LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- Temperatures are still rather chilly on Lookout Mountain, but the start of baseball season is just around the corner. Coming off another winning season in 2012, the Covenant baseball team is again looking for a successful campaign as the year begins on Saturday at home against Berea College.
The Scots look to have an imposing batting lineup as nearly every key offensive player returns from last season. Covenant's biggest loss will be 2012 NCCAA Mid-East Region Player of the Year James Rollins, who hit .464 and had a 20-game hitting streak during the season. Rollins is now an assistant on head coach Doug Simons' coaching staff.
Even with the loss of Rollins, Covenant will still have the likes of senior Sterling Witt, juniors David Lockwood and Chris Rollins, and sophomores Will Cleland, Scott Gillespie, and K.C. Simons coming back this year. Lockwood is Covenant's most polished hitter as he batted .365 with a team-high 21 doubles last year. Witt tied for the team lead with five home runs, Gillespie led the Scots with 36 runs batted in, while both Simons and Cleland each had solid freshman seasons at the plate and as a middle infield combination.
"This should be our best lineup since I've been at Covenant," said head coach Doug Simons. "We return seven of our nine hitters from last year's lineup, plus adding some strong bats from our recruiting class."
Covenant also gained several newcomers that could make an immediate impact. The most notable freshman is Perry Rigby (Decatur, Ala.).
Rigby originally signed with the University of Alabama-Birmingham, but decided to transfer after the fall semester. The native of Decatur, Ala., earned numerous accolades and awards during his high school career. Rigby was twice named a Bobby Valentine All-American and also earned Under Armour Preseason All-American recognition in 2011. Rigby was ranked as the 13th-best high school player in the state of Alabama and the 247th-best high school player in the country, according to Perfect Games.
Other key newcomers include Patrick Sanderson (Auburn, Ala.), Stephen Wray (Lawrenceville, Ga.), and Braeden Lane (Milton, Ga.). Simons said all three of those newcomers, plus Rigby, should contribute to the lineup this season.
On the pitching side, Covenant lost most of its staff from last season, including ace Tyler Smith. The Scots return sophomores Alec Mitchell, Keith Rice, and Micah Mabe. However, Coach Simons tabbed freshman Garrett Kriston (Trinity, Fla.) as the most likely candidate to be the Covenant ace this season. Those four pitchers, plus another freshman in Alhanon Miller (Yakima, Wash.), look to get the bulk of the innings this season for the Scots.
Overall, Coach Simons says this year's squad "should be the strongest lineup and defensive team in Covenant's history. Pitching will be young and inexperienced, but potentially strong. How our young pitchers perform this year will determine our success in the won-loss column."
The 2013 schedule has a couple of teams that received votes in the preseason D3baseball.com top 25 in Huntingdon and Emory. Covenant plays familiar Division III foes including Birmingham Southern, Maryville, LaGrange, Piedmont, Berry, and Emory & Henry. The Scots also play NCCAA regional foes in Tennessee Temple and Hiwassee as well as former NAIA conference rival Milligan. All told, the Scots have 40 regular season games scheduled.
Entering his eighth season as head coach (seventh as a varsity program), Doug Simons will achieve his 100th career win at Covenant with the Scots' first victory of the season. Simons has led Covenant to three straight seasons of .500 or better records.
All home varsity games will once again feature live stats through this link. Be sure to also follow along with the Scots on Twitter (@CovenantScots) and Facebook (facebook.com/CovenantScots) for updates throughout the season.
Covenant opens the season on Feb. 9 with a home doubleheader against Berea starting at 12 p.m.