The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Sports

February 19, 2014

CU picked to win MEC baseball title

BRIDGEPORT — Concord University’s baseball team has been picked to win the inaugural Mountain East Conference championship by the league’s coaches in their preseason poll.

“It is an honor to be recognized by your peers in this manner,” head coach Andrew Wright said. “This says a lot about the direction of our program to have been predicted to finish first for two consecutive years and I am proud of everyone involved for the work they have put in. By no means will this change our approach; we still need to prepare every day with a championship mindset and trust our process.”

Concord received six first-place votes and a total of 138 points to narrowly edge Shepherd (two first-place votes/130) for the top spot. West Virginia State (3/ 124), Charleston (89) and Fairmont State (1/81) made up the rest of the top-five.

 Rounding out the poll were West Liberty (79), Notre Dame (76), West Virginia Wesleyan (69), Urbana (64), Wheeling Jesuit (46), UVa.-Wise (29) and Glenville State (15).

 Wright welcomes back 23 players, including eight position players who started at least 21 games and five pitchers that made at least 12 appearances, from a 2013 team that earned the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship, won a school-record  36 games and received a berth into the NCAA Tournament. A league title in 2014 would give Concord three conference championships in the last four years.

The Mountain Lions return the majority of their offensive players from last year’s team that led the nation in both runs scored and batting average while also ranking second in on-base percentage and third in runs per game.

Leading CU will be the trio of senior outfielder Bret Blevins, senior first baseman Joey Miller and junior outfielder Ryan Johnston. All three are coming off of career-years and earned preseason National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association all-region honors earlier in the offseason.

A season ago, Blevins, who is 69 hits away from becoming Concord’s all-time hits leader, hit .363 with 70 hits, 53 runs, 40 RBI and 28 stolen bases.

Miller ranked second in the nation in RBI (70), fourth in home runs (15) and 16th in slugging percentage (.674) in his first season at CU in addition to committing just one error in the field.

 Johnston was also among the nation’s leaders in several statistical categories, placing third in RBI (65), fourth in runs scored (68), 10th in total bases (130), 21st in home runs (11) and 42nd in batting average (.397).

 Junior second baseman Jerrod Groves has been a constant presence in the Concord lineup since setting foot on campus in 2012. The Covington, Va. native has started 103 out of 105 games played in his two collegiate seasons. Last year, Groves batted .355 with  48 runs, 42 RBI and 13 stolen bases.

Sophomore outfielder Andrew Seigel carved out a spot for himself atop the Concord batting order during his freshman campaign, batting .376 with 57 runs scored, 27 stolen bases and a .438 on-base percentage. The Mountain Lions were 29-10 with Seigel in the leadoff spot.

In just 106 at-bats as a freshman, sophomore Joe Camp still managed to accumulate 41 hits, 27 runs, 10 doubles, three home runs and 30 RBI. Camp, who also led CU with five pinch hits, split time between first base and designated hitter.

The trio of junior T.J. Brockway, senior Brandon Costa and sophomore Charles Goss shared catching duties in 2013. Defensively, they threw out a total of 10 runners while combining to hit .319 with 50 runs, 55 RBI and 17 doubles.

Sophomore infielders Holt Cassada, Joe Monica and Brad Sullivan all earned playing time as freshman and made the most of their limited opportunities. Cassada started three of 13 games played, batting .364 and driving in eight runs. Monica secured six hits in  14 games while Sullivan hit an impressive .667 (6-for-9) with six runs scored in 13 contests.

Rounding out CU’s offensive returners is outfielder Steven Schiffour, who redshirted as a freshman.

Despite being overshadowed by CU’s high-powered offense, the Mountain Lions’ pitching staff put together a quality season in 2013 in their own right, ranking fourth in the WVIAC in ERA and fourth in strikeouts.

Three of Concord’s four primary starters are back in senior Ryan Weatherholtz, senior Tyler Coyle and junior Kevin Mack.

Weatherholtz had arguably his best season as a junior, making 11 starts on his way to a 4-2 season with 41 strikeouts and a 3.77 ERA in 62 innings pitched. The Mountain Lions were 8-3 in Weatherholtz’s 11 starts. He’ll open 2014 needing seven victories to become Concord’s career leader in wins.

Coyle threw a staff-high 64 innings last season and went on to win seven games while posting an ERA of 4.92 to go with 36 strikeouts. Mack, a preseason All-NCBWA honoree, was a perfect 5-0 in 14 appearances. He held the opposition to just a .248 batting average against as well as registering a team-low 2.97 ERA.

Seniors Chris Baker and Tim Leather were the workhorses of the Concord bullpen as both made 19 appearances with Baker going 8-2 with a 3.33 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 48.2 innings and Leather producing a 3-1 mark with 26 strikeouts and a 3.77 ERA in 36.2 innings  of work.

Other top relievers from 2013 that are back this season are senior Dustin Nuckels (nine appearances, 17 strikeouts) and sophomore Chris Kelly (4-1 as a freshman in nine games pitched). Nuckels is an Oak Hill high graduate.

Providing depth in bullpen among the returnees will be junior Bryant Pybus, sophomores Austin Southcott and Brandon Tucker.

In addition to its vast amount of veteran depth, Concord added 11 newcomers over the offseason in freshman pitcher Carson Bach, freshman pitcher/outfielder Jake Bywalski, freshman outfielder Anthony DiAmario, freshman outfielder/pitcher Eli Flynn, freshman infielder Damon Frazier, freshman pitcher Zach Kelly, freshman utility player Joey Lacek, junior pitcher Barinder Rakkar, freshman pitcher Patrick Thompson, freshman pitcher Nate Werner and freshman catcher Paul Williams.

Concord’s 50-game schedule has already begun. A Feb. 22-23 series against former WVIAC rival Pitt-Johnstown will be CU’s home opener.

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