GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University baseball team will open its season this weekend with its annual trip to Florida for four games in the Sunshine State. This weekend will also mark the beginning of the Coach Brandon Steele era as the long-time TU assistant makes his head coaching debut.
It marks the sixth consecutive year and seventh time since 2005 that the Sons of Davy Crockett have opened the campaign with games against teams from the Sunshine State Conference.
Tusculum gets the 2019 campaign underway on Friday with two true road games. TU will open at 1 p.m. at Barry University then load up the bus and travel to Fort Lauderdale to face 20th-ranked Nova Southeastern later that evening at 6 p.m.
For the first time in 21 seasons, there will be a new skipper in charge of the Tusculum baseball program as Steele takes the reins from legendary TU head coach Doug Jones, who led the Pioneers to 705 victories from 1998-2018. Steele has been on the Tusculum coaching staff for the past 15 years, resulting in 545 wins, five South Atlantic Conference championships, four SAC Tournament titles and six trips to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Coach Steele and the Pioneers return 25 lettermen from last year's club, including 12 pitchers and a bulk of the starting position players from the 2018 squad that finished fifth in the league.
Headlining the list of returnees is second baseman Daulton Martin, who garnered All-America accolades last season after leading the SAC with his .413 batting average, which was ranked 18th in the nation in Division II. He led team with 86 hits (17th in NCAA II) and were the second-most in the country by a DII left-handed hitter. The two-time All-SAC selection posted seven triples (10th in NCAA II) and his 20 doubles were 20th in the country.
Martin (Lancaster, Pa.) enters his junior season with a .395 career batting average with 150 total hits including 32 doubles, 10 triples and eight home runs.
Senior outfielder Jarel McDade (Magnolia, Texas) earned All-SAC first team honors in his inaugural TU season as he led the Pioneers with 10 home runs (11th in SAC), 56 runs scored (5th in SAC / 23rd in NCAA II) and 45 RBI last year. The former Tyler Junior College transfer also led Tusculum in being hit by pitch (15 – 3rd in SAC / 41st in NCAA II) and walks (32).
Greeneville graduate student and veteran utility player Zack Finchum is back for his final collegiate season. Finchum batted .314 last year and finished second on the team with 64 hits including six doubles and 23 RBI. The 2016 All-Conference standout played mostly in right field the past two years and also saw action at first base and third base while finishing third on the club with 44 runs scored.
Also playing in his final TU campaign is speedy centerfielder Seth DeHaven. The Fort Myers, Florida graduate student worked his way into the starting lineup in 2018 where he batted .269 with 32 hits with seven doubles, one triple and one home run. He tallied 22 RBI with 31 runs scored and three stolen bases. DeHaven was the secretary of defense in the outfield as he established a new TU single-game season going errorless (minimum 100 fielding chances) for a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.
Senior catcher Nate Montgomery earned All-SAC honorable mention accolades behind the plate in his first Tusculum season. The Geneva, Illinois product batted .315 and finished third on the roster with 58 hits including 11 doubles, one triple, one home run and 38 RBI. This past summer, Montgomery played summer ball with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen where he was named the Midwest Collegiate League Most Valuable Player. He batted. 345 with the Oilmen with 28 RBI, 36 runs scored and tied a franchise record with seven home runs.
Sophomore infielder Bryson Ford finished third on the team with his .333 batting average. The Knoxville, Tennessee native saw action at every infield position except first base. Ford ended the season with an 11-game hitting streak going 20-for-37 and posted a sizzling .541 batting average during that span. He batted .450 alone in the SAC Tournament starting all four games at shortstop. He finished his true freshman campaign with 31 hits including five doubles and led the team with nine sacrifice bunts (4th in SAC / 45th in NCAA II).
Also returning from last year are infielders Bradley Evans, Garrett Dupuis and Trey Hinton. Hinton, a sophomore from Knoxville, batted .267 last year and finished third on the team with 24 walks against 15 strikeouts. He totaled 23 hits in his 31 games including one double and 18 RBI. Evans, a senior from Polkville, North Carolina, owns a .273 batting average during his TU career which includes 49 RBI, 17 doubles and eight home runs, including five round-trippers last season which were second-most on the team. Dupuis batted .191 with 22 hits, seven doubles, three home runs and 19 RBI in his first TU season. The Kennesaw, Georgia sophomore also scored 16 runs while seeing action at first and third base.
Outfielders Logan McMahan, Jake Wapinsky and Sam Urban have returned. McMahan, a senior from Knoxville, batted .538 while seeing action in 10 games as he recorded two doubles and a home run to go along with his six RBI. Wapinsky (Blandon, Pa.) batted .261 in his 29 outings where he amassed nine RBI, 14 runs and 18 walks.
Also back are catchers Chase Wullenweber (West Chester, Ohio), Jordan Beaver (Dallas, N.C.) and Tyson Beach along with infielders Garrett Goldberg (Clover, S.C.), Will Leonard (Jonesborough, Tenn.) and Branden Glick (Hickory, N.C.).
Thirteen (13) pitchers from last year's club return comprising of 23 of the 25 wins on the mound as well as all 13 saves recorded in 2018.
Junior right-hander Chase McAllister is back after leading TU with a 5-2 record last season. The Powell, Tennessee product posted a 3.86 ERA with a complete game, one save and 43 strikeouts. Like his freshman season, he started 2018 out of the TU bullpen but would finish off the year with five straight starts.
Senior righty Charles Hall (Dumfries, Va.) is coming off a 4-3 season last year and led the Pioneers with his 73.1 innings pitched and 71 strikeouts. The 2018 All-SAC second team selection finished the season with a 4.42 ERA with his victories coming in four consecutive starts. He also earned a spot on the D2SIDA All-Southeast Region first team as a utility pitcher, as he also saw time out of the TU bullpen where he also tallied a pair of saves.
Last year's opening day starter is back in senior southpaw Andrew Willis (Knoxville, Tenn.). The season-opener was his only start on the mound, but shined out of the TU bullpen before his year was halted abruptly after being hit in the face by a line drive back to the mound. He would be sidelined for a majority of the season but made a dramatic return to the line-up in the SAC series finale against Carson-Newman, wearing a protective mask. He followed by pitching four shutout innings and posted a career-high seven strikeouts in a win over No. 2 seed Wingate in the SAC Tournament. For his efforts, he was named the Tusculum Athletics Comeback Player of the Year. He would finish the year with a team-best 3.00 ERA including 0.96 ERA in his last three appearances
Sophomore righty Zach Sanders (Peachtree City, Ga.) made 11 appearances last year including a team-high 10 starts as he went 3-4 with a 7.00 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 36 innings of work.
Pedro Rodriguez and Mitch McCain, who emerged as Tusculum's closer duo, are back. McCain, a junior left-hander from Lawrenceville, Georgia, led the Pioneers with his 23 relief appearances where he posted a 6.08 ERA with a 2-4 worksheet and four saves. In his 26.2 innings he tallied 32 strikeouts. Rodriguez (Kissimmee, Fla.) appeared in 20 contests out of the bullpen where he accounted for a 4.45 ERA with a 3-2 record, four saves and 30 strikeouts in his 30.1 innings on the bump.
Senior right-hander Colin Johnston (Rochester, N.Y.) tied for third on the team with his 17 pitching appearances. He went 3-2 with a 5.91 ERA and 23 strikeouts.
Also returning for the Tusculum pitching corps are Kent Noe (So., Knoxville, Tenn.), Sean McDaniel (Sr., Raleigh, N.C.), Christian Cuba (Jr., Miami, Fla.), Trevor Lloyd (So., Knoxville, Tenn.), Harbor Jefferson (So., Cleveland, Tenn.), Trent Collins (So., Cohutta, Ga.), Alec Lay (RFr., Maynardville, Tenn.), Matt Bumgarner (So., Cherryville, N.C.), James Irwin (So., Maryville, Tenn.), Drew Miller (RFr., Mooresville, N.C.) and Austin Collins (RFr., Greeneville, Tenn.).
Several newcomers join the Tusculum program this season including eight infielders, four pitchers, three outfielders and one catcher.
Junior infielder Will Drake (Naperville, Ill.) was a 2017 NJCAA All-American at Elgin Community College where he batted .322 and was third in the country with his seven sacrifice flies. In his two seasons at Elgin, Drake accounted for 106 hits including 20 doubles, eight triples, seven home runs and 85 RBI while leading his JUCO club to a NCJAA Region 4 Championship.
Junior infielder Chris Cornish (Bellevue, Neb.) played the previous two seasons at Southeast Community College where he posted a .312 batting average with 28 doubles, seven home runs, 87 RBI, 42 walks and went 20-of-22 in stolen bases. During his prep career at Bellevue East High School, he was a three-time All-State honoree on the diamond.
Infielder Kaleb Bell (Houston, Texas) comes to Tusculum after playing last season at Tyler Junior College as he helped the Apaches to a national runner-up finish. Bell finished the season with a six-game hitting streak, all coming in the NJCAA World Series played at Pioneer Park. He batted .348 during the series as he team accounted for 33 victories on the season. The Westbury Christian School alum was a four-time All-District selection during his prep career.
Junior infielder Chris Iltshishin comes to Tusculum after playing two years at Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Illinois. The Waterloo, Ontario native batted .330 at Fairfield as he totaled 64 hits, 16 doubles one triple, three home runs and 42 RBI.
Jaden Steagall is a true freshman infielder from Hiram, Georgia where he batted .390 at Pace Academy and earned All-State honors as he led his prep squad to the Georgia State Sweet 16. Freshman infielder Zach Froment (Morinville, Alberta, Canada) garnered All-League honors and led his Morinville Community School to a 2018 Provincial title.
Junior catcher Hunter Parks (Phoenix, Ariz.) comes to Tusculum after playing the previous two seasons at Paradise Valley Community College. He led PVCC to 70 wins and was named the 2018 Student-Athlete of the Year at the Phoenix, Arizona junior college. He threw out 27 runners last year which was the third-most in the nation.
Also coming from Paradise Valley is junior right-handed pitcher Justin Wallace. The native of Kila, Montana recorded 32 mound appearances in his JUCO career where he went 2-1 with 30 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.35. Wallace graduated from Flathead High School in Montana where he was an All-State honoree.
Junior pitcher Carter Linton comes to Tusculum after playing last season at NCAA Division I East Tennessee State University. He made 14 appearances at ETSU in 2018 where he went 1-0 with an 8.16 ERA. He tallied 13 strikeouts and pitched in 14.1 innings. The Kingsport, Tennessee native played his prep baseball at Dobyns-Bennett High School where he helped the Indians to a TSSAA District title.
Also joining the Tusculum line-up are newcomers Colton Cross (Canada, Ky. / Belfry HS), Jordan King (York, Pa. / Central York HS), Dylan McCorkle (Estill Springs, Tenn. / Huntland HS), Wes Reynolds (Cherryville, N.C. East Rutherford HS), Connor Pinkard (Louisville, Tenn. / Knoxville Catholic HS), Jacob Willett (Greeneville, Tenn. / Chuckey-Doak HS), Dawson Gause (Fr., Gastonia, N.C.) and junior Juan Perez (Arecibo, Puerto Rico / Colegio San Felipe HS).
Following this weekend's four games in Florida, the Pioneers will play a three-game series next weekend at 2018 NCAA II Southeast Regional runner-up Belmont Abbey (Feb. 8-9) and travel to Young Harris on Feb. 13. Tusculum will play its home opener Feb. 15-17 when they host Notre Dame College (Ohio) for a four-game series at Pioneer Park.