GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The 2018 college baseball season gets underway this Thursday as the Tusculum Pioneers travel to Florida to take on the Embry-Riddle Eagles in the season-opener for both teams. It will be the first of four games in the Sunshine State for Tusculum as the Pioneers will play at Nova Southeastern (Fri.), Palm Beach Atlantic (Sat.) and Lynn University (Sun.) later this weekend.
Head coach Doug Jones is beginning his 21st season at the helm of the Tusculum program where he has led the Pioneers to a school-record 680 wins which has included five South Atlantic Conference championships, four SAC Tournament titles and seven trips to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Tusculum returns 16 lettermen from last year's 30-20 club that finished fifth in the SAC standings and qualified for the league postseason for a 19th consecutive time. The 2017 squad recorded the program's 17th straight winning season and 15th in a row with 30 or more victories.
Tusculum will have to replace their starters at first base and third base from a year ago. Four-year starter and 2017 All-Region third baseman John Topoleski (now TC assistant coach) has graduated, while All-SAC first baseman Nick Lacina is also gone for the Black and Orange.
Martin, who has garnered Preseason All-Region and All-SAC recognition this year, finished third on the team with his .372 batting average, which was also the 11th-best in the league. Martin was second on the team with 64 hits, which included 12 doubles, four home runs and a team-high three triples (T11th in SAC). The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native totaled 39 RBI with 36 runs scored and ended the season with an 11-game hitting streak, where he batted .525 going 21-of-40 at the plate to finish his outstanding rookie campaign.
Cabrera was a solid contributor in his 44 starts at shortstop for the Pioneers. The Broward College transfer batted .280 with 37 runs scored and 21 RBI. The Miami, Florida junior totaled 49 hits with 11 doubles and a triple to go along with his 21 RBI. His 25 walks were second on the team and led TC with his seven stolen bases in eight attempts.
Senior Johnny Reina returns to the infield following 2017 where he played in 16 games with a pair of starts. He is a season removed since transferring from Rowan College at Gloucester County where he was an All-Region standout and posted a .353 batting average at the Sewell, New Jersey school.
Sophomore Bradley Evans saw a lot of time in the lineup for the Pioneers where he appeared in 29 games and 20 starts as TC's designated hitter. The Polkville, North Carolina native batted .365 with 31 hits including nine doubles, three home runs, 25 RBI, 17 runs, seven walks and a pair of sacrifice flies.
John Bennett also enjoyed a solid redshirt freshman campaign for the Pioneers in 2017. The Forest City, North Carolina sophomore posted a .368 batting average with a double, two home runs and nine RBI. He also boasted an impressive .737 slugging percentage and a .409 on-base percentage. He split time at DH and first base where he did not commit an error in his 34 total chances with three assists and helped turn three double plays.
Senior infielder Colby Skeen played in 32 games with 27 starts in his first season with the Pioneers since transferring from Dyersburg State. In 2017, Skeen hit .296 with 32 hits, six doubles, one triple and five home runs. The Powell, Tennessee native accumulated 37 RBI, 27 runs and 18 walks. His best game of the year came in a win at Mars Hill where he went 3-for-6 with six RBI and came a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.
Joining the Tusculum infield this season is Knoxville, Tennessee true freshman Bryson Ford. The Bearden High School product batted .430 and was the 2016 District Offensive Player of the Year. He earned All-State honors and was a three-time All-District representative at Bearden.
Also playing in their first seasons at TC are infielders Tyler Hall (Coral Springs, Fla.), Brett Saunders (Clemmons, N.C.), Branden Glick (Hickory, N.C.), Will Leonard (Jonesborough, Tenn.), Dawson Martin (Greeneville, Tenn.) and Austin Wise (Louisville, Ky.).
Two of the starting outfielders will need to be replaced. All-SAC centerfielder Jeremy Glore led the Pioneers with his .380 batting average along with his 53 runs and 71 hits. Leftfielder Dante Key has graduated after two solid years with the Pioneers, including 2017 where he batted .302 in his 46 starts in Greeneville.
Greeneville junior Zack Finchum is back for Tusculum. The 2016 All-Conference standout at second base as a freshman, made the move to right field last year where he made only one error in his 75 fielding opportunities (.987 fielding pct.). In 2017, Finchum tallied 30 hits with one double, one triple and nine RBI. He batted .242 on the year, but finished the season strong posting a seven-game hitting streak in April where he batted .391 down the stretch.
Speedy centerfielder Seth DeHaven returns for his junior campaign as he posted a solid .357 batting average in 2017 in his 32 outings, including five starts. The Fort Myers, Florida native accounted for a double and a home run, and scored 13 runs.
Junior Sam Urban (Purcellville, Va.) appeared in 24 games in his TC debut season, including two starts. He batted .235 with four hits, four RBI and a .381 on-base percentage. The Liberty University transfer did not commit an error in his 17 outfield chances.
One of the bright newcomers on the Tusculum team this spring is Tyler College transfer Jarel McDade. The Magnolia, Texas product will be familiar to the Greeneville locals after leading his Tyler club to the 2017 NJCAA Division III National Championship, which was played at Pioneer Park last summer. He batted .438 in the series going 7-for-16 including a grand slam to earn a spot on the World Series All-Tournament team. In his 42 games last year, McDade batted .304 with 35 hits, seven doubles, two triples, three home runs, 30 RBI and 21 walks.
The lone true freshman in the outfield is Cleveland, Tennessee product Noah Sills.
The duo of Cole Baxley and Zach Lippincott are gone as the pair split the catching duties for the Pioneers last year.
Seven catchers are listed on the 2018 roster including one junior, five redshirt freshmen and one true rookie.
Back from last season's roster are redshirt freshmen Aaron Pratt (Morristown, Tenn.), Garrett Dupuis (Kennesaw, Ga.), Deric Graham (Bristol, Tenn.), Tyson Beach (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Jordan Beaver (Dallas, N.C.).
Montgomery (Geneva, Ill.) comes to TC after two years at South Suburban College in Illinois. Last year he posted a .342 batting average with 76 hits, 14 doubles, two triples and nine home runs. He accounted for 61 RBI which were 51st in the country. In 2016, he posted a .351 average with 74 hits and finished 27th in the nation with 22 doubles to go along with his 56 RBI and four home runs.
Wullenweber, a native of West Chester, Ohio, was an All-Region standout at Lakota West High School where he earned Defensive Player of the Year honors and led his team to a conference, region and district title while advancing to the State semifinal. He batted .308 during his career and did not commit an error behind the plate in his final prep campaign.
Of the 16 lettermen back from last year, only six saw action on the mound for the Pioneers so there will be a lot of new faces in pitching corps.
The entire weekend rotation has either graduated or were drafted last summer. All-Region southpaw Tim Hardy was selected in the 18th round by the World Champion Houston Astros and played his first pro season with the Greeneville rookie club. All-SAC standout Ethan Carpenter is also gone along with veteran arms Zach Slagle (now TC assistant coach) and Christian Raasch.
Returning sophomore Chase McAllister logged the most innings of the six veterans back as he went 2-1 with three saves and a 5.01 earned run average. The Powell, Tennessee native pitched in 23 1/3 innings in his 16 appearances with one start with 34 strikeouts and only six walks.
Sophomore Eamonn Collins (Warsaw, Va.) pitched in 12 games with one start and 16 2/3 innings on the bump. He did not record a decision and posted a 9.18 ERA with 29 strikeouts.
Sophomore lefty Andrew Willis (Knoxville, Tenn.) made 11 relief appearances out of the TC bullpen where he posted a 1-0 record with a 3.52 ERA including 13 strikeouts and held the opposition to a .236 batting average. Also seeing action last season are senior Spencer Brothers (Seneca, S.C.) and sophomores Christian Cuba (Miami, Fla.) and Mitch McCain (Lawrenceville, Ga.).
Back from a year ago and looking to see their first varsity action are redshirt freshmen Kent Noe (Knoxville, Tenn.), Trevor Lloyd (Knoxville, Tenn.), Brandon Holden (Dallas, N.C.), James Irwin (Maryville, Tenn.) and Eli Boles (King, N.C.).
Of the newcomers on the mound, 10 will be transfers including nine juniors and one sophomore.
Sean McDaniel went 5-0 last season at Wake Tech where he made 17 appearances on the mound with one start in his 33 1/3 innings. The Raleigh, North Carolina native posted a 3.51 ERA with 33 strikeouts.
Leurys Diaz is coming off a 5-1 season with a 3.23 ERA in his final season at ASA Brooklyn. The Dominican Republic native pitched 55 2/3 innings with a shutout and 46 strikeouts in his 11 appearances in 2017. In 2016, he went 2-1 with 21 strikeouts in his nine outings as ASA.
Colin Johnston (Rochester, N.Y.) posted a 9-3 record with a 4.83 ERA in 2016 as he led his Monroe Community College club to the NJCAA Division II World Series. He made 19 appearances with 11 starts, pitching 69 innings with 58 strikeouts and finished the year with the 19th-best win tally in the nation, including three complete games.
Pedro Rodriguez (Kissimmee, Fla.) comes to Tusculum after playing the last two seasons at Seminole Community College in Florida where he made 11 appearances last year with two starts, a 6.57 ERA and 21 strikeouts in his 24 2/3 innings of work.
Baytown, Texas native Justin Massey went 1-0 with a save in his six outings with San Jacinto College in 2017.
Brando Centrone, a native of Hobe Sound, Florida, made 26 appearances in his two seasons at Indian River State College. In 2017, he went 1-2 in his 13 outings with 43 1/3 inning and 21 strikeouts. Indian River teammate Bo Simmons also joins the Pioneer staff after his two JUCO campaigns. Simmons, a product of Orlando, Florida, pitched in 25 career games at Indian River where he totaled 38 strikeouts in his 54 innings.
Charles Hall comes to Tusculum after pitching two seasons at Catawba Valley Community College where he went 8-9, pitched in 109 innings and recorded 110 strikeouts in his JUCO career.
Cherryville, North Carolina sophomore Matt Bumgarner was a two-time All-Conference selection at West Lincolnton High School and he joins ASA Brooklyn transfer Daniel Rodriguez (Carolina, Puerto Rico) to the Tusculum team.
Eight true freshmen hurlers will be on the roster this spring including Zach Sanders (Peachtree City, Ga.), Trent Collins (Cohutta, Ga.), Harbor Jefferson (Cleveland, Tenn.), Alec Lay (Maynardsville, Tenn.), Titen Bennett (New Castle, Ind.), Bo Britton (Telford, Tenn.), Austin Collins (Greeneville, Tenn.) and Drew Miller (Mooresville, N.C.).
Following Tusculum's four games in Florida, the Pioneers will return home Feb. 9-10 to host Belmont Abbey for a three-game series at Pioneer Park. It will begin a stretch where TC will play 14 of 15 games at home.