Experienced Tornado have high expectations for 2014
BRISTOL, Tenn. – For the second time in as many years under head coach Blaine Brown, the King University baseball team posted a 30-win season in 2013. The Tornado return a plethora of experience from last year, including 19 seniors as the Tornado are picked to finish second in the Conference Carolinas Preseason Coaches' Poll in 2014.
In 2013, King finished 13-10 in league play, giving them the third seed in the Conference Carolinas Tournament. The Tornado were the lone undefeated team of the tournament before they dropped back-to-back games to tournament champion Coker College. Overall, King finished the year with a 31-20 record with three wins over top-ranked University of Mount Olive.
Brown's squad will be very experienced this season as they only lose two of their top-11 hitters and two of their top-8 pitchers from 2013. Outfielders and seniors Tyler Gaby and Garrett Cook lead this offensive group. Gaby led the Tornado with a batting average of .344, compiling 62 hits and 40 runs batted in. Cook posted a .316 batting average and was the only Tornado to appear in all 51 games. He also led the team with 13 doubles, eight home runs and 14 stolen bases. Tom Hooker also should also see time in the outfield after hitting .279 with 11 doubles during his junior season. Junior Tyler Raymond will battle with Hooker for the third outfield spot, and could see time on the bump for the Tornado this season.
Junior Stephen Mullins saw time at third base a season ago, and will battle with Landon Weitekamp for the spot at the hot corner. Mullins ranked third on the team with a batting average of .326 and eight doubles while Weitekamp hit .219 in 28 appearances. After transferring from Eastern Kentucky University, senior Justin Trent looks to be penciled in at shortstop, and could see time at second base. Logan Schmidt will also play second base after starting 11 of the 23 games in which he appeared as a junior and posting a .279 batting average.
First base may be King's deepest position as Geoff Cieslewitz, Hunter Smith and Carl Roberts will compete for time there. Cieslewitz tied for the team lead with a .344 batting average as a freshman and could also see time on the mound for the Tornado. Roberts posted a .276 batting average with eight doubles a season ago while Smith hit .300 and tied for the team lead with eight home runs as a junior.
At catcher, University of Memphis transfer J.D. Wallace could see the majority of the time after redshirting in 2013. He will battle with Alex Azeredo who made eight starts in 13 appearances last season. He posted a .273 batting average.
The pitching staff is also deep, returning the top-3 starters from 2013. Cory Rhodes led this group with a 3.65 earned run average in 13 appearances. Rhodes started eight games and posted a 4-1 record. Reiss Stanley went 5-3, with two wins over No. 1 Mount Olive to go along with his 4.37 ERA. Stanley started 12 of the 15 games in which he appeared. Alexander Gonzalez ranked second on the team with 19 appearances while making eight starts. He led the team with eight wins, going 8-4 with a 4.59 ERA. His 64 and two-thirds innings pitch also ranked second among Tornado.
The bullpen should be led by Alex Martin, who led King with five saves last season. His 4.36 ERA ranked second on the team. Ryan Nichols, Mark Hode, Weitekamp and Wallace will also vie for time in relief.
The Tornado were selected to finish second in the Conference Carolinas Preseason Coaches' Poll, receiving one first place vote. Mount Olive was selected to win the league, receiving eight first place votes while Belmont Abbey College was selected to finish third.
King opens the 2014 season with three straight road series, starting at Newberry College on February 1-2. King's home opener is slated to take place on February 18 against Virginia Intermont College. The Tornado open Conference Carolinas play at home against Pfeiffer University on March 7-8. For the second straight year, the Conference Carolinas Tournament will take place in Burlington, N.C., and is slated to take place from April 24-27.