LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN – It was a year filled with milestones for the Covenant baseball team. The Scots, in their seventh year of intercollegiate competition after the program was restored, set a modern era record for victories and were selected to the NCCAA World Series for the first time.
The list of accomplishments, both team and individual, is deep. Covenant won 28 games (modern school record), made its first trip to NCCAA World Series, head coach Doug Simons registered his 100th career win, sophomore pitcher Micah Mabe was selected as an NCCAA All-American, and plenty of others.
"I'm really proud of the guys and how they performed this season. Not only for their talent, but also their character," said Simons.
The season got off on the right foot as the Scots swept a doubleheader from Berea in early February. The two wins gave Simons wins No. 100 and 101 in his Covenant coaching career. A former Major League pitcher, Simons was brought to Covenant in the mid-2000s to help restore the baseball program. After a couple of lean years, Simons and his coaching staff have turned the Scots into a consistent winner.
Covenant continued its torrid pace to start the season. The Scots won 15 of their first 18 games, setting a school record for best start in the process. The winning streak came to a peak on April 5 when the Scots routed Tennessee Temple 15-3 behind a record-tying six RBIs from Scott Gillespie. After 26 games, the team had amassed a 21-5 record and had been ranked as high as No. 3 in the NCCAA.
Stiffer competition awaited the Scots over the final few weeks of the season as they fell to perennial power Birmingham Southern and eventual NCAA tournament participant Huntingdon. The Scots took two-out-of-three on the road at LaGrange in the final weekend of the regular season.
In that LaGrange series, Covenant received some outstanding pitching performances. In game one, Mabe started and allowed three runs in the first inning. Saying the lefty settled down after that inning would be an understatement. Mabe went on to throw eight straight scoreless innings for a complete-game and struck out a record 13 batters along the way as he moved to 7-1 on the season. Although Mabe was dominant, it took a two-run rally in the top of the ninth for the Scots to claim a 4-3 comeback victory.
The following day, freshman Garrett Kriston tossed a gem of his own. Kriston worked a complete-game and surrendered four hits (none after the third inning) and one unearned run while striking out eight on just 79 total pitches as Covenant won 3-1.
Even with a 25-13 record at the end of the regular season, Covenant received a five seed heading into the NCCAA Mid-East Region Tournament. The Scots were victorious in their first game before dropping the second game to No. 1 seed Campbellsville. Staving off elimination, the Scots won two games in one day over Tennessee Temple and Union (TN). But the tournament came to an end on Saturday as the Scots fell to host Trevecca Nazarene.
The loss to Trevecca almost certainly marked the end of the season as Covenant finished third in the regional. With the NCCAA World Series only taking three at-large teams, the Scots seemed like a very long shot to be selected.
However, fate was on the side of the Scots this year. Simons received a call late Saturday night after the region tournament that Covenant had been selected as the final at-large team in the World Series field. For the first time in school history, the baseball team was headed to the NCCAA World Series in Mason, Ohio.
Reaching the big stage for the first time, Covenant received local recognition as NBC news affiliate, WRCB TV, came up Lookout Mountain to run a feature story on the Scots. View story here.
Once in Ohio, the team faced a daunting task as the 10-seed in a 10-team tournament. Covenant faced Arizona Christian in game one and rallied to take a 5-4 lead heading into the last inning. But ACU hit a walk-off three-run homer to beat the Scots 8-5. Covenant fell twice more the following day to Emmanuel and Campbellsville as they were eliminated from advancing in the tournament. The Scots had one last shot to pick up a victory, but could not hold on to a 2-1 lead as Olivet Nazarene rallied for a 5-2 win.
Even with the losses in the World Series, the Scots had a remarkable season filled with lasting moments. Of the 25 players on the World Series roster, 19 were either freshmen or sophomores. Covenant graduates just one starting position player (Sterling Witt). The 2013 season was certainly a rousing success, but the program will look to improve further as they head into the USA South Conference next season.
Wins and losses will come and go, but Simons has built his program on the foundation of character and understanding the "bigger picture."
"I'm most proud when an opposing coach, player, fan, or umpire comments on the character of our team, which I heard repeatedly this year," noted Simons. "I believe our guys grasped the concept of why we play and who we play for. They understand that the scoreboard isn't the primary gauge of our success. I think they kept the 'Big Picture' the 'Big Picture' and won a lot of games in the process. I'm really excited about the future of this program."