LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- Baseball season is back on the Mountain. The Covenant baseball team begins its 12th year of the modern era of the program on Friday, Feb. 2 against Oglethorpe at 2 p.m. Games two and three of the weekend series will take place on Saturday in Atlanta.
Coming off a 14-24 season, the Scots return 28 players including the vast majority of the pitching staff for head coach Doug Simons. Covenant was picked to finish 10th in the USA South preseason coaches' poll, and aim to make it back to the conference tournament after not qualifying last season.
The middle of the order and the top of the starting rotation look to be the strong points for the Scots heading into the season. Senior Caleb Bloye is back to man first base after a season in which he hit .353 and was named to all-region teams by the ABCA and d3baseball.com. Rejoining Bloye in the lineup are fellow seniors Trenton Nobles, Joel Johnson and Devin Cerrato. Johnson hit .308 a year ago and tied for the team-lead with five home runs. Nobles batted .274 with three homers and Cerrato hit .261 with 10 stolen bases.
Holding the top spots in the weekend rotation are juniors Matt Reitz and Drew Bradley. The pair had strong sophomore seasons as Bradley posted a team-best 3.38 ERA and struck out 44, while Reitz collected four wins and a 3.77 ERA in 59.2 innings. In the bullpen, lefty Ross Skipper returns after compiling a 1.73 ERA in 26 innings last season. Taylor Bloye returns as a fifth-year senior after suffering an injury last year and posted a 2.25 ERA in three outings last year.
Other key returners in the field include Christian Murray, John Mitchell, Donny Lewis, Daniel Johnson, and a host of others that could see increased playing time with positions vacated by last year's senior class across the diamond. The pitching staff also sees Ben Copeland, Matt Herrin, and Richie Hennessey return.
Simons and his staff brought in a large recruiting class that could also make an immediate impact.
Covenant plays four of its first six games on the road against regional foes Oglethorpe and Emory to open the season. Conference play begins in earnest on Feb. 23-24 when Covenant hosts defending USA South champion LaGrange for a three-game series.
The USA South slate includes 18 games this season. The Scots will have home series against LaGrange, Piedmont (March 8-10), and Averett (March 16-17). Brevard makes the trek to Lookout Mountain on April 6-7, but the series does not count towards league standings.
Those series are important if the Scots want to make a run towards the conference tournament and a shot at a NCAA Tournament berth. The league tournament takes the top eight teams in the final conference standings for the tournament, which begins on April 11 in LaGrange, Ga.
In non-conference play, Covenant plays regional foes Berry and Sewanee twice each while also playing three-game series against Oglethorpe, Emory, and Emory & Henry. Covenant will also host Birmingham Southern on April 17
The final series of the year brings USA South newcomer Pfeiffer to Lookout Mountain on April 20-21. Pfeiffer is a reclassifying member of NCAA Division III and the USA South. Senior Day will take place during the doubleheader on April 21.
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