Blue Raiders Picked Sixth by Coaches

Squad started team practice this week

January 24, 2007 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee's baseball team was picked to finish sixth in the Sun Belt this season in a poll of the league's coaches released on Tuesday.

The Blue Raiders finished sixth in 2006 in league play, but the Sun Belt has expanded for the 2007 campaign, with Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Monroe full members for this season.

"I totally understand why we're picked sixth," head coach Steve Peterson said. "The league has some great players coming back and we lost some outstanding players in our lineup - four guys who signed pro contracts - and other guys who were dependable. We're optimistic we're better than a sixth-place club, but I completely understand why the coaches have us in the middle of the pack. We have a lot to prove."

Peterson said his pitching staff will be a big key to the season, with 13 returning hurlers, including seven seniors.

"It all starts with the pitching staff. We have enough returning pitchers who have enough experience to know what it takes to pitch at this level. And we've added arms that are going to help us," Peterson said.

"The key will be behind the plate. If Alex Watson can feel confident back there defensively and do what we need done and show the staff that he can handle the job defensively and take care of them day-in and day-out, then we can be successful. He has to let his offense take care of itself."

"The staff starts with Matt Scott. Things are really going his way right now. He's in the best physical shape of his life and on pace to graduate in the spring," Peterson said. "He has something to prove and has a chance to lead this staff and team to a championship. If he does that, he'll get a shot to play pro ball.

"[Tyler] Copeland and [Nick] Marrs will both be in the rotation as well. Copeland has been up-and-down and needs to find consistency and Marrs has proven he deserves an opportunity."

Peterson said the bullpen may be by committee until someone emerges at the end of the bullpen, but Brad Robinson will almost certainly be in the mix somewhere.

"Brad Robinson could emerge as one of the starters or could be the guy used in relief, short of middle relief. I'll let the closer spot evolve, but he has a big advantage because he has been a starter and reliever and his arm bounces back well."

The Blue Raiders began team practice on Monday, preparing for the season-opening series against Jacksonville State, February 16-18, at Reese Smith Field.

"We have to figure out the middle of the order, 3-4-5, in the lineup. I have some different ideas but we'll have to see how things pick up. Whoever gets the hot hand at first base between [Matt] Campbell and [Rawley] Bishop and figuring out third base where we have four different guys we can put there [Zach Barrett, Ben Darlington, Myles Ervin, Michael McSweeney] are big priorities," Peterson said.

"No one has locked down the spot at third base. No one in the fall was consistent both defensively and offensively. Whoever comes out of the preseason workouts will be the one performing the best and I'll have to give that player a shot to sink or swim."

The Blue Raiders are more set in the middle infield with Matt Ray at shortstop and Wayne Kendrick at second base, as well as with two players in the outfield, Nathan Hines in center and Adam Warren in either left or right. But where Warren plays will be determined by the other players vying for playing time.

"We have several options in rightfield with [Blake] McDade or [Zach] Hudson or [Doug] Birkofer. They all give us different things and can play rightfield because of their speed and arm. McDade swung the bat well in the fall and will get some playing time somewhere, maybe even at first base.

"Dillon Heath can also play in leftfield. He gives us some power, has more of a home run swing, but it's a matter of consistency with him and getting extra-base hits."

Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Troy (6) 115
2. Louisiana-Lafayette (5) 114
3. South Alabama 94
4. Florida Atlantic 84
5. Florida International 68
6. Middle Tennessee 66
7. New Orleans 60
8. Arkansas State 42
9. Western Kentucky 37
t10. Arkansas-Little Rock 23
t10. Louisiana-Monroe 23
First place votes in parenthesis

Preseason All-Sun Belt Team
Mickey Storey (Florida Atlantic, Jr., SP)
Hunter Moody (Louisiana-Lafayette, Jr., SP)
Danny Farquhar (Louisiana-Lafayette, So., RP)
Josh Dew (Troy, RP)
Jonathan Lucroy (Louisiana-Lafayette, Jr., C)
Jeff Cunningham (South Alabama, Jr., 1B)
Johnny Giavotella (New Orleans, So., 2B)
Ben Soignier (Louisiana-Monroe, So., SS)
Devery Van De Keere (Louisiana-Lafayette, Sr., 3B)
Chris Dunn (Florida International, Sr., OF)
James McOwen (Florida International, Jr., OF)
Ryan Gotcher (Arkansas-Little Rock, Sr., OF)
Josh Yates (Arkansas State, Sr., DH)

Preseason Player of the Year
Josh Dew (Troy, Sr., 1B/RP)

Preseason Pitcher of the Year
Hunter Moody (Louisiana-Lafayette, Jr., SP)

GROUNDHOG LUNCHEON SET FOR FEBRUARY 2: The 34th Annual Groundhog Day luncheon to benefit Blue Raider baseball has been set for Friday, February 2, at 11:30 a.m., with a change of venue on tap this year. The event will take place at Alumni Memorial Gym on the Middle Tennessee campus. The luncheon is by the Blue Raider baseball team and the BRAA and is a kickoff for the 2007 season. The change in site was made to accommodate more patrons for the event that draws more than 500 fans to hear head coach Steve Peterson talk about the upcoming season. Last year the program was dedicated to kicking off a capital campaign for a new stadium and amenities for the baseball program, an aspect that will come to fruition for the 2008 season. The meal includes ham hocks, white beans, tomato salad, green onions, corn bread, chocolate cake and ice cream. All tickets for the event this year are $20. Reservations may be made for the Groundhog Day Luncheon by calling the BRAA office at 615/898-2210 or the Middle Tennessee Ticket Office at 615/898-2103 or 1-888-YES-MTSU. The last day to reserve a seat for the luncheon is Friday, January 26.

SEASON TICKET RENEWALS MAILED: The Middle Tennesse Ticket Office mailed season ticket renewals two weeks ago. Deadline for season ticket renewals is Friday, February 2. If you HAVE NOT received your renewal in the mail yet, please call the ticket office at 615/898-2103 or 1-888-YES-MTSU.

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