BRISTOL, Tenn. – It may only be February but it is still the start of baseball season! King College will lace up the cleats, tighten the glove straps, and take their hacks this weekend to start the 2012 campaign. The Tornado return a majority of its lineup from a season ago and will be introducing new key players to vital areas as they compete in its first year with Conference Carolinas.
Listen to Coach Brown's thoughts! (.mp3)
The "Coach Brown" philosophy - click here
The position players to watch - click here
The pitchers to watch - click here
The freshman to watch - click here
The 2012 schedule - click here
This year's goal - click here
First-year Head Coach Blaine Brown takes the reins of the Tornado program after serving as an assistant for two seasons. Brown has implanted an "attitude of gratitude" approach with his players and predicates his team's play with perfecting the routine plays while running the bases aggressively. He coins his system as "organized chaos" to help keep teams on their toes and give the Tornado a variety of ways to score.
The Tornado have a strong group of starting outfielders locking down all three positions and an offense that will keep the team in contention while trying to get a young pitching staff up to speed as quickly as possible. Though expectations are low for King as it enters its first year in Conference Carolinas, having been tabbed seventh in the preseason coaches' poll, Brown has set the bar high for his group that contains 11 returning seniors, eight juniors, 20 sophomores and six true freshmen.
Last year the Tornado stole 123 total bases on 160 attempts (.769) and scored 248 runs, good for 4.68 runs scored per game. Returning from that aggressive offense is outfielder Bryant Walker (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Garrett Cook (Luray, Va.) who Brown indicates will be heavily relied upon to lead the younger players in their maturation.
Walker, a senior outfielder, led the team in hitting despite missing two weeks of the season due to an arm injury that he fought through to close out the year. He hit .352 overall in 41 games, tallying the fourth-most hits (43) and doubles (6) on the team. He knocked in the second-most runs (23) and had the second-highest slugging percentage (.525) while swiping 6-of-7 bags.
Cook and junior Tyler Orndorff (Stephenson, Va./Daytona State) will lock down the remaining two outfield positions, with Cook expected to hunker down centerfield. Cook started and played in 52 of the team's 53 games last season, tops on the team, and hit .283. He led the team in slugging percentage (.566), RBI (32), doubles (12), home runs (12), and total bases (82) a season ago and will serve as good protection in the middle of the lineup.
Preaching the importance of strength up the middle, Brown has called upon returners Shane Timberlake and Cody Snyder to lock down the middle infield. Timberlake, a senior from Lynchburg, Va., will return to play shortstop following a season he hit .281, stole 15 bases and kept his fielding percentage in the mid-90s all season long. Snyder, a sure-handed sophomore from Bluff City, Tenn., will play second base after making only two errors (.990) all of last year. Also up the middle but behind the dish will be Doug Freeman, a senior from Lakeland, Florida (Seminole CC). Freeman will see his role on the team expand on both sides of the pitcher-catcher relationship. Brown cites, "he [Freeman] has a lively arm that we need to use to the fullest". Freeman will also see time on the mound as a reliever to help bolster a young pitching staff. While behind the dish, Freeman tossed out eight runners attempting to steal against him on 38 attempts (.210) in addition to contributing a batting average a shade under .300 last year.
After losing top starter Alex Martin to an arm injury at the end of last season, the pitching staff will need to rely on some of its younger talent to bolster the top of the rotation. Sophomores Cory Rhodes (Kissimmee, Fla.) and Wesley Houser (Kodak, Tenn.) will begin the year as the 1-2 punch out of the gate. The pair combined for 11 wins last season as freshmen in a combined 21 starts. Rhodes was the team's second-best starter, starting 13 games and posting a 3.75 earned run average in 81.2 innings pitched. He held the opposition to a .257 batting average and struck out a team-high 39 batters. Houser went 3-5 last year in eight starts and will be promoted to the top-3 after serving as the team's mid-week man in 2011. Rounding out the staff is senior Danny Laperna (Lake Worth, Fla.), who went 5-5, registering five quality starts throughout his junior year.
After serving in a relief role last year, Reiss Stanley (Lenoir City, Tenn.) will begin the year as the fourth starter to help gain valuable experience on the hill to prepare for the long season ahead. In seven innings pitched last year, Stanley (1-0) has notched five strikeouts while walking only one. Dustin Pannell (Aiken, S.C.) and Nic Melcher (Orlando, Fla.) will help on the backend of the staff to provide late-inning relief. Both served in the same roles last year and ended the year each with sub-3.50 ERAs. Melcher tossed 60.1 innings in relief and posted a 2.98 ERA, striking out 28 hitters and walking only 11 while holding hitters to a .239 batting average.
Local sophomores Carl Roberts (Blountville, Tenn.) and Jarrod Payne (Johnson City, Tenn.) will slide into the starting lineup showing two new corner infielders at first and third base, respectively. Roberts will play a variety of roles but makes his name on the offensive side as a transfer from East Tennessee State University.
Bristol (Tenn.) native Tyler Gaby will serve as one of the team's reliable bench players that can help provide depth in the outfield and give a spark at the plate, when needed. He also possesses speed on the base paths, having stolen 18-of-25 bases last year, second-most on the team.
Also providing depth as they gain experience will be Jake Portugal (Barrington, R.I.) and Matt Higgins (Cincinnati, Ohio) will both see time on the bump as they mature both physically and mentally in their freshman years. Bluff City (Tenn.) native and Tennessee High graduate Stephen Mullins will also get some playing time around the infield and off the bench as one of Brown's most naturally talented freshman of this year's class.
King will open their season against No. 23 Georgia College, a team that advanced to the NCAA Division II championship just three seasons ago, this weekend. Brown has loaded his schedule with some tough competition, including preseason NCAA DII No. 1 Francis Marion (Feb. 12). The Tornado play their home opener on Feb. 18 in a doubleheader against Salem International and debut in Conference Carolinas against Barton on Feb. 25. Twenty-seven of their 50 schedule games will be against conference opponents, including Southeast region No. 2 and defending Conference Carolinas champions Mount Olive, who serve as the Tornado's third league series of the year (March 10-11).
King finished the 2011 season 28-25 overall while playing as an independent to complete the transition into NCAA Division. The Tornado fought through many injuries as the season progressed after starting the year 9-5 and hitting a stretch of the season where they went 11-4. A 10-game losing streak brought the Tornado back down to Earth as injuries began to pile in key areas though the resolve of the squad lifted them to a birth in the NCCAA World Series. The Tornado advanced all the way to the championship game where fellow Conference Carolinas newcomer, North Greenville, stood waiting and ended the Tornado's season.