GREENSBORO, N.C. – Despite the threat of wintry weather in the Carolinas this week, the UNCG baseball team is continuing preparations for the 2014 season which is set to get underway this weekend as the Spartans host Atlantic 10 outfit George Washington for three games at the UNCG Baseball Stadium. Game one of the series is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 14 at 4 p.m.
The Blue and Gold enters the new campaign under the direction of second-year head coach Link Jarrett. The former assistant coach at Auburn led the Spartans to a 24-31 record in his first season, which included an 11-19 mark in the always-competitive Southern Conference.
The offense was a strong point for UNCG last season as the Spartans led the SoCon with a .311 batting average - good for 12th in the NCAA. In fact, the Blue and Gold placed inside the top 35 nationally in eight offensive categories, including 16th in slugging percentage and 31st in home runs.
Individually, UNCG will have to replace senior All-America outfielder Christian Wolfe who had a stellar final year for the Spartans in 2013. He finished the campaign second in the nation in batting average with a Southern Conference-best and program single-season record .421 mark. He also tied the school record with a 21-game hitting streak which spanned March 26-April 27.
SoCon Player of the Year candidate and junior Eric Kalbfleisch (Pilot Mountain, N.C./North Stokes) returns to the Spartan lineup after putting together a solid junior season in which he hit .310 to go along with 61 hits, 21 doubles, four home runs, two triples and 30 runs scored. His 21 doubles were tops for UNCG and the second-most in the league.
The Blue and Gold will also welcome back the services of redshirt sophomore infielder Nin Marrero (Greensboro, N.C./Western Guilford) who batted a team second-best .352 and tallied 70 hits, 10 doubles, three home runs and drove in 28 while also scoring 36 runs. As a result, he was named the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year by the league’s media members and also landed a spot on the SoCon All-Freshman Team.
UNCG will feature a number of new faces in this year’s lineup in the form of four junior college transfers. The Spartan middle infield will most likely consist of juniors Hunter King (Mason City, Iowa/Northern Iowa Area CC) and Jordan McDonald (Perth, Australia/Chattanooga State). King played second base for Northern Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) last year and hit .285 while also producing team-best marks in doubles (13) and RBI (30). He led NIACC to the 2013 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series where he crushed a walkoff home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to lead the Trojans to a victory over No. 6 Murray State. McDonald played shortstop for Chattanooga State last year and hit .343 to go along with 57 hits, 14 doubles, two home runs, 42 RBI and eight stolen bases. He also produced an on base percentage of .460.
Junior L.J. Kalawaia (Wailuku, Hawai’i/Ohlone College) will man center field for the Spartans this season after hitting .322 for Ohlone College last year while classmate Tyler Long (Halifax, Va./Louisburg College) will give UNCG another option in the outfield coming off a 2013 season where he batted .347 and drove in 39 runs for the Hurricanes.
In terms of pitching, the Spartans return a bevy of experience. The likely weekend rotation will feature a trio of right-handers in juniors Max Povse (Cary, N.C./Green Hope) and Lee Gilliam (Chapel Hill, N.C./Chapel Hill) as well as sophomore Ryan Clark (Johnson City, N.Y./Johnson City).
Povse threw a team-high 77.2 innings and made 14 starts in 2013, striking out 81 batters on the way to compiling a 4.75 earned run average and picking up four wins. He tossed the first complete-game shutout of his career at College of Charleston (April 5), limiting the Cougars to five hits and striking out nine in UNCG’s 12-0 victory in the series opener. Gilliam made 12 appearances last season, boasting a 3.69 ERA – good for ninth in the SoCon. He struck out 58 batters while allowing just 28 earned runs in 68.1 innings pitched and held opposing batters to a .240 average. Gilliam also combined on one of UNCG’s two shutouts as he threw seven innings and allowed just three hits in a 9-0 whitewashing of Albany March 2.
Clark earned Southern Conference All-Freshman Team honors in 2013 after a sold debut campaign in which he went 5-1 with a 2.05 earned run average in 30.2 innings of relief. He allowed just seven earned runs and limiting opposing batters to a .253 average while striking out 25 against only five walks. Clark also gave up just one earned run in his final nine appearances and surrendered only four extra base hits the entire season.
As for the midweek, UNCG will have a solid pair of starting options thanks to senior LHP Dylan Hathcock (Tampa, Fla./Gaither) and junior Brennen James (Taylorsville, N.C./Alexander Central). Hathcock recorded a squad-high four saves as well as three wins. He struck out 39 batters in 44.2 innings pitched and picked up a key save against then No. 16 and College World Series participant NC State in Raleigh, throwing a perfect 11th inning to preserve the Spartans’ 8-5 victory. Meanwhile, James was 2-1 in 36 innings pitched and struck out 25 over his 22 appearances. He started seven games - the most of any pitcher in the UNCG bullpen.
The Spartans play their first five games at the UNCG Baseball Stadium as part of a 29-contest home schedule which features the likes of High Point, East Carolina, Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina A&T.
Keep up with the UNCG baseball team all season long by logging on to www.uncgspartans.com and following the team’s official Twitter feeds @uncgsports/@uncgbaseball.
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