Returnees and newcomers to play a big role in Tech’s success in 2012

Returnees and newcomers to play a big role in Tech’s success in 2012

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. --- A bevy of players, both familiar and new, will play a huge factor for head coach Matt Bragga’s Tennessee Tech baseball team in the upcoming 2012 season.

The Golden Eagles will feature 16 returnees and 12 newcomers this season. Tech’s returnees should provide plenty of leadership throughout the season, while several of the newcomers could make a serious impact as the season goes on.
The Golden Eagles open their 2012 campaign at the Red Raider Classic in Lubbock, Texas. To view the Red Raider Classic page click here.


An experienced pitching staff is set to return for the Golden Eagles in the 2012 season, just two seasons removed from winning the 2010 OVC regular season championship. Assistant coach Don Suttles returns for his sophomore season at the helm of the pitching staff and will continue to mold the returning pitchers and several new faces that will ascend the mound this season.

"We quite a few of our starters back from last season, plus a lot of experience coming back in our relief core," Bragga said.

TTU fans will see some familiar faces at the front end of the rotation as both senior Matthew Shepherd and junior Tristan Archer will resume their roles from a season ago. Archer and Shepherd each made 14 starts last season, and combined for 10 wins and two complete games.
Archer, who garnered an OVC Pitcher of the Week honor last season, saved his best performance for last as he kept a powerful Eastern Kentucky lineup at bay as he pitched 7.1 innings and six strikeouts to give Tech the win in the opening round of the OVC Tournament. His seven wins and 88.2 innings pitched were the most among TTU pitchers, while his 67 strikeouts tied for the team lead.
Shepherd finished his season with three wins in 17 appearances over 74.2 innings. His 64 strikeouts ranked third on the team last season compared to 31 walks.
Golden Eagle newcomer David Hess is also expected to be one of TTU’s weekend starters. The right-handed freshman finished his senior season at Tullahoma High School with an 8-1 record and a 1.91 ERA.
Several Golden Eagle pitchers should compete for weekday starts including a pair of returnees in junior Nick Price and sophomore southpaw Jake McWhirter. Price and McWhirter each made eight starts last season, in a combined 34 appearances.
Price finished his season with four wins in 58.2 innings pitched, to go along with 38 strikeouts. His performance against Austin Peay in the second round of the OVC Tournament was one of his best of the season as he threw 3.1 shutout innings in relief, giving up just one hit while blanking three.
McWhirter finished his rookie campaign with 33 strikeouts as he threw 39.2 innings.
The Golden Eagles also have four experienced arms returning to shore up the bullpen, including senior Cullen Park, and sophomores Garrett Baugh, Justin Alexander and Andy Williams.
Park made an immediate impact in the late innings, accounting for four saves, as he made a team-high 27 appearances. His 67 strikeouts tied for the team lead as he posted a 3-3 record and a 4.27 ERA.
Baugh, who finished with a team-best 4.05 ERA, won three games in 18 appearances as he gave up just eight extra base hits.
Eight new faces will join the Golden Eagle pitching staff, including lefties Tanner Williams and Josh Bryant and righties Seth Lucio, Zane Morton, Robert Roach, Byron Skinner and Tyler Wilson.

Roach and Lucio will serve dual roles both on the mound and in the field, while Williams and Bryant will be good matchup options for the Golden Eagles down the stretch.


The Golden Eagles will have several options catcher this season, but none stands out more than senior Ben Burgess.

Burgess has been the mainstay battery mate for the last two seasons that included an OVC championship. During his junior campaign he started in all 54 games drove in 21 runs and scored 35 runs. He also threw out 14 base stealers and picked off four runners.

Joining Burgess behind the plate this season are junior Evan Frazier and newcomers Jordan Hopkins and Aaron Whitten.
Frazier batted .309 in 41 games last season and tallied six home runs and 29 RBI. Hopkins and Whitten should compete for playing time this season as well. Hopkins will be relied upon for his defensive abilities behind the plate.
"We brought Hopkins in as a guys that can defend behind the plate and do all the things necessary on defense," Bragga said

The Tech infield should feature plenty of familiar faces as senior Chad Hayes, junior Zephan Guyear, and freshman Zach Stephens return with a combined total of 146 games played last season.

"The infield should look pretty similar to last season," Bragga said.

At first base, Stephens provided some of the biggest offensive pops last season as he tied for the team-lead in home runs with 10, while driving in a team-high 49 RBI.  A member of the OVC all-Freshman Team, Stephens began his career at Tech with hits in his first 10 games, and put together 18 multi-hit games throughout the season. Stephens was also named Freshman All-American.
Hayes made 53 starts at shortstop last season, where he hit .297, which included one home run and a club-high four triples. On the base paths, Hayes posted three steals in as many attempts. He remained equally as effective in the field as he posted 70 putouts and a team-leading 140 assists.
Guyear split time at second base and third base in 2011. Guyear put together a nine-game hitting streak last season as he drove in 15 runs and scored 19. Newcomers Dylan Bosheers and Lucio will also see some time in the infield and could become regular contributors before the season is done.
"Dylan Bosheer's is an incredible baseball player," Bragga said. "He has the chance to be really good and could start in the infield."
Albert DelGaicco could also see playing time and provide some solid power from the left side of the plate.
Lucio and Bosheer's will compete at second base and Robert Roach is another guy that could work his way into the lineup."

With two of Tech’s mainstays from the outfield last season departing, Tech fans can expect to see some new faces roam around the outfield, but there will be one familiar face in junior Austin Wulf.

Last season, Wulf served as Tech’s left fielder and leadoff hitter as he recorded a .284 batting average and scored 41 runs. In 55 starts, Wulf recorded just one error in the field. His .410 on-base percentage ranked near the top of the team last season as he tallied 61 hits and 30 walks.
Five other players could see some time in the outfield this season including returnees Michael Morris and sophomore Tevis Sherfield and three newcomers including David Allen and Hess, and junior transfer James Abraham.
"James Abraham is exactly what we look for in a player," Bragga said. "He's going to make a great contribution."

Morris hit .288 in 29 games last season, which included a home run and a double.

Abraham and Sherfield are the prototypical scrappy Golden Eagle outfielders that are not afraid to get dirty. Morris should also see some time in the outfield as well.
"Sherfield and Morris will also compete for playing time in the outfield," Bragga said. "Sherfield and Morris are both solid players who give you everything they got."

The 2012 schedule should prove interesting as the Golden Eagles will host 30 games at home and take on some of the best teams the NCAA has to offer.

Nine of Tech’s 2012 opponents are either ranked in the preseason poll or are listed among teams receiving votes for the poll. The poll includes Vanderbilt (ranked 23rd), Clemson (25th) and Missouri State (31st). The opponents who have received enough attention to be earning votes include Texas Tech, Illinois State, Kentucky, Tennessee, Central Michigan and Austin Peay.
One of the biggest changes Tech baseball fans will notice with this upcoming season is the switch in the OVC schedule format. For a quarter of a century, a three-game OVC series featured a doubleheader one day and a single game the next. Now a three-game series will take place over a three-day stretch, with all three games scheduled for nine innings.
After opening with four games in Texas and a road game at East Tennessee (Feb. 22), the Golden Eagles will host a remarkable stretch with 13 of the next 15 games at home in the Averitt Express Baseball Complex, including four non-conference three-game sets. The home schedule begins Feb. 24-26 with a visit from Illinois State, one of those teams receiving votes. Tech will also host Dayton (March 2-4), Evansville (March 9-11) and Central Michigan (March 16-18). Also in the midst of that stretch is a single home game with Lipscomb.
TTU’s non-conference schedule will also have a little regional flair to it as it takes on several different opponents in and around Tennessee.
Middle Tennessee, Lipscomb and Belmont are each slated for a pair of games against the Golden Eagles this season, in addition to four single games at Vanderbilt (March 27), East Tennessee State (Feb. 22), Tennessee (March 13) and Bragga’s alma mater, Kentucky (March 6).
The OVC Tournament, which will be held in Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn., is scheduled for May 23-27 for the top six teams in the OVC standings.