LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- With a vast majority of returning players from last season's 23-17 team, the 2017 edition of the Covenant baseball team looks to build on last year's success. Under 11th-year head coach Doug Simons, the Scots feature eight returning position starters to go along with a deep, but young, pitching staff.
The season gets underway on Friday, Feb. 3 as the Scots host Greensboro in the first game of a three-game series. First pitch is slated for 2 p.m.
"I'm pretty excited about the group that we have," said Simons, who is nine wins shy of 200 career coaching victories. "The leadership that we have on this team is one of the best we've had. The leadership from our seniors and juniors is as strong as ever."
The lineup that collectively hit .296 last season features eight returning starters. Senior Luke Harvey led the USA South in batting average last season at .413 with 14 doubles and 28 RBIs, while stealing 26 bases, leads the offense into 2017.
Trenton Nobles came on strong a season ago in his first year of significant playing time. The junior hit .336 with 10 extra-base hits and 26 RBIs. Fellow outfielder Devin Cerrato returns after stealing 10 bases a year ago, to go along with a .989 fielding percentage while roaming center field. Junior first baseman Caleb Bloye led the team with 40 RBIs and hit three home runs, and senior Alex Kerr tied for the team-lead with four home runs to go with 33 RBIs.
"This group is very experienced and knows what to do," Simons said. "We don't have a superstar, but I look for each game someone new to step up. The guys are going to battle up there every game and every pitch."
The infield will feature a new left side as Joel Johnson looks to be the starting third baseman and Taylor Bloye at shortstop. Johnson started off last season strong before injuries hampered his efforts later in the year and Bloye hit .283 and made 17 starts. Julien Amorelli started 19 games at second base and looks to be the starting second baseman.
At catcher, the Scots are again loaded with depth. Kerr is one of three senior catchers for Covenant along with Forrest Hunter and Z Arima. Hunter hit .295 with a home run and seven RBIs last year, while Arima hit .392 with a homer and 14 runs batted in.
Covenant also has depth with its bench. Simons is looking for contributions from freshman Jaret Barr (Atlanta, Ga.) along with sophomore Donny Lewis and junior Jay Epperson in the outfield and in specialty roles during the year. Freshmen Christian Murray (Mobile, Ala.), Tyler Moore (Stone Mountain, Ga.) and Lewis Saunders (Gurley, Ala.) all provide options on the infield for Simons.
For as experienced as the batting order will look, the pitching staff is almost the opposite. The rotation is talented, but most are freshmen or sophomores. "Consistency will be the key for this group," Simons said. "We have a lot of young arms, but we also have a lot of potential in those arms."
Headlining the starting staff will be sophomore right-hander Matt Reitz. Reitz made 11 starts in his rookie campaign and went 3-6 with one complete-game in 67 innings of work a year ago. "Matt is our top guy," Simons noted. "He is full of confidence and did a great job for us last year as a freshman."
Sophomore Drew Bradley and freshman Zach Kyzer (Acworth, Ga.) look to round out the weekend rotation. Bradley made a couple of spot starts a season ago and went 2-0 with a 4.68 ERA in 32.2 innings. "Drew had a very good fall season and he can eat up a lot of innings and get late into games for us," Simons said.
Simons is also excited about the potential of the 6-foot-3 right-hander Kyzer. "He's everything you want in a starter, he just doesn't have collegiate experience yet," Simons said of Kyzer. "He has the talent with a ton of upside." Sophomore Grant Kierpa started five games last season going 2-0 with a 3.49 ERA and will look to start mid-week games.
The back-end of the bullpen looks to be a mix of Matt Herrin, Taylor Bloye and Alex Kerr. Herrin appeared in four games a year ago, while Bloye had a 2.08 ERA in five appearances and Kerr collected two saves. Simons also has depth with his staff and expects freshmen Kyle Phillips (Pelham, Ala.), John Sherrod (Mobile, Ala.), and Ross Skipper (Brentwood, Tenn.) along with sophomore Ty Wilmore and a host of others to see time on the mound.
In his 11th year, Simons notes that this team has some of the best chemistry together that he's had in his time with the program. That team chemistry could be a key for the team's success during the year.
The Scots were picked to finish seventh in the USA South preseason coaches' poll and the league appears to be strong once again. "This is a really strong conference once again," Simons said. "There are no easy weekends and the guys will have to battle through those."
Covenant will be tested in the conference slate with 12 of its 18 league games on the road, including a trip to preseason favorite LaGrange on Feb. 24-25. The Scots will also play regional powers Emory and Berry in the non-conference portion.
"How we pitch is going to be a key, but even more so I think it comes down to this group's ability to play together so well and have the upperclassmen step up and lead," Simons said.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTS
Be sure to follow the Scots all season long on athletics.covenant.edu and on social media at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for up-to-date scores, news and other information. To receive text alerts with score updates or e-newsletters, click here