JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – The final part of the 2019 Carson-Newman baseball position previews takes a look at the pitchers and catchers with senior Greg Valentine for a unit that loses two key cogs and returns a preseason all-league selection.
There are two big holes to fill for the Eagles on the rubber starting with Will Gardner. The closer was drafted in the 21st round of Major League Baseball's draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The second-team All-South Atlantic Conference pick led the nation after the regular season with 12 saves. The righty appeared in 38 games with seven wins, 12 saves, five complete games and 122 strikeouts and 44 walks in 118 2/3 innings pitched.
At the start of games, Academic All-American Dillon Cate graduated finishing his one season at Mossy Creek as a first-team all-conference selection. The redshirt-senior was 27th in the country for strikeouts and ranked second in the league with 97 on the season in 80 1/3 innings pitched. His six wins were tied for fifth while his 4.30 ERA is 11th.
The leading candidate to take Cate's role is 2018 SAC All-Tournament team pick Matt Bradley (Talbott, Tenn.). After spending time in the field, the Eagles moved the righty to the weekend rotation where he finished the season with a 2.14 ERA in 33 2/3 innings pitched, good for the third-lowest clip (min. 25 IP) in program history. He struck out a career-high 11 in his first complete against Anderson in the SAC Baseball Championships on April 28, 2018 allowing one run on six hits and a walk.
Carson-Newman has a pair of other hurlers that spent time in the weekend rotation but could not maintain consistency in Kyle Cagle (Fairview, N.C.) and Dalton Long (Powell, Tenn.). Cagle dabbled with a no-hitter in his first outing of the year before finishing the season with a 3-2 record and a 3.81 ERA coming out of the bullpen. Long punched out 10 batters in his debut but failed to go four innings in each of his last five outings of the year.
Valentine is coming off of his best season of his career as he went 6-1 with a 3.53 ERA striking out 42 in 27 appearances. He netted the SAC and Region Pitcher of the Week honors over the last week of February. He enters his senior season 13 games shy of setting the school's all-time record for games by a pitcher held by Ryan Fillers (88) from 2010-13.
"I asked what am I lacking here," Valentine said. "The big thing for me was the mental side. I threw pitches that I needed to throw but I wasn't as detailed in my mind as I wanted to be. I started visually success and different situations I would be in. That gave me experience going into games I was going to be in."
The conference's Elite 20 winner, given to the athlete at a championship site with the highest GPA, Ryan Victory (Brentwood, Tenn.) has made 50 career appearances as a starter, opener and reliever. Adding to the experienced group, Austin Conner (Sevierville, Tenn.) has pitched in 41 outings.
There are nearly a dozen additional options for pitching coach Mark Allen Bounds to use including returners Luke Friedman (Gilbert, Ariz.) and Cameron Bloebaum (Kinsey, Ala.). Newcomers Nick Adkins (Knoxville, Tenn.), Hunter Long (Powell, Tenn.) and Dawson Sims (Stafford, Va.) expect to accumulate innings.
"You want to lead them by example obviously," Valentine said. "I also want them to use what I have done with the visualization. If you haven't been in those situations before, you want to visualize and get yourself as close to that experience as possible. It's something we have all been doing as a staff. I think this staff has the most chemistry I've ever seen before. We are always in the locker room and dugout helping each other out."
Behind the dish, Ethan Goforth (Blacksburg, Va.) caught nearly every inning for the Eagles as a sophomore producing a second-team All-SAC season and a Gold Glove campaign. He finished fourth in the SAC in stolen bases (17) and sixth in doubles (19) and led the league by throwing out 16 would-be base stealers.
"I think he's one of the better catchers as far as offense, defense, his personality, his leadership, everything," Valentine said. "Having him behind the plate is such a presence. When we are up there on the mound, it's not just me versus the batter. It's me and the catcher versus that one batter, two versus one."
Goforth should get some help at the position from rookie Chris Caldwell (Seymour, Tenn.) where he earned a trip to the state championship under former C-N All-American Kyle Koeneman.
The season begins on Feb. 1 in the first of a four-game series for the Eagles in Gaffney, S.C. against Limestone. Fans can catch all of the action this year on cneagles.com/live as the Eagle Sports Network will provide audio for all games and video for the home outings.
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