ANDERSON, S.C. – Led by a pair of All-South Atlantic Conference performers and with seven starters returning to the Memorial Stadium diamond, the Anderson University baseball team will begin its' pursuit of the program's second appearance in the postseason in four years when the Trojans play host to King in a three-game weekend series, beginning with a twinbill next Saturday.
Head Coach Joe Miller enters his 22nd season at the helm of the program and 28th overall in the Electric City cautiously optimistic about the upcoming campaign and is eager to blend the experienced veterans on his roster with the talented newcomers who will be making their debut at Memorial Stadium this season.
"After going through a tough season last year we had an outstanding fall and returned a lot of players who saw significant action last season," said Miller. "We will be better offensively this season. Even though some of the guys were upperclassmen last season, it was their first time getting a lot of at-bats at the plate. And if we stay healthy we'll have more options on the mound with our starting pitching."
With 15 returning letterwinners on the roster, "they've had a year to sit on not making the conference tournament and I think that's got a lot of motivation," added Miller. "Even though we only have five seniors on the roster we still have a lot of guys that gained a lot of experience last year. With their work ethic and [the effort they've put in] I'm excited about this club."
Looking to put last season behind them, one of the biggest challenges for the 2018 edition of Trojan baseball will be believing they can compete in the upper echelon of the perennially tough South Atlantic Conference.
"We know that we are better than we showed last season," noted Miller. "We just need to put the pieces together and have the confidence to realize that we can compete. We have enough talent and enough arms here to put a good product on the field."
With veterans at the corners, as well as in the middle, the infield is intact from a season ago and with a pair of seniors patrolling the outfield who saw considerable playing time last year, Trojan fans can expect to see familiar faces on the diamond.
The Trojan roster features five catchers, with redshirt sophomore Joseph Strange the frontrunner to capture the majority of starts behind the plate after drawing a starting nod in 29 games a year ago. Junior Brandon Odachowski is also expected to see playing time after transferring from North Greenville. Lancaster, S.C., native James Gardner is back for his junior campaign, while a pair of freshmen, Tyler Berry and Davis Goodyear, will battle for playing time while providing depth behind the plate.
Miller has flexibility on both sides of the infield, as Dillon Carpenter returns for his sophomore season after being one of three players to earn a start in every contest in 2017. The Charlotte, N.C., native is a left-handed defensive standout who also posted a .291 batting average, while leading the squad with seven home runs and four triples. Freshman Chase Stephens, who earned all-region accolades during his prep career is expected to challenge for playing time at first base.
Sophomore Avery Green, who started 34 games in the infield last year, including 10 at second base, hit .242 as a true freshman and can hit in several different spots in the batting order. The Woodruff High School also has speed on the base paths.
The left side of the infield appears set with All-SAC honoree Tyler Miller at shortstop and junior Jackson Strange staffing third base. Miller has been a fixture in the lineup for the past three seasons, seeing action in 135 games during his collegiate career.
Both Miller and Strange are comfortable at either position, with Green at ease at third base, as well. Miller was second on the team with a .326 batting average and 63 hits a season ago and tied for the team lead with 10 doubles. He drove in 17 runs and stood second on the team with 18 walks and 33 runs scored.
Strange appeared in 45 games last year, while getting a starting nod on the left side of the infield in 31 of those contests. The Greenville, S.C., native tied for the team lead with 10 doubles and was fourth on the team with a .231 batting average and 22 runs scored.
A native of Seneca, S.C., Alex Medlin returns for his sophomore season and as they gain experience, a trio of freshmen (Will Lindsey, Trevor Weisner and Justin Helms) are in the mix and will vie for playing time on the infield.
Veterans Michael Rochester and senior William Thomas are expected to be patrolling the outfield along with a pair of players who missed last season due to injuries - Mason Covey and Chandler Castleberry. Covey saw action in 17 games two seasons ago and posted six hits. Both players have the ability to add power to the lineup.
The pitching staff features six returning letterwinners who are a year older and gained valuable experience on the mound a season ago.
Right-hander Andrew Dill, who earned three saves and a pair of wins last season and tied for the team lead with 19 appearances, returns for his senior campaign. Another right-hander, junior John McMicking led the Trojans with 11 starts on the mound and tossed more than 63 innings.
Five transfers, including a trio of junior college hurlers augmented the pitching corps, as Will Gee (USC Salkehatchee), Stetson Scott (Coastal Alabama) and Coby Smith (Dean College) will battle for midweek starting assignments on the mound.
Sophomore transfer Austin Todd (The Citadel) and left-handed junior Matthew Stanley (North Carolina A&T), along with returners Christian Carpenter, Brent Reynolds, Matthew Reitz and Christian Hendrix are expected to contend for assignments on the mound. In addition to potentially seeing time as position players Helms and O'Brien also have experience as hurlers. Eight newcomers - Justin Brannock, Heath McKay, Dalton Sipsy, Britt Thomas, Peyton Blake, Mitchell Cope, Christian Gray and Thomas Bozeman will be looking to garner playing time.
Anderson opens the 2018 schedule with a five-game homestand, marking the seventh time in nine years that the Trojans have started the season in the friendly confines of Anderson Memorial Stadium. AU and King square off in a three-game series, beginning with a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 3, with first-pitch slated for 1 p.m.