Written by Sean Dahlin
BUENA VISTA, Va.—Entering the 2013 season, the Southern Virginia University baseball team is optimistic about the upcoming spring season and sets its sights on the ten-team USCAA Small College World Series, which will be located at Pullman Park in Butler, Pa.
"We're returning a core group of players from last year, and have added talented newcomers this season," said fourth-year Head Coach Logan Mann. "We plan to work together as a team and do the little things right."
Mann, the all-time winningest head coach in program history with a 69-49 career record, led the 2012 squad to an 18-18 record and fourth-place finish in the USCAA. He also coached the 2011 Knights to a program-best 30-10 record capped by a trip to the championship game of the Small College World Series.
"Each year, our plan and goal as a program is to reach postseason play and this season is no different," said Mann. "We expect to be in the thick of things in the World Series where anything can happen."
With 10 returners from last year's team—Dale Brown (Mesa, Ariz.), Tyler Cox (Forest, Miss.), Ed Greenhalgh (Roy, Utah), Trager Hintze (Purcell, Okla.), Robert Key (Flower Mound, Texas), Tyler King (San Ramon, Calif.), Mitchell Mantle (St. George, Utah), Barrett Price (Georgetown, S.C.), Thomas Rudd (Edmond, Okla.) and Mitch Stevenson (Muskogee, Okla.)—the Knights are confident they have what it takes to reach their goal.
"We have a deeper pitching staff that we've had for a few years," said Mann. "We have the potential to do some great things on the mound, and I will look to our returning pitchers to set the tone."
Junior co-captain King—who will play for the Rockbridge Rapids in the Valley Baseball League this summer—will be looked to for consistency in the Knights' starting rotation. Last season, the left-handed hurler led the team in wins (6), innings pitched (75.1), strikeouts (49) and complete games (4).
Mann also sees seniors Cox and Greenhalgh to play significant roles in the starting rotation alongside King.
"Tyler [King], Tyler [Cox] and Ed [Greenhalgh] give us three quality pitchers that I feel confident can get the job done and put us in a good position to win some games," said Mann.
Cox finished the 2012 season second on the squad with a 3.10 earned-run-average, including recording 20 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. Greenhalgh, a 2012 USCAA Academic All-American selection, ended last year with 20 strikeouts in 19.1 innings and a 1-2 record highlighted by pitching 5 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to pick up the win as Southern Virginia defeated then-no. 16 Keystone College 7-4 on Feb. 17, 2012.
Junior right-hander Mantle—who started nine games and finished with the team's second-most wins (4) and innings pitched (48.1)—looks to join the rotation as well.
"I'm excited to see what our newcomers can do," said Mann. "If we can attack the strike zone, our pitchers will keep us in a lot of games."
In addition to sophomore hurler Rudd, the Knights welcome sophomore left-hander Gage Bigelow (Price, Utah) along with freshmen Scott Austin (Glendale, Ariz.), Austin Douglas (Howell, Mich.) and sidewinder Jonathan Hodges (Cleveland, Tenn.), who should all log innings this year.
"This year's infield is comprised of experience and depth that should be a strength of our team," said Mann.
Up the middle, Southern Virginia is returning two-year starter and junior shortstop Stevenson, who led the Knights in batting average (.387) and hits (55) while ranking third in on-base-percentage (.430), home runs (3) and RBI (31).
Alongside Stevenson is sophomore middle infielder CJ Andrus (Federal Way, Wash.). Prior to serving a mission to Brazil, Andrus recorded a .263 batting average with 20 RBI as a member of the 2010 squad that finished 21-21 in Mann's first year as head coach.
At the corners are senior co-captain Hintze and 2011 USCAA All-American Honorable Mention selection junior first baseman Josh Linn (Muskogee, Okla.).
Fourth-year starter Hintze, a 2011 USCAA Academic All-American member, will follow-up his most productive season as a Knight last year going .342 with 35 RBI and a .980 fielding percentage. After a one-year hiatus, Linn returns in 2013 looking to build off his 2011 campaign when he registered a .396 batting average, 25 RBI and a .462 on-base percentage along with a .992 fielding percentage.
Behind the dish, Price will hold down the catching position after hitting .311 and .324 the last two seasons respectively highlighted by obtaining a .990 fielding percentage in 2012. Cox and Hintze provide depth at the position as well.
Incoming redshirt freshman transfer Nicholas Lyons (Bryson City, N.C.) will find at-bats and time at both first and third base this year. Fellow-newcomers junior Giovanni Prato (West Valley City, Utah) and freshmen Avery Benesch (Gilbert, Ariz.) and Matthew Painter (Las Vegas, Nev.) will fight for playing time in the middle of the infield.
"Our outfield corps has speed that we hope will lead to a good defensive season," said Mann.
According to Mann, Brown and Key have moved from the infield to working in the outfield fulltime.
In 2012, Brown finished second on the squad in on-base percentage (.445) and stolen bases (9) and third in batting average (.367). In his first season as a Knight, Key had a solid season recording a .371 batting average with 18 RBI and seven stolen bases.
While not pitching, Mantle—who's 18 stolen bases last year ranks third in single-season program history—will spend his time in the outfield, specifically left field. In addition, junior transfer Mark Wells (Nelson County, Va.) along with freshmen Tyler Clark (Idaho Falls, Idaho), Austen Hammond (Fayetteville, Ga.) and Jack Stanton (Columbia, Md.) will fight for time chasing down fly balls.
"This year's schedule is challenging with good balance that I feel will prepare us well for the tough competition we expect to face in Pennsylvania," said Mann.
The 2013 schedule has 38 contests in which Southern Virginia will face NCAA Division II, III, NAIA and USCAA opponents, including 17 of those games being against DIII institutions.
Baseball opens its season on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at noon against the Virginia University of Lynchburg in a home doubleheader at Parry McCluer High School.
Watch live video as the Knights take on the Dragons.