Baseball opens fall practice with plenty of pitching depth
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
By Kirk Downs
Baseball opens fall practice with plenty of pitching depth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Lipscomb baseball team opened intrasquad fall practice at Ken Dugan Field last week and have been focusing on positional drills, pitching and batting practice for the first two weeks. Starting next Monday the Bisons will begin team scrimmages.

“When practice begins everyone is renewed and refreshed,” Lipscomb coach Jeff Forehand said. “Everyone is excited about where we left off last season and is anxious to get back out there. But after a week of practice that newness wears off, so I am ready to see what happens this week.

“Next week we will start scrimmaging and trying to imitate what a week of spring practice will look like. That is what the guys look forward to the most because that is really the only kind of competition of the fall. I am excited to see us compete.”

Forehand, now in his eighth season at the helm, welcomes back 16 returning letterman and 14 newcomers for 2015.

Lipscomb’s pitching staff proved to be a key ingredient to the team’s success in 2014 and it returns 10 of the 13 hurlers who logged innings last season.

In 2015 the Bisons welcome back two 15-game starters and a majority of the bullpen that helped guide the Purple and Gold to a 33-28 season.

Senior and All-Conference selection Ian Martinez-McGraw (9-3, 3.77 ERA) along with junior Denton Norman (7-6, 3.43) has proven to be reliable weekend starters while senior southpaws Nick Andros (5-3, 3.28 ERA, 2 SV) and Jason Ziegler (2-2, 3.10 ERA, 5 SV) are capable of entering the game and providing relief or shutting the door from the bullpen.

“Our pitching depth is going to be great this year because of the experience we are bringing back,” Forehand said.

“We are also bringing Will (Blalock) and J (Hwang) back. That will give us a lot of confidence because they have been through the fire and know what to expect. “

Blalock and Hwang will look to make their return after suffering season-ending injuries in each of the past two seasons. Hwang (2-0, 3.02 ERA) went down late in 2013 after finding a groove during conference play fanning 47 batters in 56.2 innings of work. Blalock (1-0, 3.95 ERA) made three starts last season punching out 16 in 13.2 innings.

Lipscomb will look to seniors Tyson Ashcraft (1-4, 5.40 ERA) and Griffin Moore (.299, 2 HR, 18 RBI) to have an increased role as two-way contributors, in the infield and on the mound.

Moore, primarily a first baseman and designated hitter last season, has not pitched since high school but the coaching staff liked what they saw from him over the summer.

“Griffin showed great velocity and had some really good outings in summer ball,” Forehand said. “Pitching is something he wants to pursue. It is another quality arm to add to our staff and we are looking forward to seeing what he can do.

“Tyson is a guy that has played multiple positions for us over the last couple of years. He has really helped us in a lot of areas, so we are looking for him to have a big year.”

To complement the plethora of returning experience in the pitching staff will be five new arms Forehand and his staff brought in to provide depth on the mound.

“We have a junior college transfer and several freshmen that we believe will help us down the line,” Forehand said. “It gives us depth on the mound, unproven, but it is something we are excited about.”

The junior college transfer, Kyle Weller (RHP) was a First-Team All-Midwest Athletic Conference selection at Parkland College in Illinois after going 9-3 with 71 strikeouts in 66.1 innings pitched last season.

The Bisons also brought in four right-handed pitchers from the high school ranks.

Kyle Kemp comes to Lipscomb from Bishop Verot High School in Florida where he was a 2013 Perfect Game Underclass First-Team All American and was rated the No. 52 best RHP in the nation by Perfect Game.

Brady Puckett, 6-foot-8, of Riverdale High School was ranked as the 34th best player overall and the 10th best RHP in the state of Tennessee by Perfect Game.

Jeffrey Passantino, teammate of Kemp at Bishop Verot High School, compiled a 22-4 record over three years and ranked 15th nationally in strikeouts in 2013 by MaxPreps. He was a two-time All-America Honorable Mention his junior and senior seasons by Perfect Game.

Blake O’Neal helped lead Lake Highland Prepatory High School to back-to-back district championships in 2012 and 2013. He is the son of former Major League Baseball pitcher Randy O’Neal.

Thursday will take a look at the position players and who the Bisons have returning along with the fresh new faces looking to make an impact in 2015.