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Bisons open 2006 season on Valentine's Day against Evansville

Monday, February 13, 2006

Feb. 13, 2006

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When Lipscomb takes the field on opening day, they will do so as a team much different than a year earlier.

While the core of last year's team will be returning, the Bisons will also rely heavily on the class of newcomers to bring them success.

Lipscomb University baseball coach Wynn Fletcher said, "This year we have a great mix of guys who have been here and a talented group of freshmen. We should be more athletic and mentally stronger than we have been in the past."

Fans will get their first look at the team this week as the Bisons open the season Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Ken Dugan Field at Stephen L. Marsh Stadium. Friday, Saturday and Sunday the Bisons will welcome Chicago State.

The biggest turnover occurred within the pitching staff. Juniors Robbie Smithson and Logan Powell are the only two pitchers featured on last year's roster to return for the Bisons.

"I expect Logan and Robbie to get a lot of innings in," Fletcher said. "They both got a lot in their freshman and sophomore years and I would love to count on them in a larger role this season. They both have a lot of experience, but it will all come down to production."

The weekend starters this season figure to be all new faces with Josh Smith, Matt Schnelly, and Paul Piennette getting the nod.

"Once everything gets going I can see Josh Smith as a guy we will really look too in the future," Fletcher said.

The final starter will likely be senior Chandler Ganick or Powell.

The biggest question mark for the pitching staff right now will be the closer's role. This will be the first season in several years that the Bisons will have to worry about this as it will be the team's first season without closer Seth Kuwik since 2001.

"The closer's role is going to be interesting," Fletcher said. "We have in mind a couple of guys who we think can really help us in this role. It will probably come down to Brandon McClurg and Charles Williams. They are both guys who are capable of throwing small amounts on consecutive days. They both are good about throwing strikes, and when one steps up we will be able to figure out which way to go."

Defensively, the Bisons infield will be led once again by senior shortstop Tadd Brewer. Brewer had a terrific first season with the Bisons last year leading the team in runs scored (37) and hits (80). He also led the team in at bats while starting every game.

"Tadd is one of our leaders," Fletcher said. "I look for him to have a good year. If he continues to do in the games what he does in practice then he will do great. I am very proud of his progress and expect him to have a great senior season."

Brewer's double play partner at second base will once again be Whit Reed. Reed also saw a great deal of playing time last season trailing only Brewer in at bats.

"Defense is not a problem for Whit," Fletcher said. "His is probably the steadiest defensive player on the team. Offensively we are hoping for more production this season, mainly in reference to his on base percentage."

The biggest question in the infield concerns first base. Last year's starter Ryan Mitchell will be returning but will be unable to play the infield on an everyday basis due to injury. However, when he is not at first Mitchell will likely serve as the team's designated hitter.

With Mitchell unable to play first every day the job will be split between several players. Therefore pitching match ups will be the determining factor with Jeff Baumgartner or Jared Picchiottino facing a left hander and Justin Sanders or Mitchell getting the call against a right hander.

At third base, Patrick O'Rourke is expected to begin the season as the starter with freshman Branden Cadavid also battling for the position.

"It is going to be neck and neck," Fletcher said. "Patrick has more experience, and knows what to expect in the league. However, Branden had a great preseason and is very anxious to learn."

Catcher, the final infield position will be manned by both junior Ryan Price and freshman Caleb Joseph.

"Playing time will probably be split down the middle at first," Fletcher said. "I am proud of both players. They are doing a great job. Until one player steps ahead of the other we will just have to wait and see."

While featuring many of the same faces from last season, the Bisons outfield will have a much different look. Nathan Sensing will make the transition from right field to center.

"Nathan has shown an even deeper drive to excel this year," Fletcher said. "He is an extremely gifted athlete and we knew he'd be able to make the transition. We count on him everyday to be a leader and he continues to make the plays."

Sensing's backup will be red shirt freshman Cody Morris.

With Sensing moving to center field, Zac Miller will be taking over the job in right. Miller began the season in left field for the Bisons last year before suffering a season ending injury.

The last defensive position left field, will be another that is decided by pitching match ups. On days the Bisons face a left hander senior Preston Embrey will likely receive the start while freshman Allen Bolden will start against a right hander. David Becker has also been working to make the transition from catcher to left field.

"Having three players that are capable of starting in left field is a good problem to have," Fletcher said. "We will have to see how the match ups go."

Offensively the Bisons will once again rely on their two through five hitters to carry them. Brewer, Sensing, and Mitchell together led the team in almost every offensive category last season. This year, with the return of Miller the Bisons offense will be even stronger.

"Our two, three, four, and five hitters are as good as anybody's in the conference," Fletcher said. "They all work hard and you can look for them to make a big difference. How good we will be as a team depends on how much of a punch the bottom of our lineup delivers.

'The question is how many runs do we have to score to win. I've always felt that six or seven should be enough. We definitely have the capabilities to do that this year."

Leadership should not be a problem for the Bisons this season either. With 10 seniors Fletcher is not sure that naming captains on the team will be necessary this year.

"They are all captains," Fletcher said. "We have so many seniors this year I am just going to use my numbers. That way they can all absorb some of the pressure and allow for a better atmosphere. We are going to use this group of seniors to help get us to the next level."

The experience of the seniors combined with the talent and willingness to learn of the freshman should be a winning combination for the Bisons this season.

"We had a great recruiting class this year," Fletcher said. "We got players this year that we might not have gotten in years past. Our program has come a long way and we continue to get better. I see no reason why in one to two years we can't be a top of the conference program."

Krissy Wade, student assistant in sports information, wrote this story.