davis (.266-3-24, 14SBs)

C Joe Jackson (.280)

RHP Austin Pritcher (6-5, 3.19)

1B Bo Thompson (.261-3-28)

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NOTES:

- In 2012, the Bulldogs made small steps toward getting back to their winning ways, though they are still a long ways away. But they still had a shot at the post-season late in the campaign but dropped the final four games of the SoCon slate and then went 1-2 in the post-season tourney to end the season on a sour note.

- The Bulldogs had a dog-of-a-time at the dish, hitting just .251, second lowest in the SoCon, and also issuing an unacceptable 236 free passes on the mound, second-most in the conference. (Hands on hips, shaking head) That’s just not Citadel baseball.

- If experience is everything, then the fact that nearly every arm of note comes back to the rotation, this could be a special year for the ‘Dogs. All three weekend starters return led by top pitcher Austin Pritcher and his two cohorts Kevin Connell (1-5, 4.35) and Logan Cribb (3-4, 4.89), a pair of lefties who both need to cut down on the bases on balls. They’ll have relief ace Ryan Hines (3-1, 3.51, 7svs) to make sure the large number of Ws stays in The Citadel’s favor.

- Despite all the returnees, the Bulldogs will lose two of the top three hitters in the order in Justin Mackert (.283) and Nick Orvin (270). Not a single Bulldog hit over .300 last season… that must change.

- The corps of newcomers is pretty solid, including a pair of right-handers the coaching staff is really high on in frosh-to-be Austin Mason, who exerts great control, and El Camino College transfer David Rivera, a stocky flinger who sat out the 2012 season with an injury.

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- WESTERN CAROLINA (32-24, 16-14)

2012 ISR: 93

Starters Returning: 8

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Julian Ridings (.331-3-21)

1B Tyler White (.354, 16doubles)

RHP Preston Hatcher (6-2, 1.73, 10svs)

SS Aaron Attaway (.302)

C Adam Martin (.283-7-33)

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NOTES:

- On Tax Day of 2012 the Catamounts were 25-11, 10-5 in the conference and in the 60s of the RPI – that’s striking distance for at-large consideration. But from that point on they went 7-13, including an ugly two-and-a-que in the SoCon Tourney.

- If they can stay diligent in 2013 – and not run out of gas health-wise too – the Catamounts could be in for something big this year as nearly the entire team returns to the fore. Only 2B Ross Heffley is missing in the field, albeit he’s left a big hole to fill. All three weekend starters come back, led by Sr. Morgan McKinney (6-3, 3.74, .243OBA), Soph RHP Jeremy Null (4-4, 5.05) and Jr. RHP Jordan Smith (4-5, 3.48).

- The bullpen should be a strength as breakout star Preston Hatcher was the returning saves-leader, and will be backed by a senior-heavy corps featuring part-time starter Adam Curtis (5-2, 4.65, 9starts) and set-up man Jon Nadale (4-2, 4.91).

- WCU led the SoCon in hitting with a team average of .310 in 2012. Six of the top seven hitters who all went .300+ return to the order, led by doubles leader Tyler White and swift-footed OFs Julian Ridings (12SBs) and Cody Jones (11SBs).

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- WOFFORD (22-33, 9-21)

2012 iSR: 185

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Brandon Yarusi (5-7, 3.10, .237OBA)

LHP J.D. Osborne (0-0, 6.23)

INF/OF Seth Neely (transfer from Spartanburg Methodist)

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NOTES:

- The Terriers came as close as possible to mimicking their 2011 record nearly to a T. In 2011, they were 9-21 in SoCon play and 22-33 overall. In 2012, they went 9-21 in SoCon play and 22-32 overall. Yes, if the Ball State game in the opening weekend didn’t get rained out, we’d be talking about a perfect clone of a season.

- It’s safe to say that coach Todd Interdonato may have his toughest chore ahead of him with the losses from last year his squad incurred. Weekend starters Pete Noordy and Cash Collins, who combined for 24 starts, and also losing 15th round draftee Alex Wilson, who made 31 appearances last season. An all-new battery will need to be found as All-SoCon catcher Mac Doyle, who hit .341-13-47, also moved on.

- While the pitching staff threw a respectable 4.79 team ERA last year, the offense is a work in progress. With the loss of Doyle, there’s not a single hitter returning that hit higher than.279. In fact, the Terriers hit a boney-armed .255 last season, which was the obvious shortcoming. It is hoped that incoming transfer Seth Neely, a solid 6’1″, 210lb. talent can make an immediate impression after starring at Spartanburg Methodist.

 

COMMENTS:

February 10, 2013 at 9:05 pm

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