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SCC's Bat Pats prepare for Mid-South debut

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By The Staff

By Jimmie Earls

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Sun Sports Writer

The gym at Lourdes Hall has been echoing with the sound of popping leather and the ping of aluminum bats. While most Major League baseball players are gearing up to report to spring training in sunny Florida or warm Arizona, the St. Catharine Patriots are preparing for their upcoming baseball season by hitting the hardwood. Lourdes Hall is the scene of preseason prep work while the temperature outside hovers in the mid to high 20s, and snow and ice cover the baseball diamond.

“Right now, our pitchers are throwing, we’re up to 60 pitches in our pens,” said head coach Luther Bramblett. “We try to have our hitters stand in live for every pitch so they get a good look at some live arms. It’s a little frustrating that we may not have an opportunity to see live pitching before we start play.”

St. Catharine finished with a 36-13 record last season, their final year in the NJCAA. The team had a great post-season run, going undefeated but an ineligible player ruling from the NJCAA forced the Patriots to forfeit their post-season games.

This season the Patriots jump to the Mid-South Conference in the NAIA. The switch from a two-year junior college to a four-year athletic institution presents both possibilities and challenges. Something that Bramblett has this year that he didn’t have in previous seasons is upperclassmen. The team has 13 juniors on it’s spring roster, players who have already had two years of experience.

“I think we’ll be very competitive,” added Bramblett. “I coached at the four-year NAIA for several years as an assistant at Campbellsville University and Freed-Hardeman University, so I’m very familiar with the Mid-South and the in-state schools. The only difference is now we have conference weekends and every game means something.”

One item of concern for Bramblett and his staff is the conference schedule.

Bramblett added, “The way the conference is set right now, we’ll have double-headers on Friday with two seven-inning games, a nine-inning game on Saturday and then a seven-inning game right after.”

Bramblett is confident that his pitching staff has enough depth to get through four conference games on the weekends and still be competitive in mid-week games.

“We’ve got roughly 19 guys on our pitching staff,” Bramblett said. “We’ve got pretty good depth. Travis Adams and Nick Holmes should be some of our top arms. A majority of our guys are right-handed, we’ve got three left-handers, all of those guys bring different things to the table. Andy Dietz has improved a lot, he’ll probably be our top lefty.”

In addition to some strong arms returning to the mound, the Patriots will also retain the core of their offensive line-up. Bramblett likes the flexibility of his line-up.

“Chris Smith is a great on-base guy. If he’s healthy, he should be our lead-off hitter,” added Bramblett. “Yates was our leading hitter last year and he’s a two-hole type of hitter. Patrick Jones should hit in the three spot. He was a junior college All-American last year and led us in home runs last year.”

Batting clean-up should be Kaleb Henry who led the Bat Pats in RBI last year and hit close to .400. Bramblett expects center fielder Philip Dean to hit in the number five slot and designated hitter Shane Young to hit sixth.

“We don’t have a whole lot of holes to plug,” Bramblett said. “We have a pretty solid offense. We’re facing different pitching in the Mid-South, with upperclassmen who have been throwing for four years. We only saw freshmen and sophomores as a junior college team. I think we’ll be able to make adjustments.”

Not much will change as far as playing seven-inning doubleheaders with the occasional nine-inning game. What will be different this season is the Mid-South’s re-entry rule.

“Late into games, we’ll be able to substitute guys out for defensive purposes and bring them back in for added offense later in the game,” Bramblett added. “Once the starter re-enters the game, the sub is done. And if I sub for the starting player again, then he’s done. We’ll be able to get a lot of guys into games and get them some experience early.”

With a little more than two weeks left before the first pitch, Bramblett and the Patriots are thinking spring in the dead of winter.

Said Bramblett, “We’re just trying to take a lot of cuts, trying to groove our swing and trying to work on some things while we’re in a controlled setting.”

Get your first look at the Mid-South Conference Patriots when they open the season at home with a single nine-inning game Feb. 20 against Grace College. For more information and a full schedule, visit www.sccky.edu/athletics on the Internet.