JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 21, 2008) - The ETSU baseball team is set to open the 2008 season from Plainsman Park in Auburn, Ala. on Friday at 4 p.m. EST. The Bucs will play a four game series against
2008 Season Outlook
Coming off a disappointing end to last season the Bucs will look to turn things around and have a strong year in ‘08. The Bucs are returning several starters from last year including All-Conference selections Anthony Russell and Danny Petro as well as outstanding pitcher Brandon Langston.
This year's team features a very young squad loaded with talent as head coach Tony Skole and his staff brought 11 new players to the team. Key additions include junior Nick Belcher who transferred from
Freshman All-American and A-Sun All-Freshman Team selection Danny Petro returns as the starter for the Bucs behind the plate. The
The catching position is the deepest slot on the team and Coach Skole will use many of his options behind the plate this season.
Freshman Derek Trent will also see substantial time at catcher for the Bucs. Trent, one of the top high school catchers in the country, is a local product from the Tri-cities area.
The Bucs will have two experienced back-ups in Bubba Herbold and Jon Edmonds. Herbold has spent the past three years with ETSU and has made 50 appearances in a Buc uniform.
Preseason Wallace Watch candidate Anthony Russell will be the starting first baseman for the Bucs. The senior led the Bucs in batting average (.335), hits (73), doubles (19), homeruns (10), slugging percentage (.560), total bases (122) and RBI (44) a year ago. Freshman Paul Hoilman will backup Russell at first base and adds quality depth.
Junior college transfers Chris Rankhorn and Nick Belcher will be expected to sure up the middle for the Bucs. Both are new to ETSU, but bring a lot of experience and have been very successful in their careers prior to coming to ETSU.
Red-shirt freshman Bart Roark is the likely candidate for the third base position. Roark had a good offseason and has gotten stronger with his work in the weight room.
The Bucs have plenty of depth in the infield with junior Ben Allen and freshman Chas Byrne. Allen made 44 starts for ETSU last season, and will be battling for one of the starting spots throughout the season. The
The Bucs outfield will have a new look this season as junior Jacob Fabry will be the leader as he earned the start in center. Fabry broke his way into the starting lineup for the Bucs late last season, and has played at a high level. Fabry has all the tools to be a dominating hitter for the Bucs this season.
Sophomore Ryan Self will take over right field. The
Freshman Derek Trent will be starting in left for the Bucs when he is not behind the plate.
Troy Mendez, Matt McGahey and Chas Byrne will provide depth for the Bucs. Mendez is developing into a solid college hitter who has played a lot for ETSU. McGahey has a ton of potential to be a big time contributor, and Byrne has the tools to play well in the outfield as well. The Bucs have a very athletic outfield and provide a lot of strength at those three positions.
The Bucs will be looking to Brandon Langston to be the "Ace of Staff" again this year and will be the Friday night starter. Langston won six games last season and will be expected to set the tone for the Bucs each week.
The other roles in the rotation will be decided week to week. ETSU returns seniors Jimmy Tidwell, Robbie Campbell and Matt McGahey as well as junior Darren Caldwell. They are all experienced pitchers who had a
Several new faces will help support the Buc bullpen. Additions of junior college transfers Ty Sarchet, Dustin Plumlee and Ben Andrews will add experience and depth of the ETSU pitching staff. The Bucs will also have several talented young arms in sophomore Drew Story and freshmen Bo Burton, Josh Means, Chas Byrne and Paul Hoilman all in the mix for starting the available starting jobs. Coach Skole is confident that the newcomers on his pitching staff can step in and make an impact.
Skole's 2008 Outlook
You have averaged 29 wins the last four seasons and this is the first time in 25 years that this has happened. Do you now feel like the momentum has turned for the baseball program and that there is finally a baseball tradition being built at ETSU?
"Building a tradition in baseball at ETSU that our players, alumni and community can be proud of has been a major goal of ours from day one. I'm excited about the direction of our program and what the future has in store for us. No individual, team or business just wakes up one day and all of a sudden they are automatically successful. It takes a lot of effort, hard work, preparation and most importantly you must have the resources. When I first arrived at ETSU we were definitely lacking in resources in every area. But now, thanks to the support of our President, Dr. Paul Stanton and our Athletic Director, Dave Mullins we are fully funded. Our program has a very solid foundation and now we must do everything in our power to be the best we can possibly be, every single day we come to work."
As you continue to improve and build that tradition, how does it affect your team goals going into the 2008- campaign?
"I don't want to make it sound like we're sitting around the office every day talking about going to the College World Series every year because I know just how hard that is to do. But if you don't talk about it and dream about it and work everyday to be the premier college baseball program in the country, it's definitely never going to happen. If you let yourself listen to people who are always telling you that you can't do this or you can't do that, then those people will be right if you believe them. Our goals are always the same. Win the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship and advance into the NCAA Tournament. Once we are in the tournament, obviously everyone's goal is
Your program had a school-record five players drafted in the 2006 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft (Shane Byrne, Steven Calicutt, Jeremy Hall, Chuck Hargis and Stephen Douglas) and CJ Lee was drafted by the Atlanta Braves last season. What does their draft status mean to this program's reputation regionally and nationally?
"One of the areas which our staff takes a lot of pride in is the development of our players. In development I am talking about our players not only reaching their potential as athletes, but also as people. This group of young men is a great example of this. None of these young men had ever been drafted before. The opportunity they now have to continue their playing career is a great testament to their hard work, dedication and commitment. Of course they all are extremely talented, but improving their abilities was very important to these young men and their hard work paid off for them. What is even more gratifying is the quality of young men they have become. They are all great kids who can handle themselves appropriately no matter what the situation may be. Obviously having these players drafted has brought national recognition to our program. Recruiting wise it is already starting to pay dividends."
After a strong first half last season, the second half did not go as well. What changes have you made to try to regain that positive momentum?
"Obviously we have to get that positive momentum back and I feel we have done that over the fall and winter. The second half last season was very difficult for all of us close to our program, and as much as we would like, we cannot go back and change it. But we definitely can use it as a learning tool to try to make sure it doesn't happen again. This game can really humble you very quickly and how our coaching staff and program responded this fall and winter was of the utmost importance. In college baseball no matter how many players you have returning, each team is different from the one before. This year's team is completely different. Of the 25 young men on this year's squad, we have 13 returning players and 12 new players. The change and development of our returning players along with the influx of our new players has given our program a new identity. We still have a lot we want to accomplish. Our team has high expectations this season and every year we want to continue to raise the bar. But this ball club is very different from last year's team. We have a great mix of returning talent with some really good new players."
Looking at the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2008, the defending champion Stetson is back with many returning players. What other teams do you see contending for conference supremacy this year, and how do your Bucs fit into that mix?
"Once again I believe the Atlantic Sun Conference will be very strong. You have to be ready to play good baseball every weekend or you will get smacked in the mouth. Until someone can knock Stetson off the thrown, they will be the team to beat.
Looking at the schedule…
"Our schedule this year will be the most challenging and demanding schedule we have ever had at ETSU. I would anticipate our strength of schedule to be in the top fifty in the country this season. Our non conference schedule is very tough and the Atlantic Sun conference weekends are always a dogfight. Out of our last 22 games, 14 of them are at home and hopefully this will be the time of year where we will be playing our best baseball. Opening the season at