JOHNSON CITY, Tenn.(Feb. 15, 2012) – After a highly successful season a year ago in which the ETSU baseball team posted a 36-21 record – the most wins for the program since 1981 – 13th year head coach Tony Skole and his staff will look to 17 returning letterwinners to steer the Bucs into post-season play.
The Bucs welcome back five field starters and three starting pitchers from the 2011 squad. Offensively, the Bucs will look to fill the void from the loss of Paul Hoilman, Derek Trent and Bo Reeder – who were each selected in the Major League Baseball Draft. The squad does return several veterans that will look to provide production and leadership.
The 2012 slate features 12 games against teams that earned a bid to the 2011 NCAA Regionals, 26 against teams with 30-plus wins and a full Atlantic Sun Conference schedule. In addition, 18 of the team’s first 19 games will be played at home.
ETSU will open play on Friday, Feb. 17 with Eastern Kentucky in a three-game tilt before hosting Tennessee Tech in a non-conference matchup on Wednesday, February 22. The Bucs continue the homestand with a three-game set against St. Josephs beginning on Friday, February 24. The very next week the Bucs will host Big Ten opponent Indiana for a three-game series. The Bucs and Hoosiers met back in 2002 for a three-game set inJohnson Cityin their only other all-time meeting.
After a midweek matchup with longtime rival Western Carolina on Wednesday, March 7, ETSU will welcome Atlantic 10 member LaSalle toJohnson City, beginning Friday, March 9. Friday’s contest will be the first game under the lights at the new stadium with game time set for 7:05 p.m. The Bucs will then host Furman in midweek tilt on Tuesday, March 13.
Atlantic Sun play opens on March 16 when the Bucs welcome inBelmontfor a three-game series. The Bruins are coming off a 38-26 season and a NCAA Tournament appearance after winning the A-Sun Tournament. Other A-Sun home games on the docket areNorth Florida(Apr. 5-7), USC Upstate (Apr. 13-15), Mercer (Apr. 20-22) and Stetson (May 11-13). League road games includeFloridaGulfCoast(Mar. 23-25), Lipscomb (Mar. 30-Apr. 1),Jacksonville(May 4-6) and Kennesaw State (May 17-19).
Other non-conference matchups include regional rivals, UNC Asheville (Mar. 18 and Apr. 10), Radford (Mar. 27 and Apr. 15) and Appalachian State (Apr. 3 and May 1) for home-and-home matchups. Appalachian State is ETSU’s longest standing rival as the two teams have played each other 122 times throughout the years.
In addition, ETSU finds Tennessee back on the schedule after a two-year absence. The two teams have played each other 68 times in its history with the Bucs winning the last four games in the series. ETSU defeated UT twice in 2008 and twice in 2009. The Bucs and Vols will square off in Johnson City on Wednesday, April 11 at 7:05 p.m. and one week later in Knoxville at 7 p.m.
Another big highlight of the schedule is a trip out to Tucson,Ariz. for a three-game series against Arizona. The Wildcats, who earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament after finishing the season 39-21, will host the Bucs the weekend of April 27. This will be the first time the two teams have met in baseball.
The Bucs will close out non-conference play at SEC opponent Georgia on Tuesday, May 15 just before their conference trip to Kennesaw State. The Bulldogs finished 2011 with a 33-32 overall record. ETSU and Georgia have faced off 10 times in baseball all-time.
The annual Atlantic Sun Tournament is set for May 23-26 at Stetson’s Melching Field at Conrad Park in DeLand,Fla.
The starting rotation will look very similar to last season’s group. The rotation is led by senior John Long (Anderson, S.C.) and junior Derek Bushey (Richmond, Va.), who combined to win 12 games on the mound last season. Bushey, a 2011 Atlantic Sun All-Conference member, was recently named Atlantic Sun Preseason Pitcher of the Year by the league’s fan voting. He is coming back from injury and will be worked back in the rotation. Sophomore Clinton Freeman (Jonesborough,Tenn.) also returns and looks to give the Bucs significantly more starts than his six starts in 2011.
The newcomers are headlined by sophomore Jake Long (Anderson,S.C.), who transferred to ETSU from Spartanburg Methodist Junior College. Long will certainly contribute in the starting rotation for the Bucs. Long finished 5-2 with a stellar 1.64 ERA in a team-high 49.1 innings during the 2011 season at Spartanburg Methodist, while recording a team-best 48 strikeouts with just 15 walks.
In addition, freshmen Will Carter (Johnson City, Tenn.), Jimmy Nesselt (Plantation, Fla.) and Kuehl McEachern (Eustis, Fla.) will look to give the bullpen a lift. Carter and Nesselt could see starts on the mound during the midweek. Carter was listed by Basebal lAmerica as a top newcomer in the Atlantic Sun.
Meanwhile, Kerry Doane (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) will see significant time on the mound in addition to his duties in the field. Doane will be counted on to be the closer for the Bucs. Will Chesney (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Logan Rice (Erwin,Tenn.) will also provide depth in the ETSU bullpen.
The most experienced position group will be the outfielders as the Bucs return all three starters from a year ago. Headlining the group are senior Matthew Scruggs (Knoxville, Tenn.) and junior Andrew Green (Powell, Tenn.). Scruggs is coming off a 2011 in which he hit .303 with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs. Meanwhile, Green finished second on the squad with a .323 average, while also adding two home runs and 26 RBIs. In addition, Green led the team with 14 stolen bases on the year. John Long (Anderson, S.C.) will see time in the outfield when he is not pitching and senior Cory Betterson (Atlanta, Ga.) will also contribute. Long hit .274 with two home runs and eight RBIs in 2011, while Betterson hit .229 in 48 at-bats.
Meanwhile, senior Dylan Pratt (Johnson City,Tenn.), a 2011 First-Team ABCA/Rawlings All-South Region selection, could see time in the outfield after seeing action mostly as a designated hitter last year. Pratt was a unanimous choice for Preseason All-Atlantic Sun honors at the designated hitter position. Last season, Pratt hit .303 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs, while also competing in the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby in Omaha.
Freshman Zach Thompson (Johnson City,Tenn.) could also see time in the outfield and infield. Last season at Science Hill High School, Thompson hit .453 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs, while earning Johnson City Press Super 22 First-Team honors.
The infield consists of a blend of experienced group of veterans as well as many underclassmen. The mainstay in the infield is junior Kerry Doane (Ft. Lauderdale,Fla.), who was an everyday starter at shortstop last season. Doane hit .278 with five home runs and 28 RBIs last season, while hitting .335 with nine home runs and 58 RBIs during a freshman campaign in which he earned Atlantic Sun All-Freshman honors.
Junior Derek Niesman (Wellington, Fla.) is also back after starting 50 games in 2011 at second base. The highlight of the 2011 season for Niesman was a game-winning hit against No. 8 Georgia Tech on May 17. When he is not pitching, sophomore Clinton Freeman (Jonesborough,Tenn.) will look to see significant time at first base. Freeman spent a majority of his freshman year playing outfield when not on the mound.
Alex Reynolds (Johnson City, Tenn.), Corey McPherson (Johnson City, Tenn.), Chris Riopedre (Cooper City, Fla.) and Jordan Sanford (Powell,Tenn.) are all battling for spots on the infield. Reynolds and McPherson hit .385 and .316, respectively, in a combined 32 at-bats during the 2011 season. Meanwhile, Riopedre and Sanford both had decorated high school careers full of achievement and accolades.
The Bucs will have to replace four-year starter Derek Trent, a former Johnny Bench Watch List candidate and 31st round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
ETSU will be looking to a trio of catchers to help fill the void left by Trent. Sophomore Zach Waters (Woodstock, Ga.), junior Mason Hershey (Altoona, Pa.) and senior Skyler Barnett (Johnson City, Tenn.) will all have a chance to see time behind the dish. Waters and Barnett saw limited action last season, while Hershey came to ETSU from Potomac State Junior College.
For more information on ETSU baseball, please visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the baseball link.