ANDERSON, S.C. – While coming off one of the best seasons since joining the South Atlantic Conference in 2011, the Anderson University baseball team is looking to build on the momentum generated from last season, when the Trojans won six of their final nine league games and won their final three weekend series to earn a berth in last year's SAC Tournament.
When the first pitch is tossed Friday afternoon, AU will begin its quest for its fourth appearance in the SAC Championship in six seasons after making a deep run in last year's conference tournament with upset wins over Lenoir-Rhyne, Catawba and Tusculum, while coming within one win of reaching the championship game.
AU head coach Joe Miller, who is entering his 29th season in the dugout at Anderson and his 23rd campaign at the helm of the Trojan program, noted "we had to play well the last four weeks of the season last year to even get to the (SAC) Tournament. We won three of our last four series to even get into the tournament and then we get within one game of the championship game."
"We had five really exciting, enjoyable games and we played well," he added. "That's something to build on. The guys got a taste of success and they've had a little different attitude and are approaching things a little differently. They believe they can play with anybody in the conference."
While Miller faces the unenviable task of replacing a pair of position players, who were also the No. 1 and No. 2 hitters in the starting lineup, the Trojans return six position players from last year's starting lineup.
AU, which set a school record with 57 home runs a season ago, despite playing in one of the bigger ballparks in the conference, only lost four home runs from last year's squad, so the potential offensive firepower will still be there. The Black and Gold pitching staff also lost just one starting hurler and one reliever on the mound from last season.
"Every day we'll be able to put six or seven guys in the lineup that have home run potential." added Miller. "In college baseball, you'd better score runs. And we'll also be experienced on the mound."
Buoyed by five seniors, the Trojan pitching staff includes nine upperclassmen that accounted for 19 victories and seven saves a year ago.
Miller has an abundance of options to choose from when it comes to the infield, as the roster features depth and versatility, as well as experience.
After drawing a starting nod in 99 games over the past two seasons, Dillon Carpenter returns for his third full campaign with the Trojans. The Charlotte, N.C., native has garnered well-deserved attention during the preseason after capturing Second-Team All-SAC honors at the conclusion of last season. He earned First-Team All-Conference accolades and was named to the to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Preseason All-Region First Team earlier this month after ranking in the top-25 in the league in seven offensive categories last year.
Sophomore Chase Stephens appeared in 32 games last season, while starting 14 contests. The Easley, S.C., native served in a pinch-hitting role in 10 games as a freshman and drove in nine runs.
Sophomore Will Lindsey is the returning second baseman after starting 22 contests at the spot last season. A native of Hendersonville, N.C., Lindsey posted a .274 batting average a year ago, while recording four multiple-hit games and six RBI.
Lindsey will be joined by a versatile trio of true freshman – Logan Jackson, Cooper Woods and Jacob Kohns - who may see playing time at any spot on the diamond at any given time. Sophomore Trevor Weisner, who played in 11 games last season at second base, will likely see time at second base this season, as well.
Heading into Opening Day, the leading candidate to occupy the hot corner in 2019 is true freshman Jack Fassino. The Seneca, S.C., native will probably hit 7th or 8th in the lineup this season and the Trojans will look for the newcomer to take advantage of his power in the lower third of the lineup.
Weisner, who posted a .265 batting average, with a pair of doubles and three RBI may also see time at third base.
With veteran Tyler Miller's departure, look for senior Jackson Strange to inherit the shortstop position and slide over from third. Strange has appeared in more than a hundred games over the last three seasons, including 85 on the left side of the infield. He was named to the SAC All-Tournament team last year after started all five games at third base and batting .350, while notching three doubles and a pair of home runs for an impressive .800 slugging percentage during the tournament. The Greenville, S.C., native drove in six runs and scored five runs to help lead AU to its deepest run in the SAC Tournament in program history.
He notched a .310 batting average on the season, while leading the squad and ranking sixth in the league with 19 doubles and was 13th in the SAC with nine home runs and 15th in the league with 43 RBI.
The Trojans will look to yet another pair of veterans behind the plate to help anchor the defense, as redshirt junior Joseph Strange and sophomore Tyler Berry combined to work 47 games last season.
Strange notched 20 hits last season, including a pair of home runs and three doubles, while recording six multiple-hit games and committing just one error in his time behind the plate. Berry posted a .287 batting average last season and scored 17 runs, including a season-high three times in a win over Young Harris in early April. The Lexington, S.C., native notched six multi-hit games and had a five-game hitting streak from late March into early April.
Senior James Gardner, who hit .250 in limited action last season, will add additional depth, while possibly seeing time a designated hitter as well. Sophomore Davis Goodyear will compete for playing time behind the plate, while senior Brandon Odachowski, who caught seven contests in 2018 and saw action in 29 games as a designated hitter, may transition into the DH role.
Returning for his junior season in left field will be Spartanburg, S.C., native Matt Overton, while junior college transfer Cody Adams will patrol center field. Redshirt sophomore Chandler Castleberry, who captured Preseason First-Team All-SAC and NCBWA Preseason All-Region First Team honors earlier this month, will draw the starting nod in right field.
Overton started 51 games last season, including 48 contests in left field and led the league with 52 walks. He notched 47 hits, including six doubles and 12 home runs, including a pair of grand slams and drove in 43 runs.
Both Adams and Castleberry have caught the attention of baseball publications, with Adams being named as a Newcomer to Watch by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper after an impressive career at USC Salkehatchie. He posted a .334 batting average while seeing action in 90 games over a two-year span. Adams earned All-Conference accolades and notched 19 doubles, six home runs and five triples, while driving in 48 runs with the Indians.
Castleberry earned Second-Team All-Conference honors at the conclusion of last season and is the reigning SAC Freshman of the Year. The Waxhaw, N.C., native was fourth in the conference with a school-record 16 home runs last season, including a grand slam at North Greenville and ranked in the top-20 in the conference in seven statistical categories.
Sophomores Dalton Shaw and Will O'Brien, along with redshirt junior Daniel Blazejewski will also battle for playing time after combining to see action in 40 games a season ago. The trio has shown that they can hit the ball and the outfield should be strong defensively, as well. All three are talented enough to see playing time on any given day.
On Opening Day, the pitching staff is expected to feature six upperclassmen, including four seniors, who are potential starters vying for time on the mound, whether it's on the weekend or in mid-week contests. The six combined for 13 victories and six saves a year ago.
Right-handed hurlers Will Gee and Austin Todd each led the staff with five wins apiece a season ago, with Gee logging a team-high 57 2/3 innings in the mound in 13 appearances. Todd captured All-SAC Tournament honors in 2018, after tossing a complete-game, three-hit gem to help lead the eighth-seeded Trojans to a 4-1 upset of top-seeded Catawba in the tourney. The native of Pelzer, S.C., native had a perfect game through 7 2/3 innings and flirted with a shutout until the Indians plated an unearned run in the ninth inning. He surrendered three hits over the final two innings, while striking out five batters on the day and did not issue a walk.
Matthew Stanley, a senior left-hander, served as AU's closer last season and led the relief corps with five saves, but is expected to transition into a starting role in 2019. He fanned 30 batters and walked just 11 in 24 2/3 innings last season. Brent Reynolds is a junior southpaw who posted a stellar 3.61 ERA in more than 42 innings of work a season ago, while right-handers John McMicking and Stetson Scott each return for their senior campaigns.
A pair of upperclassmen - senior leftie Christian Hendrix and junior right-hander Christian Carpenter - are expected to anchor the relief corps, after combining to work more than 80 innings in 43 appearances out of the bullpen last season. Junior Alex Medlin, who saw action at second base a year ago, is expected to devote his full attention to his efforts on the mound as a right-handed pitcher in 2019.
Four sophomores - Justin Helms, Lake Boseman, Britt Thomas and junior college transfer sophomore Cameron Hall - along with redshirt freshman Christian Gray, will add quality depth on the mound and all are expected to throw innings for the Trojans. Newcomers who could also see time on the mound either as starters or out of the bullpen are Bryson Whaley, Lucas Smith, Gage Gambrell, Austin Hart, Zach McClure, Malachi Wilson and Kyle Rogers.
The Trojans will play 10 contests in 2019 against four teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last season, and open the campaign with seven of its first eight games and 12 of its first 15 contests in the Electric City.
AU opens the 2019 schedule with a three-game homestand against King on Friday, marking the eighth time in 10 years that the Trojans have started the season in the friendly confines of Anderson Memorial Stadium.
The two teams have only met three times – all in last year's season-opening series – with AU winning two of the three contests. The Tornado finished fifth in Conference Carolinas last season with a 29-19 overall record, including a 10-12 mark in league play.
First-pitch is slated for 3 p.m.