GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum College baseball team will open the 2017 season this weekend when the Pioneers travel to Florida for three games, including Friday night's opener against defending NCAA Division II national champion Nova Southeastern.
Tusculum skipper Doug Jones, who will be coaching in his 20th season with the Pioneers, returns 15 lettermen, including seven veteran pitchers from last year's squad that posted a 38-18 overall record, earned a share of the South Atlantic Conference Tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for a seventh time in program history. It was TC's 16th consecutive winning season and 14th straight with 30 or more victories.
Following Friday night's clash against the top-ranked Sharks, Tusculum will be at Palm Beach Atlantic on Saturday followed by Sunday's high-noon tilt against Lynn University to close out the Florida road swing.
One of the strengths of last year's club was its pitching staff, which boasted the top team earned run average in the conference at 3.01, which was sixth-best in the nation. But gone is consensus national pitcher of the year Placido Torres, who posted an 11-0 record with the DII-leading 0.70 ERA and a NCAA II-best 162 strikeouts.
Torres was drafted by the New York Mets, while junior reliever Devan Watts was selected by the Atlanta Braves. Watts had a team-high six saves in 2016 to go along with his 3.10 ERA and 62 strikeouts. Also gone is graduating senior Cameron Carney (4-0, 4.40 ERA, 1 save, 44 strikeouts, 10 walks), who played professionally this past summer in Texas.
But the cupboard is not bare for the Black and Orange as the returning veterans have extensive mound experience, combining for 179 appearances, including 102 starts. The returning pitchers have accounted for 50 mound wins at Tusculum, including 41 alone by the veteran starting trio of Christian Raasch (13-7), Ethan Carpenter (15-9) and Zach Slagle (13-5).
Raasch, a right-handed graduate student from Norcross, Georgia, earned All-SAC honorable mention recognition in 2016 after posting an 8-4 record in his 15 mound appearances, including 13 starts. He finished second on the team with his 60 strikeouts, while tallying a 3.67 ERA. The Preseason All-SAC second team choice enters his final TC campaign with a 13-7 career record to go along with his 4.01 ERA. His 197.2 inning pitched are the seventh most in program history where he has recorded 134 career strikeouts against 52 walks.
Slagle, a graduate student from Powell, Tennessee, is another veteran pitcher who brings big game experience to the starting rotation. In his 33 career outings, he has a 3.80 ERA while posting a 13-5 record. In 2016, he finished second on the team and third in the league with his 3.05 ERA. He went 7-2 in his 16 appearances which included a complete game and combined on a shutout. He earned a spot on the SAC All-Tournament Team with his 5.2 innings in relief in TC's elimination game victory over Carson-Newman.
Carpenter, a graduate student from Polkville, North Carolina enters his final collegiate campaign with a 15-9 record and a 3.76 career ERA. He has appeared in 37 games with 36 starts which are the fourth-most in TC history. He has tossed two career shutouts and has pitched in 186.2 innings (10th in TC history) where he has tallied 140 strikeouts. In 2016, he started in 13 games and posted a 3.65 ERA with a 5-6 record. He recorded 60 strikeouts against 21 walks.
Right-handed graduate student McKenly Berry is slated to see action out of the Tusculum bullpen once again after making 18 appearances in 2016 where he tallied three saves and a 4.33 ERA. The Elizabethton, Tennessee product recorded 29 strikeouts against 15 walks while combining on three shutouts. He also pitched a hitless inning in last year's season-opening win at Nova Southeastern. Berry has made 38 career appearances with 20 starts where he has posted eight wins and pitched two complete games.
Monroe, North Carolina sophomore reliever Tim Hardy is also slated to see extended time in relief for the Pioneers. The 6-7 southpaw made 17 appearances and one start in 2016 while posting a 1-1 record and a 3.44 ERA. He tallied 17 strikeouts against six walks and did not allow a run in nine straight outings in a span lasting more than a month.
Redshirt senior Dalton Boslooper (Harper Woods, Mich.) returns after redshirting last season. He made 11 relief appearances two years ago in his inaugural TC campaign. He went 2-0 with a save and a 3.52 ERA in his 15.1 innings on the mound for the Macomb Community College transfer.
Also returning for the Pioneers are Griffen Ebel (Sr., Marietta, Ga.), Tyler Hall (Sr., Crystal Lake, Ill.), Spencer Brothers (Jr., Seneca, S.C.), Matt Ramsay (Sugar Hill, Ga.), Eamonn Collins (Warsaw, Va.), Mitch McCain (Lawrenceville, Ga.), Chase McAllister (Powell, Tenn.), Andrew Willis (Knoxville, Tenn.), Brandon Black (Knoxville, Tenn.), Jacob Jordan (Decatur, Ga.), Colby Grissom (Nathalie, Va.) and Tyler Bailey (Greeneville, Tenn.).
Tusculum also has several new arms joining the pitching staff this season, including Eli Boles (King, N.C./West Stokes HS), Ethan Stewart (Bostic, N.C./East Rutherford HS) and Christian Cuba (Miami, Fla./Doral Academy).
Tusculum's 2016 leader in batting average along with an All-Conference standout at second base highlights some of the veteran experience returning to the infield.
Senior Nick Lacina led the Pioneers with his .382 batting average last season, which was fifth in the league. He posted a team-best 66 hits and ended the season by reaching base safely in his last 17 games. The St. Paul, Minnesota native saw most of his action in the designated hitter slot, but also started 10 games at first base, and was selected to the Preseason All-SAC second team at that position. Lacina led the team with his 17 doubles (5th in SAC) to go along with two home runs and 32 RBI. He batted .400 with three RBI and a double to earn a spot on the NCAA II Southeast Region All-Tournament Team.
Greeneville sophomore Zack Finchum has received preseason accolades this spring where he has been named to the NCBWA Preseason All-Southeast Region first team as well as the Preseason All-SAC first team. The Greeneville High School product garnered All-SAC second team honors last season as he finished second on the team with his .337 batting average while totaling 61 hits including 10 doubles, two triples, one home run and 28 RBI. He went 6-of-8 in stolen bases and finished third on the roster with his 102 fielding assists. Finchum was responsible for 15 multiple hit games and boasted an 11-game hitting streak where he batted .512 (22-of-43).
The anchor of the Tusculum infield is veteran third baseman John Topoleski. The Lawrenceville, Georgia senior has appeared in 146 games including 131 starts on the hot corner. He started in 55 games last season where he posted a .311 batting average with 61 hits, seven doubles, a home run and 30 RBI. He enters his final TC campaign with 28 career sacrifice bunts, which are the second most in program history, including a team-best 12 in 2016. He posted a team-best 14-game hitting streak last March where he batted .412 during the run. He came up with some clutch hitting and fielding in the conference postseason and earned a spot on the SAC All-Tournament Team.
There will be a new face at shortstop with the graduation of All-SAC infielder Jeovanny Tolentino. Two of the favorites to get the start up the middle will be newcomers junior college transfer Edison Cabrera and rookie Daulton Martin.
Cabrera, a native of Miami, Florida, played the last seasons at Broward College in Florida. He batted .270 last year while scoring 36 runs, drove in 17 RBI and totaled 27 stolen bases.
Martin batted .385 during his prep career at Conestoga Valley High School and was the program all-time hit leader. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native was a three-time most valuable player and earned a spot on the 2014 WWBA Underclass World Championship All-Tournament Team.
Junior Johnny Reina (Birdsboro, Pa.) comes to Tusculum after a two-year stint at Rowan College at Gloucester County where he garnered All-Region accolades while batting .353 with 60 hits, 18 doubles, four home runs, 36 RBI and went 9-of-10 in stolen bases.
Junior college transfer Colby Skeen played his last two campaigns at Dyersburg State. The Powell, Tennessee product batted .406 with 10 home runs, 14 doubles and 47 RBI last year while garnering All-Conference and All-East Central District first team recognition.
Frankie Valle recorded 54 hits, 11 doubles and three home runs last year at Dodge City Community College. A native of Las Vegas, Nevada, Valle totaled 27 RBI, scored 41 runs and went 8-of-11 on the base paths while earning a spot on the NJCAA World Series All-Tournament Team.
Freshman newcomer Trey Hinton (Knoxville, Tenn./Christian Academy of Knoxville) will also be looking to contribute in the infield.
Gone for the Tusculum outfield is All-Region slugger Kevin Victoriano, who led the Pioneers in most of the power categories including his 18 home runs and a .668 slugging percentage.
Key, a native of Eastampton, New Jersey, batted .312 in 2016 with 44 hits, including seven doubles and a team-high seven triples, which were second in the league and 15th in the country. He also belted three home runs and tallied 24 RBI to go along with his 27 runs scored.
Glore recorded 41 starts in the outfield last season, while batting .289 with 44 hits including six doubles, two triples and 20 RBI. He scored 26 runs and led the team with seven stolen bases in his nine attempts. He also finished second on the squad with 29 walks and ended the season with 12 multiple-hit games.
Sophomore Seth DeHaven played in 29 games with four starts as he finished with a solid .387 batting average. He went 12-for-31 with one double, one home run and finished with a .444 on-base percentage.
Returning for the Pioneers in the outfield after redshirting in 2016 is Knoxville, Tennessee native Logan McMahan.
Eric Schorr, a transfer from Rowan College of Gloucester County, was named the NJCAA Region 19 Tournament Most Valuable Player as he finished last season with a .368 batting average while hitting 13 home runs and posted 64 RBI and 16 stolen bases. He also saw action on the mound last season as he went 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA.
Baxley, a local product from Greeneville, saw action in 34 games last year with 21 starts, mostly behind the dish or at DH. Baxley finished the season with 13 hits in his 68 at bats (.191) where he tallied two doubles, three home runs and 11 RBI. He also scored 16 runs and was a perfect 3-of-3 in stolen bases.
Lippincott, a native of Marietta, Georgia, posted a .283 batting average last season with 15 hits, including three doubles and a triple.
Sophomore Chris Cochrane also returns at behind the plate as the London, Ontario native saw action in five games a year ago, while Brandon Curtice (Morristown, Tenn.) redshirted during the 2016 season.
Three newcomers join the catching ranks for the Pioneers including Aaron Pratt (Morristown, Tenn./Cherokee HS), Garrett Dupuis (Kennesaw, Ga./Blessed Trinity Catholic HS) and Deric Graham (Bristol, Tenn./Tennessee HS).
Following this weekend's Florida road swing, the Pioneers will play its home opener this Wednesday as they host Lenoir-Rhyne in a non-conference contest. Tusculum will open South Atlantic Conference play Feb. 24-25 when they entertain Coker. The SAC Tournament will be held at Smokies Park in Kodak, Tennessee for a second consecutive year in late April.