NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When the 2017 season opens in just three short weeks, the Lipscomb baseball team will be venturing into new territory with a giant target on its back.
For the first time in program history the Bisons were voted as the team to beat in the ASUN Conference Preseason Coaches Poll, collecting six of the eight first-place votes.
“It’s always cool to see how all the other teams are viewing you in the league, but it is still just a preseason pick,” Lipscomb skipper Jeff Forehand said. “Nothing has been accomplished yet. Everybody in our league has a chance to win this thing year in and year out.
“With that said, it is still flattering that the other coaches around the conference picked us first. It is a great honor for our team.”
Lipscomb also pulled out a clean sweep of the big awards with Michael Gigliotti being named the Preseason Player and Defensive Player of the Year, while Brady Puckett earned Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
“Those are great accomplishments,” Forehand said. “I am proud to see our guys get the recognition they deserve. Michael and Brady are two of the hardest workers on our team and I think the other coaches around the ASUN know the type of players they both are.
“But once again, this is the preseason, so it puts it back on them to go out and prove it on the field. It’s time to get to work.”
The Bisons tied Kennesaw State with a league-high three players voted to the preseason all-conference team, as Lee Solomon joined Gigliotti and Puckett on the illustrious list.
Gigliotti is a two-time ASUN Second Team All-Conference selection, and was recently named to the Perfect Game/Rawlings Preseason College All-American team. He has received plenty of national recognition from multiple publications. D1Baseball.com rated Gigliotti the No. 13 draft prospect, while Baseball America placed him at No. 14 and MLB.com plugged him in at No. 23.
The Fort Lauderdale, Florida native is coming off a sophomore season that saw him bat .302 with three home runs, 24 RBI, 31 walks and 15 stolen bases. He only started 49 games in center field after missing some time with injury.
“Michael continues to get these accolades,” Forehand said. “He recognizes what has been put in front of him. He has to earn his keep. There is no doubt in my mind he is one of the best players in the country and it’s going to be fun to watch him this spring.”
The speedy leadoff man paced the ASUN with five triples and finished second with 55 runs scored. He laid down 17 bunt singles to lead the nation for a second consecutive season.
Gigliotti put together a strong summer in the Cape Cod and walked away with the Robert A. McNeese Award, given to the league’s top pro prospect.
Puckett is one of just three unanimous selections to the preseason team and will look to defend his 2016 ASUN Pitcher of the Year award.
The 6-foot-9 hurler posted a 9-2 record with a 2.93 ERA in his second season in the Music City. He led the ASUN in wins, games started (15), complete games (3), innings pitched (107.2) and strikeouts (101).
“The expectation for Brady is very high,” Forehand said. “I don’t want to sugar coat what it is, because we all know what he is capable of and that is why the other coaches voted him preseason pitcher of the year. It’s a great honor for him and now it’s time to live up to it.”
He logged the second most frames in a season in program history and became just the fourth Bison to reach the 100-inning plateau.
The Murfreesboro, Tennessee native rang up double-digit strikeouts three times a season ago, including a career high 11 against Kennesaw State and Mississippi Valley State.
Puckett led the Bisons to a 13-2 record in games that he started and scooped up an ASUN-high four pitcher of the week honors.
He was recently selected as the only ASUN player on the Collegiate Baseball Preseason All-America team and has been named the No. 61 and No. 95 draft prospect by D1Baseball.com and Baseball America, respectively.
Solomon, the only Bison to start all 58 games in 2016, will look to build off a breakout campaign that saw him earn second team All-Conference honors a year ago.
He finished inside the top-5 of nine different statistical categories in the ASUN, including a league-high .471 on-base percentage and 25 stolen bases. Solomon also ranked second in batting average (.370), hits (84), total assists (164) and double plays turned (44).
The junior’s 51 runs scored and 36 walks were third most.
“Lee Solomon has come such a long with nothing but a great work ethic and determination to be the player he was turned in to,” Forehand said. “After the year he put together last season, he definitely deserves to be on the preseason team and I could not be happier.”
Solomon’s speed was a major reason the Bisons swiped a school-record 97 stolen bases. His 25 thefts stand as the second best mark in a single season in program history.
Just a couple of weeks after setting the Lipscomb single-game steals record with four against Alabama A&M, he broke that mark with five swipes against Mississippi Valley State.
The Columbus, Ohio native reached base safely in 52 of Lipscomb’s 58 games, including 19 straight to end the season, and notched a base hit in 35 of his last 41.
The junior second baseman posted a .421/.476/.537 slash line in league play and led the conference with 40 hits against ASUN foes. He totaled a team high 21 multiple-hit games and finished second on the squad with multiple RBI in 15.
Solomon was named the ASUN Baseball Scholar Athlete of the Year after carrying a 3.90 cumulative GPA while studying as a Law, Justice and Society major with a concentration in Social Change.
The Bisons will open the 2017 campaign on February 17 with a three-game series against Oakland at 4 p.m.