Such is the case for coach Mike Policastro and his Cleveland State Cougars as they open up the 2012 baseball campaign. The Cougars finished with a 28-24 record last year and were perhaps playing their best baseball by tournament time, winning a pair of games in the tournament at Volunteer State and finishing in third place.
This year’s version of the Cougars could very well be the right mixture that the coaches have been looking for with the potential for strong pitching and an equally strong offense.
“I think we will be a lot better than we were last year,” stated Policastro. “We played well at the end of the year last year, but I think we can be more consistent all year long this year. We have a lineup that I think will produce some runs in a lot of different ways that we necessarily couldn’t last year and we have a lot of depth so that gives us a lot of options as well.”
Former Soddy Daisy standout, Damo DeMatteo will anchor the catching duties with Alex Huddleston and J.D. Cowart also seeing time behind the dish. Colin Sullivan will return following a solid freshman season and will hold down first base and a spot in the middle of the lineup. Former Polk County Wildcat, Michael Hargrove will back him up at first and see considerable time in the designated hitter spot.
DeAndre Allen a freshman from Sequoyah High School will start at second base and will most likely be at the top of the batting order with red-shirt freshman Cade Seeley also getting some action at the second sack. Grant Zawadzki will try to improve on his outstanding freshman campaign and returns at shortstop with Michael Lyons backing him up. Colby Harmon and Randall Coley will see time at the hot corner.
“We’re strong up the middle,” stated Policastro. “With Grant and DeAndre, Cody in center and Damo behind the plate, we feel good about our defense.”
Cody Commons will once again roam around in center field, Derek Shugart will return in left field while red-shirt freshman and former McMinn County Cherokee, Cody Hiefnar will see time in right field. Devin Fish and Chase Edwards will also see time in the outfield.
The pitching rotation is not yet set, but there are plenty of options for pitching coach Aaron Bryant this time around. Returning sophmores, Ross Spurgeon, Hunter Hammond and Jared Burton along with freshman Tyler Sexton are expected to start on the weekends for conference games. Hammond is trying to shake of some elbow soreness and won’t be ready until March.
A trio of freshman will hold down the late inning relief roles. Former Cleveland Blue Raider, Jeb Scoggins along with Tyler Kilgore (Sequatchie County) and Thomas Huddleston will be depended on heavily to come in late in the game and slam the door.
“Jeb, Thomas and Tyler will most likely pitch in the late innings,” said Policastro. “It will depend on the situation and the match-up and who is hot at the time. We have a lot of good arms on the staff this year and they have for the most part been consistent in the fall. Throwing strikes and being consistent is what we are looking for and there is a lot of potential this year.”
Zach Taylor, Derek Chandler and Ethan Davis will most likely start the mid-week games with Justin Sturgeon and Marcus Hunter (Walker Valley) in relief roles.
“We swung the bats well in the fall, a lot better than last year,” explained Policastro. “We have good balance, some pop in the middle and speed at the top and bottom, so that gives us a lot opportunities to make things happen and manufacture some runs. We’re pretty excited about our lineup and the possibilities.”
The Region VII Conference race is shaping up as another down to the wire event as usual. The Cougars were picked as preseason number five behind Walters State, Volunteer State, Chattanooga State and Columbia State.
“There are a lot of good teams in our conference year in and year out,” said Policastro. “I think it will be really balanced this year, 1-10. You will have to play well every time out or you can get beat by anybody.”