ROCK HILL, S.C. — The Lincoln Memorial University baseball team was tabbed for a seventh-place finish in the South Atlantic Conference and four Railsplitters were selected to the preseason All-SAC Team, as the league office unveiled the results of the 2013 SAC preseason coaches’ poll as well as the 2013 preseason All-SAC Team on Tuesday.
The Railsplitters garnered 34 points in the SAC preseason coaches’ poll, slotting them in seventh overall. LMU finished 21-28 and 10-17 in league play last year, finishing seventh in the standings and as the last team out of the 2012 SAC Tournament.
Catawba and Tusculum both earned five first-place votes and both notched 77 points in the poll to tie for first. Tusculum heads into the 2013 campaign fresh off of a 48-10 finish during the 2012 season that included a SAC-record 24 conference wins as well as the SAC regular-season title and tournament championship. Catawba rides into the 2013 season after an historic season that saw the Indians ride into the NCAA Baseball World Series for the first time in school history, where they fell to eventual national champions West Chester in the third round. The Indians finished 23-4 in SAC play last season.
Wingate earned 62 points in the preseason coaches’ poll to grab the third spot, followed by No. 4 Brevard (56) and No. 5 Carson-Newman (46). Newberry finished just behind Carson-Newman with 45 points to fall into No. 6 in the preseason coaches’ poll.
After Lincoln Memorial, the poll was rounded out by No. 8 Mars Hill (20), No. 9 Lenoir-Rhyne (17) and No. 10 Anderson (16).
The Railsplitters tied with Wingate for third in the conference with four All-SAC preseason selections, behind Catawba and Tusculum with six each.
Senior infielder Andre Rodriguez was selected to the first team after a stellar 2012 campaign. Last season, Rodriguez, a 5-foot-11 infielder from Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, collected a vast array of distinctions including All-SAC First Team, NCBWA All-Southeast Region First Team, Daktronics All-Southeast Region First Team, ABCA All-Southeast Region First Team, Daktronics All-America Third Team and NCBWA All-America Honorable Mention. Rodriguez was among the most productive players in the conference last season, as the middle infielder finished third in the league with a .414 batting average, only .005 points off of Brevard’s Champ Stuart for the league batting title. Rodriguez also finished sixth in the league with a .494 on-base percentage and 10th among all players in the SAC with a .600 slugging percentage. Rodriguez filled out his stat ledger with a team-leading 60 hits, 12 doubles, five home runs and 27 RBIs.
Senior Cody Baker, an outfielder from Knoxville, also garnered preseason first team laurels after capping the 2012 campaign with a .322 batting average and a .433 on-base percentage. Last season, Cody was named to the SAC Gold Glove Team after posting 116 put outs in centerfield without an error to his credit. Baker also proved to be a dangerous threat on the base paths, as he finished second in the conference with 25 stolen bases in 28 attempts. Baker currently sits in fifth all-time at Lincoln Memorial in stolen bases, as he has compiled 46 steals in his three-year career, 38 away from the record held by TeWayne Willis.
Senior catcher Nick Pressley, a product of Knoxville, was selected to the second team following a breakout year in 2012. Pressley started all 49 games for the Railsplitters in 2012, finishing the year ranked third on the team with a .327 batting mark and a .513 slugging percentage. Nick capped the year just outside of the top-ten individually in the league with 14 doubles while ranking second on the team with five home runs. His stat sheet was rounded out with 37 RBIs, a .429 on-base percentage and 11 steals, while he also compiled an unblemished 1.000 fielding-percentage behind the dish.
The Railsplitters’ preseason All-SAC selections were rounded out by senior Curt Fuqua, as the Jackson, Tenn., native was also named to the second team. In his first season at Lincoln Memorial during the 2012 campaign, Fuqua made a splash by raking a .355 batting average with 59 hits, both of which ranked second on the squad. Fuqua finished fourth in the league with a team-leading 18 doubles and also ranked third in the league with four triples. Along with Baker and Pressley, Fuqua notched a 1.000 fielding-percentage with 85 put outs playing primarily in left field. He also tallied a .584 slugging percentage, a .463 on-base percentage with 13 steals in only 15 attempts.
The Railsplitters’ offense will also be driven by a talented group of returners and newcomers this season. Sophomores Scott Miller and Nick Morabito headline the group of returners that were not selected to the preseason All-SAC Team. Miller will look to build on a freshman season that saw the outfielder post a .300 batting average in 12 starts for the ‘Splitters. Morabito made 19 starts for Lincoln Memorial last season at various positions, notching a .224 batting average with 13 RBIs.
LMU should also benefit from the return of sophomore Nolan Woody to the lineup after sitting out last year due to injury. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound catcher hailing from Chattanooga notched a .268 batting average with 21 RBIs and a pair of home in 2011.
Junior Josh Coker, a transfer from JUCO powerhouse Walters State, highlights the list of newcomers for the Railsplitters this season. He hit .306 with 10 home runs, 14 doubles and a pair of triples while at Walters State and provides a potent power threat from the left side.
On the mound LMU will look to improve their numbers from 2012, as they finished eighth in the league with a 7.13 team ERA and a .337 opposing batting average. Senior lefty Brandon Cowan from Tequesta, Fla., will look to build on a 2-2 mark in 2012 that included a team-leading 47 strikeouts. Cowan is the Railsplitters’ top returner in innings pitched with 44 last season.
After sitting out a year due to injury, junior Austin Johnson looks to return to his form from the 2011 campaign which saw the righty compile a 6-2 mark, including 6-0 in SAC play. During that season, Johnson posted a stingy 3.06 earned run average with 47 strikeouts..
The Railsplitters’ rotation will also benefit from the return of several key contributors who have a year of college experience under their belts. That group is comprised of sophomores Austin Pittman (Benson, N.C.) and Logan Sawyer (Seymour, Tenn.). LMU also boasts a pair of veterans who look to build on the 2012 campaign, as Seth Woods (Watseka, Ill.) notched a perfect 3-0 mark last season in 23.2 innings pitched, while Patrick Morris (Plantation, Fla.) will add depth and experience to the rotation after tossing 22.2 innings last year.
Newcomers Dillon Swaggerty and Ian Creager highlight the group of fresh faces that the Railsplitter faithful should expect to see on the mound this season. Swaggerty, a right-handed freshman out of Marietta, Ga., comes to the Railsplitters after posting a 6-3 record with 68 strikeouts during his senior season at The Walker School. Creager, a 6-foot-3 right-hander out of Englewood, Ohio, will be making his debut at Lincoln Memorial after a two-year stint at Sinclair Community College where he posted a 6-2 mark and ranked in the top-15 nationally with 70 strikeouts in only 54.2 innings on the mound.
The Railsplitters open the season this weekend, as coach Jeff Sziksai’s group is set to head to perennial national powerhouse South Carolina-Aiken, ranked 10th in the 2013 Collegiate Baseball Newspaper preseason poll, for a three-game set with the Pacers. First pitch is slated to be thrown at 4 p.m. on Friday. The Railsplitters and Pacers are scheduled for two more games over the weekend, with a nine-inning game at 1 p.m. on Saturday and the nine-inning finale at 1 p.m. on Sunday.