JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – With the beginning of the 2016 season looming for Carson-Newman baseball, the athletic communications department will look at the position previews finishing with a look at the pitchers and catchers with junior catcher Greg Jones (Maryville, Tenn.).
The missing piece behind the plate is the graduation of J.D. Cowart, a consistent backstop for the Eagles. He hit .297 in 2015 a long ball and eight RBIs.
Carson-Newman coach Tom Griffin has to replace three starting pitchers from a year ago. Quinton Yocom, Jamie Miller and Logan Shaftner leave vacancies on the bump this season.
Yocom was a three-year hurler for the Eagles making 32 starts while winning eight games. In 2015, the righty tossed three complete games and hurled 80 innings, the second-most on the roster.
Miller was a second-team All-South Atlantic Conference pick last season going 5-2 with a 3.31 earned run average in his lone season in Mossy Creek. Miller tossed three complete games as the seven-inning Saturday starter.
Shaftner was primarily a midweek starter and pitched in relief going 3-1 with a 5.07 ERA.
Griffin also has to replace two reliable relievers in Michael Cogliano and Carson Bryant. Cogliano pitched in a team-high 23 games hurling 35.1 innings. Bryant recorded six saves last year, the most by a C-N pitcher since Corbin Arial's six in 2008.
Behind the plate, Jones provides knowledge of the pitching staff entering his third season on campus. The junior drove in 17 runs and clubbed four homers last season as he's primed for a breakout campaign. Six times in 30 games in 2015 Jones drove in multiple runs.
"These two past seasons with the time that I've got, the one word I can say is disappointing," Jones said. "I didn't live up to my full potential with the chances that I got. That is the one thing that has driven me for this offseason. To be able to come in day-in and day-out, work hard, get the reps needed and then to make an impact on this team."
Joining Jones behind the plate is senior Gooch Greer (Dickson, Tenn.). The high-IQ backstop brings a defensive prowess and leadership to the diamond.
A pair of newcomers, junior Zach Gentry (Pleasant View, Tenn.) and freshman Logan Peterson (Chickamuaga, Ga.), will also vie for time. Gentry hit .254 in 26 games for Columbia State Community College while Peterson was a two-time state runner-up for Gordon Lee High School.
"One of the greatest assets on our team has to be Gooch Greer," Jones said. "With all the experience that he's had, he's been here a while but he has been a great mentor to me. Zach Gentry is another great asset. Having him in the lineup would be like not missing a beat. Logan Peterson, being a freshman coming in, can be very difficult. He adds a lot of power to the lineup with his bat. He also has a great arm and great potential."
Fortunately for the Eagles, all-region starter Vince Apicella will begin his senior season after being one of the top starters in the nation last season. Apicella tied the NCAA school record for complete games with six and ranked fourth in the country with 111 punch outs last season. The preseason first-team All-SAC selection struck out 10 or more seven times and went 7-5 with a 3.70 ERA a year ago.
"I want to see the younger guys excel and be able to help them throughout the season and teach them more about pitching," Apicella said. "Take all of the knowledge that I have learned from [former pitchers] and pass it on down and teach them what I know and help them out throughout the season."
Joining Apicella in the starting rotation is freshman righty Austin Ray (Swords Creek, Va.), junior right-hander Robert Plohr (O'Fallon, Mo.), senior righty Dustin Batson (Pisgah Forest, N.C.) and junior right-hander Ryan Eberle (Cookeville, Tenn.).
Ray was a first-team all-state pitcher in Virginia in 2015 winning the state title at Virginia High School. In 2014 he was the state player of the year and recorded a career record of 34-0 with an ERA hovering around one.
Plohr comes to C-N from St. Louis University where he made 21 relief appearances as a sophomore in 2015. Overall he made 40 appearances for the Billikens including a six-inning effort against Fordham where he scattered five hits and a run as sophomore.
Batson went 2-0 with a 5.23 ERA in 12 appearances during his first season for the Eagles. His lone start of the year came on April 7 at UVA-Wise where he worked 5.2 innings and struck out a career-high seven.
Eberle will see time in the midweek having made four starts in his Carson-Newman career winning two contests during his time.
The bullpen will feature a bevy of fresh faces this season with five freshman and four freshman looking for time at the end of games.
"One question mark coming in is what is our pitching staff going to be like this year," Jones said. "We lost a lot of key guys in the bullpen. These guys come in here and they understand that we don't have the pitching staff that we thought we would but they are coming in and working hard. We saw our preseason rankings and it only motivates them to work hard to prove everybody wrong."
Carson-Newman begins its season on Feb. 2 with a road trip to Limestone for a 2 p.m. first pitch. Broadcast coverage begins on the Eagle Sports Network at 1:50 p.m. with a pregame interview and starting lineups leading up to the initial toss.
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