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Veteran Bisons Team Ready For Season Opener On Friday

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Feb. 20, 2008

While the 2007 Bisons relied primarily on a youthful freshman class to propel them to their first appearance in the Atlantic Sun conference tournament, the 2008 team will have no such obstacle.

This season when the Bisons take the field, only two members of their team will not have college baseball experience. Of the ten additions, eight are transfers, and only two are freshman.

"It is an unusual recruiting year for us considering we got started a little late with this year's incoming freshman class," Head Coach Jeff Forehand said. "We have one freshman, two after we had a walk on player join the team.

"When you talk about eight transfers, one thing that we gained was experience, but also you bring people in that come from different systems. I have always thought that we could have some success by bringing in some experience, some players that were already seasoned into the college baseball game, and I think that we did that with some impact with some guys that will come in and immediately contribute."

The Bisons were fortunate this season, as they will return every position player except one, center fielder Casey Bond.

The infield will remain largely the same this season. Junior Branden Cadavid will return as the starting third basemen, although transfer Brad Gooch is also expected to see a lot of playing time.

The team's shortstop last season, Ben Williams is expected to make the switch to second base this season, to make room for senior transfer Jorge Gutierrez at shortstop.

"Guitierrez will be a huge addition to our team, not only experience wise because he's been around the block, spent two years at junior college and a year at UAB before deciding to spend his fifth year with us," Forehand said. "He brings us a lot of experience and a lot of leadership to the team."

At first base, the Bisons will return a member of last season's Atlantic Sun All Freshmen team, Ryan Wilkins. Junior Justin Sanders is also likely to see a lot of time at first.

Junior Caleb Joseph will return for his third season as the Bisons' starting catcher. Jay Moreland, a transfer from Vanderbilt University, will serve as Joseph's primary back-up.

"Jay is a solid, solid catcher," Forehand said. "We were in need of finding that depth behind the plate."

In addition, Logan Hosteetler, a freshman could also see some time at catcher this season.

"Logan is a guy that looks to give us depth behind the plate and hopefully hold onto and lock down that catching position and stabilize that for many years to come as we bring him in to give us more depth behind the plate," Forehand said.

In the outfield, last season's starters Shane Simpkins and Allen Bolden will be joined by senior transfer, Blake Bratcher.

"He is going to give us some depth in the outfield and also be another impact player to come in and hopefully immediately put our team in a better position because he has some experience too," Forehand said.

The Bisons also brought in Channing Brown, a transfer from Chandler Gilbert Community College in Arizona to provide some depth in the outfield.

"Channing is another key addition to our outfield," Forehand said. "We are slim in the outfield in number. Channing brings a lot of power to the lineup and a chance to earn some playing time in a thin outfield to give us some depth."

Senior Jared Picchiottino or Sanders will likely receive most of the starts at designated hitter this season, although both are likely to see time on the field as well.

After relying on strong pitching last season, the Bisons return the majority of their pitching staff. Rex Brothers, last year's A-Sun Freshman of the Year will return to the weekend rotation along with Taylor Merry, another member of last season's All Freshman team. Joining them will likely be Austin Peay transfer, Mike Dunn.

"He is also a one year player with a lot of experience from a good Austin Peay team," Forehand said. "He comes off of that and transfers to us and looks to hopefully make an impact on the weekends for us, hopefully every weekend, and pitch a lot of innings for us."

To go along with that, the Bisons will welcome back Josh Smith and Mike Zenko off of injuries, two players who could also receive some starts for Lipscomb.

"Josh Smith comes back to our pitching staff after having Tommy John surgery and having to sit out last season after a solid freshman year," Forehand said. "He sat out all of last year and it looks like he is going to be back in some shape to contribute some key innings. We look forward to having him back with the kind of year he did have his freshman year and hopefully he is ready to improve on that.

"Zenko is also coming back after an injury. He never really got started on his college career because he has had so many injuries. He came out of high school injured and has spent two years here, fighting through the injury bug. He looks to also fight for some key innings."

To go along with their strong starting rotation, the Bisons are excited about the depth of their bullpen as well this season. Charles Williams and Brandon McClurg are two more pitchers who could work both as starters and relievers. McClurg may even see some time in the closer role.

Another likely candidate at closer is right-handed, side-armer Kyle Tognazzini.

"We have a pretty deep pitching staff that coach wheeler and myself feel could pitch us deep into games," Forehand said. "Ten to twelve guys will likely receive the bulk of the innings."

With their cast of experience players, both returning and transfers, the Bisons are confident that 2008 could offer a return trip to the conference tournament.

"The bulk of our team from last year is back with us adding some depth and experience from these older guys, I really feel like we have a blend and a mix that is going to be really solid," Forehand said.

"One thing I told our team back in the fall is that there is only one person our team that has not played college baseball. We went from a very inexperienced team last year, with a lot of freshman having to play and pitch. We go into this year, with the freshman from last year having a year under the belt, and some of the additions we brought in, giving us a veteran team to be excited about."

By Krissy Wade