After wrapping up fall practice just a few weeks ago, ETSU baseball head coach Tony Skole took time to answer a few questions about what he saw from his squad during the fall, the impact of his new assistant coaches and the excitement surrounding the new baseball stadium.
Q: With fall practice now over with, what is your overall impression of the team?
Skole: I am extremely excited about this ball club. First of all I am blessed because we have great young men in our program. We hold our guys to a very high standard on and off the field and thus far these guys have surpassed those standards this semester. On the field we had a very productive fall season and our work this winter has been as good as it has ever been. The attitude and energy that our guys have brought to the ballpark and weight room every single day has been amazing. We have not had one poor or unproductive day. I was very interested to see how the leadership amongst our players was going to develop this fall and to be honest; it has been better than I could have imagined. There is a lot of experience in our junior and senior classes and these guys have done a great job of keeping everyone on the same page. To go along with that our new and younger players have really been attentive, conscientious and caught up to the speed of everything very well. I am very excited about this group and although I know we still have a lot of work, I’m anxious to see them compete. Last year we felt like we were the “65” team in the NCAA field and we were utterly disappointed that we didn’t get into the tournament. Besides our very first meeting of the year, I haven’t brought that up once to our players, but I know it is ingrained in the back of their minds. Whenever things have gotten tough or challenging for them this fall/winter, they always seem to have an answer and that little extra that gets them to that next level. I can’t wait to see these guys on the field this spring.
Q: What are the key things you guys work on during fall ball?
Skole: We have very specific goals for our players and program during the fall season. Number one we want our players to gain the total respect of their teammates. They can accomplish this by consistently performing at a high level every single day on and off the field. Secondly we want to introduce the fundamentals of the game that our staff really believes in along with selected areas of game strategy. While this is taking place we are also in a constant mode of evaluation, always searching for ways to make our program and each individual better. During this time we would also like to see big developments of team leadership and team chemistry. And then finally every day this fall we have put an emphasis on developing mental toughness and strengthening loyalties inside our program. I feel that we accomplished all of these goals this fall. We are now into our second phase; that consists of our off-season strength, conditioning and skill program.
Q: There are some vacant spots on the field with the departure of players in the draft and graduation. How do you and your staff go about filling those holes?
Skole: We lost some great players due to graduation and the draft this year. The numbers that these guys put up last season were very impressive. My biggest concern though is not replacing those numbers or statistics. My biggest concern is if we can replace the way these guys handled themselves and went about their business. This group knew how to compete and bring it every single day. They were very good at playing “inside the game” and creating advantages for themselves. This is where this year’s club will be tested. Like I said earlier, we have a lot of returning players who have played major roles for us in the past. There is now an opportunity for them to embrace this opportunity and to “put our club on their back” and get it done. I am confident that we have many guys who can do this.
Q: How did the freshmen handle their first fall?
Skole: This recruiting class has been very good. They really caught up to the speed of the game very well this fall. It is a very talented and physical group, which should allow many of them to make contributions right away. I am excited about our new players. They really give us a great foundation for the future.
Q: Any veterans or position groups stand out in the fall?
Skole: Individually we had some players have tremendous fall seasons. When you lose good players to graduation or to the draft, you need your returning players to step up and take their skill set to that next level. Our returning players who were key components last season have done just that. We have three returning players who are two-way players (pitch and hit) that have done just that. Kerry Doane, John Long and Clinton Freeman are very good college baseball players. They can all do so many things well. Physically all of these guys are so far ahead of where they were last year. They will all play major roles for us this season. From an offensive standpoint Matthew Scruggs, Andrew Green and Dylan Pratt are going to be in there every day and hit at the top of our lineup. These three guys are freaks of nature physically. Scruggs and Green are running better than ever and the ball is just jumping off their bat. Pratt just amazes me every day with his strength and bat speed. From a pitching standpoint we have a lot of innings returning, led by the one-two punch of John Long and Derek Bushey.
Q: Kyle Bunn had his first fall as the team's pitching coach and Xan Barksdale also completed his first fall as a member of the coaching staff. How do you think the team has responded to them?
Skole: Coach Bunn and Coach Barksdale have done a great job this fall. It took a while for them to get settled in and in a comfort zone, but once that happened things really took off. The thing I am most excited about is the great relationships they are developing with our players. Obviously this takes time, but they have been great in understanding that I wanted this to be their first priority. From a coaching standpoint on the field they have both been phenomenal. Our pitching staff was spectacular this fall. Coach Bunn really attacked them from a toughness standpoint and boy did they respond. This is the hardest working pitching staff I have ever been around. Every single one of them has improved and made great strides. Our pitching staff has gone from being a question mark to being the strength of our program. Coach Barksdale’s expertise with our catchers has really paid off. There is stiff competition for that spot and each guy is getting better each day. His work with our hitters is really beginning to show this winter as he has had time to individually spend a lot of time with them. We will be a different offensive team this year, but much more dynamic. We will still be able to run balls out of the yard but we will also be able to score runs in many different ways. I really like our offensive club.
Q: What will you guys work on from now until the start of team practice in January?
Skole: It is actually a very busy time of the year for our program. Of course recruiting never slows down and is always ongoing. But for our players, we are working five days a week, with their week consisting of strength training, speed training, and individual skill work. This is the time of the year where our players make their biggest improvements. We get after it in the weight room, as this is a huge priority for our program every year. Seeing this year’s team change physically has been very exciting. As far as their skill work, we have been able to attack many areas that I thought we struggled with in the fall. Development of our players has always been a priority for us and this is the time of year where a lot of that takes place.
Q: Finally, How excited are you and the team to finally play baseball in the new on-campus stadium this spring? How will the new stadium impact your program?
Skole: It is something that I think about numerous times on a daily basis. I am always looking for excuses to drive by the stadium and see the progression. It is going to be a beautiful complex and I am anxiously awaiting our first day that we can get on the field. We have never had a place where we can call home and that alone is going to be very special. The impact and benefits that the new stadium will have on our program will be far reaching. From a development standpoint, recruiting standpoint and for our community/fan base, this facility will make a huge imprint. My excitement is comparable to that of a child anticipating Christmas morning.