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Pitching key for 2012 baseball season

Most of staff returns from last season

February 13, 2012 · Athletic Communications
Over the next three days, GoBlueRaiders.com will be previewing the 2012 Middle Tennessee baseball season, which is set to begin on Friday at Reese Smith Jr. Field. Today, we focus on pitching.

After a season that saw the pitching staff suffer a number of injuries, the Middle Tennessee baseball team is going into the 2012 campaign with the hopes of regaining the form that saw former Blue Raiders like Kenneth Roberts and Coty Woods get picked up via the Major League First Year Player Draft.

As is often the case, the success of the pitching staff begins with the starters, and the Blue Raiders will have some experienced arms ready to turn to in juniors Hunter Adkins and Daniel Palo, who are entering the 2012 campaign with 41 career starts between them.

"No one has anything locked up, but Adkins and Palo will get the first look," head coach Steve Peterson said. "Neither are short on their ability to win on the Division I level, but they have to be able to perform consistently."

Adkins started 14 games last season, posting an ERA of 5.44 over 86 innings of work. He put together eight scoreless innings against 18th-ranked Troy, leading MT to its first shutout victory last season. The Signal Mountain, Tenn., native ended the year on a strong note too, posting his first career complete game in a 5-1 win over Western Kentucky.

Palo racked up a team-best 52 strikeouts over 75.2 innings, putting up a 5.83 earned run average in 13 starts. The junior surpassed the seven inning mark allowing two earned runs or less on three occasions, helping MT to victories over South Alabama and SEC foe Tennessee.

A number of candidates remain for the third slot in the weekend rotation, including Murfreesboro natives Johnathan Frebis and Jonathan Sisco.

Frebis, a Riverdale graduate, earned All-Area accolades last year. Sisco, who earned Daily News Journal Player of the Year honors for Blackman in 2009, posted a 2.98 ERA over 60.1 innings for Volunteer State last season.

Paul Mittura, the team leader in saves saves last year with six, could be another candidate after holding opponents to a .251 batting average and a 4.53 earned run average. He held teams scoreless in 14 appearances and hitless in nine more.

"I never really called Paul a closer last season," Peterson said. "He might be a starter for us. I've seen a lot of improvement from him, and he's proven that he can get hitters out."

After five pitchers were unable to pick up a baseball last season due to injury, the coaching staff is optimistic about the depth of the bullpen in 2012.

"We have a lot of possibilities when we're healthy," Peterson said. "We can put a lot of guys out there who can pitch, and I believe they can all succeed on the college level. I know we're a year older, but the question whether we are a year better."

The trio of Nathan Foriest, Nick Montgomery and Wes Robinson will all be ready to go this year after sitting out for more than a season.

Montgomery, one of three seniors on this year's team, tallied five victories in 2010 and was a contributor to the 2009 Sun Belt Championship team.

Both Wes Robinson and Nathan Foriest will be looking to make their Blue Raider debuts. Robinson was 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA for Volunteer State in 2010 after a pair of all-state campaigns for Beech High School in Hendersonville. Foriest, who transferred from Tennessee last fall, played prep baseball at Harpeth High School in Kingston Springs, Tenn.

Keaton Baker had a promising freshman season cut short last year after posting a 3.18 earned run average in his first four appearances. The Cordova, Tenn., native could not participate in fall practice, but should be on track to return this spring.

The injuries allowed the Blue Raider coaches to unearth a solid arm in Matthew Drake, who had not pitched regularly since high school. Coming off a campaign that featured a rain-shortened shutout of Memphis, the senior will look to improve upon his 2.49 ERA and .221 opponent batting average.

Cody Tollison also came on strong towards the end of last season, posting two victories, including a stellar 5.2 innings of work at Louisiana in his first career start. Then a freshman, the Nashville product held the Ragin' Cajuns to just one run, helping the Blue Raiders to their first win in Lafayette since the 2005 season.

Returners Joey McClung and Brandon Hall should also factor in the rotation. The duo combined for 29 appearances last year, primarily out of the bullpen, and 38.2 innings of work.

A pair of junior college transfers and a freshman round out the rest of the staff.

Aaron Hyder and Jordan Cooper are each coming to Murfreesboro after standout careers for Columbia State and Walters State, respectively.

Hyder posted a 2.25 ERA last season for Columbia State, and hails from Antioch, Tenn. Cooper, who also recorded a 2.25 ERA last year, will be hoping to repeat his previous successes at Reese Smith Jr. Field, after helping lead Farragut High School to three state championships at the annual TSSAA Spring Fling.

Kooper Kessler joins Frebis as the only other true freshman after graduating from Bolivar High School in Bolivar, Tenn. The 6-foot-5 right-hander put together an 8-2 record last year with 1.31 earned run average with 148 strikeouts.

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