LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- After a record-setting season in 2013, the Covenant baseball team has high expectations heading into the 2014 campaign which starts on Tuesday with a contest against Bates in Rome, Ga.
Last season, the Scots set the program's modern era record for victories with 28 and advanced to the NCCAA World Series for the first time. This season, Covenant returns seven starters and its weekend starting pitching rotation.
The Scots, under eighth year head coach Doug Simons, also find themselves in slightly unfamiliar territory as they were selected as the preseason favorite to win the USA South and earn the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. Covenant will be competing in the USA South for the first time this spring and as full members of NCAA Division III.
In order for the Scots to achieve their expectations, they will need both strong hitting and pitching. The batting lineup looks to be one of the strengths once again this season. The Scots hit .303 as a team in 2013 and return leading hitters Scott Gillespie, David Lockwood, Will Cleland and Perry Rigby, among others.
Gillespie, a junior Milton, Ga., is the team's leading returning hitter after batting .359 a season ago. Gillespie was a NCCAA Mid-East All-Region selection and produced 38 RBIs and 16 extra-base hits for the year.
Lockwood is one of five seniors on this year's team and has been consistent throughout his career with a .344 batting average. In 2013, the Conyers, Ga., native hit .349 with 21 extra-base hits and 37 RBIs and was selected to the ABCA/Rawlings All-South team for Division III. Lockwood led the team with five triples and had 14 doubles for the year. In just three years, Lockwood holds the modern program record with 45 doubles.
Cleland and Rigby both had big offensive seasons as well last year. Cleland, a junior from Jacksonville, Fla., batted .347 with 23 RBIs and compiled a .962 fielding percentage at second base. He was named an honorable mention pick for the NCCAA Mid-East Region. Transferring into Covenant from UAB, Rigby had a solid freshman year as he tied for the team lead with five home runs and led the squad with 44 RBIs, while batting .319 for the season. The Decatur, Ala., product was named to the NCCAA World Series All-Tournament team.
The starting pitching is also deep this season for Covenant. Lefty Micah Mabe along with right-handers Garrett Kriston and Alhanon Miller hope to provide a formidable 1-2-3 punch during the weekends in conference play.
A junior from Cumming, Ga., Mabe had a breakout season as a sophomore. The 6-foot-2 lefty earned NCCAA All-American second team and ABCA/Rawlings All-South selections after compiling a 7-3 record with an ERA of 2.43. Mabe set the modern program record with 13 strikeouts in a game at LaGrange on April 19. Mabe had displayed masterful control throughout the year as he punched out 69 batters in 74 innings and walked just 16, while holding opponents to a .208 batting average.
As freshmen, Kriston and Miller showed tremendous promise in their rookie campaigns. Kriston, out of Trinity, Fla., finished the year with a 5-3 record and a 3.41 ERA. The right-hander had four complete-games and had 45 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. Miller, a native of Yakima, Wash., was also impressive as he posted a 7-2 record with a 2.92 ERA and limited opponents to a .199 batting average in 61.2 innings of work. Miller earned NCCAA Mid-East Region honorable mention honors.
A group of newcomers will hope to have an immediate impact this season. Catchers Forrest Hunter (Bonita Springs, Fla.) and Alex Kerr (Lithia, Fla.) join Jordan Lester (Hiram, Ga.), Ryan Larrazabal (Sugar Hill, Ga.) and Luke Harvey (Apex, N.C.) as freshmen to watch this season.
Even as the preseason favorites in the USA South, the league is very deep this season with talented teams. With no conference tournament, the winner of the regular season title will gain the automatic berth. Covenant plays 27 conference contests with series against N.C. Wesleyan, Piedmont, Ferrum and Averett at home. In non-conference play, the Scots will face tough foes in Birmingham Southern, Berry and Bates, among others.
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