SAC coaches predict Eagles for seventh-place finish

SAC coaches predict Eagles for seventh-place finish

VIDEO: Tom Griffin Interview

ROCK HILL, S.C. – The South Atlantic Conference released its preseason coaches' poll Monday morning with Carson-Newman slotted seventh out of 11 teams.

"I think our preparation has been very consistent," Carson-Newman coach Tom Griffin said. "I think we can control the things we can control. I think the energy is what you're looking for with good energy levels. Some passion and enthusiasm, the guys have certainly brought that no matter the conditions.

Carson-Newman finished the 2015 season with a winning record of 25-21 for the first time since 2012 (28-26) while finishing at least four games over .500 for the first time since 2010 (31-18). The Eagles finished eighth in the regular season standings last season and fell to Wingate in the opening game of the SAC Championships.

There are big shoes to fill for the Eagles as five of the top nine batters have graduated and seven pitchers have left Mossy Creek including three starting pitchers. Outfielder Bo Ausmus, first basemen Evan Jurjevic and pitcher Jamie Miller were All-SAC picks in 2015 and are no longer on the roster.

58 percent of the 2015 team's total hits and 54 percent of the team's RBIs are gone while 70 percent of the total innings pitched are no longer on the roster. All-Region pick Vince Apicella (Dillsburg, Pa.) is expected to lead the pitching staff after tying the school's Division II mark for complete games with six and ranking second with 111 strikeouts in a season. Excluding Apicella, Carson-Newman's returning pitchers threw 35.1 innings in 2015.

At the plate, the Eagles have added depth with transfers to accompany the top returning player, senior third basemen Brandon Roberts (Davie, Fla.). Roberts was third on the roster last season with a .302 batting average.

"Fortunately we have the fall which allows us some grace period to get [the transfers] into the idea of what our culture and program is all about," Griffin said. "Having that time allows us to shape guys into fitting into the culture. We have a good mix of freshman and Juco guys so the leaders on your team have to bring them in and get them to fit in. Our leaders did a fantastic job early on."

Catawba is projected to win the league taking on 10 first-place votes finishing as the National Runner-Up in 2015 after falling to Tampa in the Division II Championship series. The Indians lost two-way star Craig Brooks, the National Pitcher of the Year, as the seventh-round pick of the Chicago Cubs last season but return National Hitter of the Year Will Albertson.

Tusculum picked up the other first-place vote and is projected to finish second in the league after a third-place finish last season with a 33-19 record. The Pioneers placed two pitchers on the preseason first-team All-SAC team in starter Placido Torres and reliever Devan Watts.

After finishing second last season, Newberry is pinned third this season despite losing one of the top pitchers in the league over the last several years in Wesley Camp and stud first basemen Albert Baur, who was taken in the 28th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The reigning SAC Tournament Champions, Wingate, find themselves in fourth to begin the season. The big loss for the Bulldogs is Thomas Spitz, a 32nd round selection of the St. Louis Cardinals. They do return the 2015 Freshman of the Year Bradley Brown to lead one of the most potent offenses in the conference.

Lenoir-Rhyne was picked sixth in the conference and will need to replace dual-threat Ivan Vieitez, a perennial all-conference selection, from a team that recorded the fourth-highest overall winning percentage last season.

Anderson returns one of the league's top bats in first basemen Steven Cooper as the Trojans are projected for eighth. Mars Hill, Brevard and Coker are at the bottom of the table with a decent gap between the trio and Anderson.

Carson-Newman begins its 2016 campaign at Limestone on Tuesday, Feb. 2 in Gaffney, S.C. at 2 p.m. Every baseball game with be broadcast on the Eagle Sports Network in 2016 with broadcast coverage beginning 10 minutes prior to first pitch with pregame interviews and starting lineups leading up to the first pitch.

School (First-Place Votes)


Catawba (10)


Tusculum (1)






Lincoln Memorial








Mars Hill






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