GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University baseball team will continue its home-stand with four games this week against teams who advanced to last year's NCAA Division II Tournament. Tusculum will host Young Harris on Wednesday before opening South Atlantic Conference play this weekend against defending Southeast Region champion Catawba College.
The Pioneers (8-4) are riding a five-game winning streak after posting a mid-week non-conference win over Carson-Newman then followed with a four-game weekend sweep of defending Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference west division champion Gannon University.
BASEBALL ALUMNI WEEKEND / JONES NUMBER RETIREMENT
Tusculum will also be hosting its Baseball Alumni Weekend, coinciding with the retirement of the jersey No.9 of former TU head coach Doug Jones prior to Saturday's doubleheader. For 21 seasons (1998-2018), Jones served as baseball coach at Tusculum and is the winningest coach in the history of the program. Jones guided Tusculum to winning seasons in 18 of his 21 years including a string of 17 consecutive winning seasons from 2002-2017. During his storied career at Tusculum, he posted an impressive 705-412-1 record.
Jones directed the baseball program into one of its most successful and exciting periods. From 2004-2017 his teams posted 14 consecutive 30-win campaigns, including five years eclipsing the 40-win plateau. During his tenure on the TU diamond, Jones led the Black & Orange to five South Atlantic Conference Championships, four SAC Tournament titles and seven trips to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Jones is serving in his fifth year as Tusculum's vice president for athletics and university initiatives.
There will be a baseball alumni luncheon on Saturday (Feb. 22) at the Chalmers Conference Center in the Niswonger Student Commons beginning at 11 a.m. Following Saturday's doubleheader, there will be a postgame social for all Tusculum Baseball Alumni at the Old Oak Taproom, located near the TU campus starting at 8 p.m.
On-line registration for this event is available at: www.TusculumPioneers.com. For more information about Baseball Alumni Weekend, please contact Director of Athletic Development Josh Ealy at (423) 636-7331 or firstname.lastname@example.org
RECAPPING LAST WEEK
Luis Ezra and Jaden Steagall recorded three hits and three RBI each to lead to a 9-4 victory over Carson-Newman last Wednesday. The Pioneers finished the game with 12 hits as the visitors led wire-to-wire to record its fourth road win over the Eagles in their last five trips to Jefferson City.
Tusculum jumped out to a 7-0 lead plating a run in the second inning and two runs each in the third, fourth and fifth frames. C-N answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth and one in the sixth to draw within 7-3. But the Pioneers got a two-out, two-run double by Steagall in the top of the eighth to put some distance between TU and the Eagles. Daalen Adderley recorded a pair of singles and scored twice, while Bryson Ford drew three walks and posted a stolen base.
In Tusculum's four-game sweep of Gannon, the Pioneers out-scored the Golden Knights by a 42-9 margin as TU took advantage of 37 walks, 30 base hits and went a perfect 27-of-27 as team in stolen bases. Daulton Martin recorded eight stolen bases, while Trey Hinton finished with six on the weekend.
Martin broke the TU single-game record with five stolen bases on Friday, before Hinton matched that with his five thefts in the series finale.
The Tusculum pitching staff posted a 2.40 earned run average on the weekend while recording 37 strikeouts, including nine game Keegan Ernest in Saturday's 6-0 series finale win. Ernest, who went 2-0 on the week, combined on the shutout with Dawson Gause, who pitched three shutout innings for his first career save at TU. The Tusculum bullpen did not allow a run during the weekend.
During the week, first baseman Luis Ezra batted .523 with two home runs and 10 RBI to lead the Pioneers.
Despite having a .265 team batting average, which is seventh in the SAC, the Pioneers are still getting runners aboard and lead the league in scoring (96), on-base percentage (.425), runs batted in (83) and walks (82). TU's 10 home runs are third in the SAC, while its 40 stolen bases and 23 times hit by pitch are second in the league.
Infielder Jaden Steagall leads the Pioneers at the plate with his .395 batting average including a team-best 17 hits with five doubles, a homer, 13 RBI, six stolen bases and nine walks.
Two-time All-American Daulton Martin is only batting .306, but is still amongst the league leaders in on-base percentage (.519 – 5th in SAC), sparked by his conference leading 13 walks and has been hit by a pitch four times (T2nd in SAC). When he gets aboard, he is making things happen with his SAC leading 11 stolen bases (11 attempts) and 14 runs scored (3rd in SAC).
Junior Bryson Ford, who has seen action both at shortstop and center field in his eight starts, he is batting .292 with two doubles, two triples and is a perfect 5-of-5 in stolen bases.
Luis Ezra leads the league with his 16 RBI and is tied for second in the SAC with his three home runs. He has scored 11 runs (T7th in SAC) while posting two doubles with 11 walks (T2nd in SAC).
The Tusculum pitching staff, which got off to a rocky start, has rebounded and lowered its team ERA to 4.16 (4th in SAC) while limiting the opposition to a .255 team batting average. Gunner Becker leads the weekend starters with his 0.66 ERA which is second lowest in the conference. Becker is 2-0 in his team-high 13.2 innings of work where he has posted 11 strikeouts against six walks but has a .137 batting average against. Nick Flesher is also 2-0 with a 4.97 ERA in his 12.2 innings on the mound for Coach Brandon Steele's club.
Keegan Ernest (2-0) accounted for his two wins last week in starts against Carson-Newman and the series finale against Gannon where he and reliever Dawson Gause combined on a two-hit shutout. Ernest is second on the team with his 11 strikeouts including nine in Saturday win over Gannon.
The team leader in strikeouts is veteran southpaw Mitch McCain who has made four appearances out of the TU bullpen where he has a 2.00 ERA with a save and a dozen strikeouts. Sam Loew and Gause have each made three appearances and each have a save to their credit.
SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION
Tusculum takes on Young Harris on Wednesday at Pioneer Park beginning at 4 p.m. It will be the first of two meetings this season as the two will face off again next month in Georgia on March 3.
The Mountain Lions are coming off its best season in program history going 36-21 last year and captured YHC its first Peach Belt Conference Tournament title. Young Harris is off to a great start in 2020 going 6-1 including last weekend's three-game weekend sweep at Albany State.
The Mountain Lions currently boast the second-best team earned run average in the Peach Belt (2.83), while YHC's .978 team fielding percentage is tops in the conference committing only five errors in its seven games thus far.
After losing its first two games to start the season, the Catawba Indians have rattled off a seven-game winning streak entering the week including a three-game weekend sweep over Shippensburg. The Indians will host preseason No. 20 Mount Olive on Wednesday.
Catawba posted a 47-14 record last season including a 13-game winning streak in sweeping both the SAC Tournament and went undefeated through NCAA Regional and Super Regional play to advance to the DII College World Series. Tusculum defeated Tusculum in the opening round of the SAC Tournament last year in the only meeting of the season as the two teams finished in a tie for third place in the 2019 SAC regular-season.
Catawba boasts the top-hitter in the league so far in utility ace Hunter Shepherd, who is batting .516. Shepherd is also tops in the SAC in slugging percentage (.903) and is second in on-base percentage. He has hit safely in his first eight games and is also mainstay in the weekend pitching rotation where he has a perfect 3-0 record and is sixth in the league with his 1.20 ERA.
The Pioneers should also see Greg Brown and Bryan Ketchie on the mound this weekend in possible starts. Brown has a 2-1 record and a 0.55 ERA in his three starts where he has logged 16.1 innings, three walks and a team-best 21 strikeouts. Ketchie is 1-1 in his three starts with a 7.24 ERA going 13.2 innings with nine strikeouts.
The Indians lead the SAC in team batting average at .351, while the Coach Jim Gantt's pitching staff has a team ERA of 3.08 which is second lowest in the conference.
Offensively, senior Jackson Raper is also a threat at the plate batting .500 with a team-best 18 hits including four doubles, one triple, two homers and 12 RBI. Junior Luke Spiva leads the Indians with his six doubles while batting .400, while Zack Miller is the team leader in home runs (3) and RBI (14) while batting .333.
Tusculum will close out its nine-game home-stand when they host King University next Tuesday, before traveling to UVa-Wise next weekend (Feb. 28-29) as the Cavalier are playing in its first SAC season.
FOLLOW THE GAMES
Links to live stats and video for all Tusculum University athletic events can be found through www.TusculumPioneers.com.