NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Lipscomb baseball team officially opened spring practice on Friday, as it prepares for the start of the 2014 season on Feb. 14 with the first game in a three-game series with Evansville at Dugan Field.
The frigid 20-degree temperatures forced the Bisons inside for the first part of the day for some batting practice. They then took to the field for a short 4-inning scrimmage.
“Our team has been practicing all fall and preparing for the start of the season,” Forehand said. “But when the first practice of the spring rolls around, our guys definitely has a different pep in their step.
“Today it was a little cold outside so we started out with some batting practice inside before we finished up with a four-inning scrimmage on the field. We were able to get a few pitchers some work to just get their feet wet. Our guys did a pretty good job of fighting the weather elements, but that is probably a little easier with it being the first practice of the spring.”
The Bisons have just as many new faces as they do upper classmen entering the spring. For those freshmen it could be overwhelming at first, having never taken part in a collegiate game. But it is up to the staff and the veterans to get them ready.
“We try every year to prepare our younger guys for what college baseball is about with the intensity and atmosphere they are going to see,” Forehand said. “We try to talk them through it so they will know what to expect.
“They do get a big dose of it in practice throughout the fall, but nothing can compare to a live game. But they will all still have some butterflies come opening day no matter how much we prepare them for February.”
Forehand talks about some of the players he and his staff will look to for leadership on and off the field this season. He first mentioned the hurlers.
“Hunter Brothers is coming off of a draft year and we hope he can come back with another strong season for us this spring,” Forehand said. “Jacob Knott returns for a fifth year after having several starts in the mid-week games in 2013 and hope he can slide over to be a weekend guy for us.
“We feel we have a great pitching staff and will need them all to step up for us. Will Blalock returns for his junior season. Denton Norman looks to improve on a year where he was able to get into the weekend rotation as a freshman. Ian Martinez and John Pryor are two new additions that we are excited about and ready to see what they can do for us. Drew Adams is coming off of a 2nd team All-Conference selection last year and as a Dugan Award winner, we are looking for him and Knott to be leaders amongst the staff.
Last season the Bisons were one of the top fielding teams in the conference. A .972 fielding percentage placed Lipscomb tied for second, while finishing third in errors (63) and turning the fourth-most double plays (55). As good as the Bisons were defensively in 2013, Forehand thinks his squad has a chance to be even better this spring.
“Mike Korte and Grant Massey are two JUCO transfers in the middle infield we are excited about defensively,” Forehand said. “Austin Sistrunk will swing back over to third base for us after playing some second base last season.
“Josh Lee and Johnathan Allison are expected to have good seasons along with Griffin Moore. We have some experience behind the plate in senior Nick Rome and love what he will do for us. I don’t want to leave anybody out because every player is just as important as the next.”
One player Forehand will look to for production is Tyson Ashcraft. The Brentwood native led the team with a .303 batting average in his sophomore campaign, while driving in 29 runs. Ashcraft collected seven doubles, one triple and five homers. In 225 chances in the field, Ashcraft finished with a perfect fielding percentage (215 po, 10 a). He also saw action on the mound, fanning 18 batters in 18.2 innings of work.
"Tyson was a team leader on the field and in the classroom for us last year," Forehand said. "He led us in batting and was named to the A-Sun All-Academic team. He will be heavily relied upon this season to manufacutre runs for us. Tyson is a guy that can also play mulitple positions - third, first, outfield and also some pitcher. He is primed for a big year in 2014 and we expect nothing less. It will be fun to watch him on the diamond this spring and we all are looking forward to it."
Every year fans like to debate how this year’s team compares to last year’s. With each season brings a new team and from a coaching standpoint, there is no sense in looking at the past.
“We talk about that every year and we don’t want to try and compare last year’s team to this year’s,” Forehand said. “But this year’s team is a blue collar, hardnosed team that is going to fight for every victory.
“We really locked in with a common purpose as we worked during the fall and now we just hope to continue in the spring what we’ve been doing all along so that we will be successful each and every week.”
Forehand believes after seven years he has learned to handle the anticipation of a new season and all he and his staff can do is prepare and put their trust in the players.
“As a veteran now I don’t know if my sleep pattern changes any,” Forehand said. “I have confidence in our guys that they have prepared themselves the best they can. I look forward to being with those guys every day. If we can put in action what we’ve prepared each day, then we should be in good shape. Practice hard, train hard and prepare hard and we will have nothing to worry about.
“We have to play the best we can each and every day and I feel like our team is prepared to play any team in the country at any time. No matter the size of the school, Lipscomb can compete with anybody.”
The Bisons continue with intrasquad scrimmages on Saturday and Sunday. All scrimmages are open to the public. Saturday’s practice begins at 1 p.m. and Sunday’s at 2 p.m. All fans are encouraged to come out and attend to show support for the Bisons as the season beings in 20 days.