(Oct. 5, 2005) - The East Tennessee State baseball team wrapped-up fall practice this past weekend with "Blue & Gold" World Series. Though rain shortened the scheduled two-game series to just one four-inning contest, a 16-10 Gold team victory, head coach Tony Skole thought fall workouts offered a sunny forecast for the upcoming season.
"I was very pleased with our fall season," said Skole. "We accomplished we needed, and we now have a good idea of what we need to improve on this winter in order for our club to be successful. We have a veteran ball club so our retention was very high, and many of our new players also had productive falls."
Veteran is certainly and apt description of this season's squad, as the Bucs return four of their top six hitters from a squad that hit .320 as a team a season ago. Experience in the batter's box and the two teams combining for 26 runs in four-innings of action last Friday has Skole extremely optimistic about his bats this season.
"Offensively I expect our club to be one of the best in the country," said Skole. "We can put runs on the board many different ways, and we will definitely play an entertaining brand of baseball. Shane Byrne, Blake Church and Chuck Hargis were all-conference players for us last season and all of them improved over the summer, so of course we are excited about them. Newcomers Michael Courtney, C.J. Lee, Troy Mendez and Jacob Fabry also had very impressive fall seasons."
Despite the promising offense, ETSU must improve on the mound after ranking 233rd nationally a season ago. Senior Jeremy Hall returns his team-leading ten wins and 91 strikeouts to a pitching staff that returns largely intact.
"As good as I think we can be offensively, defense and pitching will be the keys to our success," said Skole. "Jeremy Hall and Steven Calicutt will anchor our staff. Newcomers Ryan Howe, Tony Lombardi and Darren Caldwell have all come in and made an immediate impact. We will need every pitcher on our staff to be at their best for us to have a good season. Defensively, we should be very solid as defense is always a point of emphasis for our staff and something which we work on very hard."
For the first time in 26 seasons the Bucs will not compete for the Southern Conference title. ETSU takes the show to the 11-member Atlantic Sun conference this season, and Skole looks forward to the new rivalries.
"We are excited about our first season in the Atlantic Sun Conference," he said. "It is going to be a great challenge but our program is excited about our fresh start in this league."