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Returners provide stability to MT pitching staff

Raiders bring back pitchers that started 37 of 56 games in 2013

February 12, 2014 · @MTAthletics

(This is the final installment of a three-part series previewing the 2014 Middle Tennessee baseball team. Wednesday will feature the pitching staff.)

MURFEESBORO, Tenn. - Left-handers Zac Curtis and Johnathan Frebis return to the Blue Raider rotation to anchor a pitching staff full of returners in new roles and some new faces when the 2014 Middle Tennessee baseball season begins Saturday at Kennesaw State.

Curtis was named a Top 100 senior this week by Perfect Game, earning the No. 53 ranking from the site on Monday. Frebis, entering his junior campaign, was named to the Top 100 juniors list by Perfect Game on Tuesday.

The duo of southpaws will start the Blue Raiders' season-opening doubleheader on Saturday at Kennesaw State, with Curtis in the first game and Frebis in the second. Curtis and Frebis each made 14 starts in 2013, with each tallying five wins. Curtis led the team with 74 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings pitched.

In Sunday's game, Garrett Ring will get the call. Ring made eight of his 12 appearances out of the bullpen in 2013, striking out 22 in 21 2/3 innings while holding opponents to a .253 average. Ring allowed just three extra base hits as a freshman in 2013.

MT lost Hunter Adkins (14 starts) and Jordan Cooper (5), but return the starting pitcher from 2013's other 37 games. Also gone is Daniel Palo, who posted team-bests in ERA (2.64) and saves (8) a year ago. Joey McClung, who led the Raiders with 22 appearances, also departs, along with Jordan Cooper, who pitched in 21 games. Aaron Hyder, who pitched in 21 games a year ago, has stayed with the team as a student assistant.

"Depth is a strength for us," said head baseball coach Jim McGuire. "We're solid both in our starting pitching and our bullpen, which gives us the opportunity to be in every game."

Other returners who will factor into the pitching equation include five right-handers and a pair of lefties. Paul Mittura, who made 20 appearances as a junior in 2013 with seven saves, will be in the mix along with redshirt-senior Jonathan Sisco, redshirt-junior Keaton Baker, junior Kooper Kessler and sophomore Heath Slatton. Newcomers from the right side include junior Matt Blackham, along with freshmen Caleb Smith, Kaleb King, Will Small and Reid Clements.

Left-handed options for McGuire feature a pair of returners in senior Cody Tollison and redshirt-junior Nathan Foriest. Tollison pitched in eight games in 2013, while Foriest made five appearances, with all being out of the bullpen. Freshmen Kevin Dupree and Brent Stockstill will provide two more left-handed choices. Junior Brandon Zajac and freshman Benji Cash will not pitch in 2014 due to injury.

The Blue Raiders begin the season with a doubleheader on Saturday at Kennesaw State. The first game is scheduled for an 11 a.m. CT first pitch.

Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.