MACON, Ga. – With the 2015 campaign almost two weeks away, the Lipscomb baseball team picked up three individual accolades when the Atlantic Sun Conference released its annual Preseason All-Conference honors and awards on Wednesday.
Grant Massey, Ian Martinez-McGraw and Jason Ziegler each earned a spot on the illustrious list after all three put up banner years in 2014.
“I am proud of our guys and hope they take it as a challenge that someone has recognized them at the top of their game, “ Lipscomb coach Jeff Forehand said. “Knowing these three guys, they will take this as a challenge and work even harder to get better. It is an awesome honor for them and for our program.”
After earning a spot on the All-Conference second team a year ago, senior shortstop Massey was voted A-Sun Preseason Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches.
The Auburn, Alabama native led the team after hitting .322 with 24 RBIs, 19 doubles, three homeruns, three triples and 14 stolen bases. He also drew a league-leading 40 walks.
Massey finished his junior campaign with a .957 fielding percentage after notching 91 putouts and 199 assists. The sure-handed middle infielder helped Lipscomb turn a team record-tying 65 double plays, a total that ranked sixth in the nation last season.
“There is no question Grant is one of the top defensive players in our league,” Forehand said. “He works really hard each and every day and I am proud the other coaches around the league have noticed what kind of special player he really is.”
This marks the first time a Bison has ever earned the preseason yearly honor.
Senior hurlers Martinez-McGraw and Ziegler were named to the preseason All-Conference team.
Martinez-McGraw earned a spot on the second team All-Conference in 2014 after setting the NCAA school record with nine wins. He also proved to be the A-Sun workhorse, leading the league with 112.1 innings pitched – also a school NCAA mark.
The knuckleballer finished the season 9-3 with a 3.77 ERA and 64 strikeouts.
“Ian is built on consistency and he puts us in a position to win every time he steps to the rubber,” Forehand said. He won nine games a year ago, and could have easily had a couple more if we do some things better. He controls and manages the game as well anyone in the conference on the mound.
“Our team loves to play behind him because they know he is going to go out each and every start and attack the hitters. For him to be chosen as one of the starting pitchers on this list is a big accomplishment.”
Ziegler was one of the top relievers for the Bisons a year ago, appearing in 27 games. The southpaw finished 2-2 on the mound with a team-leading 3.10 ERA in 40.2 innings of work. He fanned 31 batters to just 14 walks.
The 6-foot-4 senior lefty lowered his ERA to 1.86 in league play, while also converting all five of his saves against A-Sun opponents.
If he would have qualified, Ziegler would have led the A-Sun in batting average against, holding teams to .213.
“Zig has worked tirelessly at being good at his craft,” Forehand said. “He is one of our main cogs in the bullpen and we expect a lot out of him this year. When he is chosen as the only relief pitcher on the preseason team, that is saying he is as good as any bullpen guy in our league, maybe even the best.
“My challenge to him now, is to go out and prove it.”
In the coaches’ poll released on Wednesday, Lipscomb was selected to finish third out of the league’s eight teams, receiving 48 votes, including one first place nod. Kennesaw State and Florida Gulf Coast were picked first and second, respectively.
Forehand agreed that KSU is the best team in the conference and that FGCU is No. 2, but he is quick to point out that he thinks the rest of the pack could all be up to the task of competing for the regular season title.
“We are picked right around the spot we were last year,” Forehand said. “Our league is so balanced that anyone can win on any given day.
“But overall I would say the coaches picked pretty accurately. I would say Kennesaw State is the number one team, Florida Gulf Coast is second and the rest of us are shaken up in there together. You could pull the teams out of a hat. It is going to be a fun year.”
The Bisons made the A-Sun Tournament Championship in 2014 before falling to eventual champion Kennesaw State and finished the year 33-28. They tied the school’s NCAA record for wins in a season, tying the 2008 squad.
Lipscomb opens up the 2015 campaign at home in Ken Dugan Field at Stephen L. Marsh Stadium Feb. 13 with a three-game series against Butler.
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