Several things were determined
during fall practice, but what eighth-year head coach Doug
Darnall decided was, at most positions, there were no clear-cut
favorites to start. The Southwest baseball program
will start the spring with 38 uniformed players. Coach Darnall states
"This is an awful lot of players to deal with on a daily basis,
but we feel each and every one can help us in some way." The
talent level of the Saluqi squad is probably the best in Darnallís
tenure, which will provide depth at each position. "The biggest
problem that coach Ray and I have is going to be determining who will
play. It is very important for us to find out early in the season
which lineup best suits us." The Saluqis return six position
players that started at least 31 games a year ago. Mixed that with a
fine recruiting class of freshmen, and the sky is the limit.
THE PITCHING STAFF
On the mound, the Southwest
staff is pretty much untested at the
collegiate level. Only four pitchers from the 2002 squad saw substantial
time with Scott Nobles being the most experienced. Nobles served as
the Saluqisí closer last year, but now should be one of the teamís
conference starters. Pitching coach Johnny
Ray says "Itís hard to make a decision
on Scottís role because you want the ball in his hands at the end of
the game. But, on the other hand, he deserves a chance to be our staff
Depth on the mound will
hopefully pay off. As the spring season begins,
16 pitchers will toe the rubber. "We did not have many pitchers
stepped up in the fall and solidified his position in our
rotation," said Ray. "We have plenty of options and that
will hopefully be a plus for us over the course of the season."
Another sophomore who will bid for mound
time will be hard-throwing Marshall
Mullins. With some consistency, Mullins could step into the closer
role. Ray says "Marshall loses focus at times and forgets he has
to be a pitcher instead of trying to blow the ball past the hitter.
You canít do that for very long in this league." Steven
Miller and Jay Ham are two other sophomores who have been through the
rigorous schedule before.
A possible key to the
staffís success will be the health of red-shirt
transfers Charlie Ligon and Russell Wren. Both have strong arms and
could dominate opponents. Ligon, who spent a season at Motlow State,
returns closer to his home of Munford. The big righthander is nearly
recovered from Tommy John Surgery and
should be able to contribute early. Wren, another righty, transfers
from Crichton College and in the past has experienced some soreness in
his pitching arm. If healthy, he could return to the form which
allowed to set the Arkansas High School single game strikeout record.
Other pitchers battling for a starting
role will be freshmen Jamie Carrico, Michael Steele, Josh Meeker,
Shane Jackson, and Matt Napier.
Carrico is a legitimate
pro prospect from Bolton High School who can touch 90 miles per hour
on the radar gun. Coach Ray says of Carrico, "When he stays
within himself, he is as good as anybody Iíve seen at this level.
What Jamie needs to concentrate on is being more fluid in hismechanics
and not trying to do something heís not capable of."
Steele is a 6 foot 5
inch righthander from Houston High School. He uses four pitches
effectively and has command of the strike zone. He had a super fall
season. Meeker a transfer at
the semester from Eastfield (TX) Junior College,
has impressed the coaching staff with his early workouts. Ray says,
"Obviously, with the number of pitchers we had after the fall
ended we werenít really looking for anyone else. However, Josh has
displayed a live arm and a good work ethic so far and I think he will
be a major contributer." Jackson
and Napier are both crafty lefthanders who rely on location
on off-speed pitches to be successful. Casey
Cunningham, Nick Albonetti, Daniel Baugh, Drew Buford, and Jeffrey
Dupre will all bolster the bullpen and should see plenty of mound
time. Buford could emerge as the closer if Mullins falters in that
The Saluqis have tons of
experience returning in the outfield. Sophomores
Wes Daniels (left field), Patrick Williams (center), and Dusty Harris
(right) earned the majority of playing time in 2002. Another
sophomore, Brandon Doss, could factor in the plans as well after
transferring back home from Jackson State Community College. Also
trying to prove themselves are freshmen Tyler Lee, Nathan Simpson, Tim
Turner, and Jared Meadows. "Early in the season, we might be in a
platoon situation so we can see sho will help," stated Darnall.
"We have asked all our outfielders to step and get the job done.
They will now have to show it on the field."
Williams is the most
proven of the bunch. The 2002 All-TJCCAA selection had a slendid
freshman campaign when he batted .301 with two home runs and 26 runs
batted in. He also stole a team-high 26 bases. Williamsí most
valuable asset to the team may be his defensive ability. He
patrols centerfield flawlessly, giving the pitcher a welcomed comfort
zone. Pitching coach Johnny Ray says, "The pitchers know that
when a ball goes up, that as long as it stays in the yard,
"Peanut" will run it down." Williams
also threw out eight baserunners in 2002.
Daniels is the most
streaky of the outfield hitters. As a lefthanded hitter, the honorable
mention All-TJCCAA pick will get his cuts in against righthanded
pitchers. He should anchor one of the corner positions and will supply
power at the plate. Daniels led the team with three home runs during
the fall season. Harris is a
returning outfielder who Darnall wants to rely on, but he has to prove
he is up to the challenge. His production fell off during the last
half of his freshman season when he became impatient at the plate.
Harris still managed six home runs and 24 runs batted in, but struck
out 34 times. Doss is a
multipurpose speedster who will command playing time somewhere. He
needs to become more comfortable in the outfield to be effective.
Simpson, Lee, Meadows, and Turner each bring something different to
the table and will push the frontrunners for playing time.
A pair of returnees will be
back to anchor a much improved defensive unit. Second baseman Chris
Brock moves back to his natural position after playing shortstop much
of last season. Darnall says, "We knew Chris was out of position
last year, but he was our best candidate. We applaude him for sticking
it out." Brett Beckwith will have the inside track on the
starting job at third base. He is the Saluqisí leading returning
hitter from 2002, when he hit .349. His offensive production fell off
this fall, but he played terrific defense. "If he can combine the
two he will have a tremendous
year," stated Darnall.
Chris Hebert will put
the heat on Beckwith to do well. Hebert is a good looking athlete who
is getting better everyday. He will benefit from being redshirted in
2002, and will be a factor before he graduates.
At first base, each
player had their bright moments in the fall. Freshmen Casey Cunningham
and Kevin Terrell will battle with sophomore Mac McAlister for the
starting nod. Since Cunningham is a lefthanded hitter, and Terrell and
McAlister are both righthanded, a platoon system may be used. Jacob
Barker and Jacob Whisenhunt also could see time at first when not
behind the plate.
The shortstop will be
Dustin Shields of Amory, Mississippi. The freshman has good range and
a solid throwing arm. He struggled at the plate in the fall, but his
work ethic and athletic ability should help him be a mainstay in the
Brandon Doss will push
both Brock and Shields for playing time. Doss may be the Saluqisí
best athlete and most valuable player. He has the ability to play
several positions on the field.
Reggie Huguet (the
first Puerto Rican player at Southwest), Michael Fonte, Jonathan
Hackett, and Jared Meadows all provide depth in the infield.
The Saluqis will be solid
behind the plate. Returning start Jacob Barker and redshirt freshmen
Nick Smith and Jacob Whisenhunt are all capable of emerging as the
team leader behind the plate. Pitching coach Johnny Ray says, "We
definitely have three catchers who swing the stick very well. What I
am looking for, though, is to see who works well with the
Barker led the Saluqis
in home runs (8) and RBI (40) a year ago as he logged the vast
majority of the catching duties. "Jacobís load will be
lightened this year with the addition of Smith and Whisenhunt and
hopefully his offensive production will go up," said Darnall.
Smith is a bonafide
power threat from the left side of the plate. He started his college
career at Dyersburg State before deciding to sit out and retain his
eligibility. He is a definite team leader and is one of those players
coaches love having on their team. Darnall says, "His motor is
always running at 110%."
Whisenhunt is a
semester transfer from the University of West Alabama in Livingston.
The coaching staff is learning more and more about "The
Whiz" each day, but early indications show that he may be the
best defensive catcher of the trio.
Saluqi baseball has a solid
group of non-conference opponents to provide quality competition early
in the season. These schools include: Bevill State-Sumiton (AL),
Coahoma (MS), East Central (MS), East Mississippi,
Lincoln Trail (IL), Northeast Mississippi, Olive-Harvey (IL), Shawnee
(IL), and St. Louis-Florissant Valley. The Tennessee Junior and
Community Athletic Association looks to be
as tough as ever, especially since the conference has dissolved the
East and West Divisions.
Southwest will play
three-game series against all ten TJCCAA schools. The Saluqis will
oppose former West Division opponents Columbia State, Dyersburg State,
Jackson State, and Volunteer State, as well as
Cleveland State, Hiwassee, Motlow State, Roane State, and Walters
State from the eastern part of the state. Bus trips will be longer and
more demanding with trips to Morristown, Cleveland, and Harriman to
play conference games.