Batter up! Seriously, it’s baseball season

The Cougars know well what it’s like to see one of their own go on to play in the world of professional sports. From Andrew Goudelock’s 2011 debut with the Los Angeles Lakers to golfer Steffi Kirchmayr’s 2009 qualifier for the Ladies European Tour, the College is well practiced in the art of bestowing its students to the big leagues.

Baseball is certainly no exception to this rule and last year they too saw a few of their own advance to the pro-level. The Major League Baseball 2011 amateur draft included multiple College of Charleston names: Matt Leeds in the thirty-first round, Casey Lucchese in the thirty-eight and Rob Kral in the tenth. Despite the loss of key players, the team is primed to play another successful year of the game.

Last year’s big name was Matt Leeds. Coming out of the season with 88 RBIs, 21 home runs, and the 2010 SoCon player of the year, he was poised to lead the Cougars to victory. The team started twenty-sixth in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association preseason polls. Though facing one of their toughest lineups in 2011, including a match against National Champions University of South Carolina, the team finished the season with a respectable 39-22.

(Lynsey Cichon/GSO)

Leading the 2012 team is Daniel Aldrich of Mount Pleasant, SC, the redshirted sophomore who exploded onto the scene last year to become a NCBWA All-American, Freshman Player of the Year, and was chosen as a 2012 Louisville Slugger Preseason First Team All-American. His 73 RBIs trailed Leeds’s by only seven, and he managed to round up 22 home runs, beating out Leeds by four.

“[Coach Lee] could tell he was going to be good,” Will Bryan, the sports information director, said of Aldrich.

On a team ranked thirty-fifth in the nation by Collegiate Baseball for its recruiting class, Aldrich is poised to be a leader for a young team that was ranked overall thirty-second by the same source for the upcoming season.

The Team

“We’ve got a lot of young guys,” said Aldrich of this year’s team. “They have a lot of energy and a lot of talent.”

The recruitment ranking is the highest in the SoCon division and third in the state, falling behind Clemson’s thirty-second and USC’s first. The newcomers consist of eight freshman and ten junior college transfers.

“We are excited about this year’s class,” head coach Monte Lee said. “Our assistant coaches Chris Morris and Matt Heath did an outstanding job of bringing in high level talent for this year’s team.”

The Pitchers
Right handed pitcher [RHP] Will Dorton of Lugoff-Elgin, SC, was drafted fifteenth by the Cincinnati Reds and in the summer of 2011 was ranked as the fourth best RHP by The Diamond Prospects, adding to an already impressive lineup of pitchers on the Cougars’ staff.

Freshman Taylor Alvarez of Chapin, SC, also joins the pitching team. Having led his high school team to the region championships in 2010 and the district championship in 2011 while posting an ERA of 2.33 in 2011, the two-time All-Conference and All-State selection easily caught the coach’s attention.

“Taylor is an extremely good student with a lot of projection,” Coach Lee said. “He’s a tall, physical pitcher with a chance to become a weekend starter. He has a good sinking fastball that he can throw in the upper 80s and has a chance to throw harder as he physically develops.”

Lee Harrison of Charlotte, NC, also joins the team as a RHP, bringing with him 115 strikeouts and a 2.29 ERA from his four years at the high school level.

Transfer pitchers to the College include such standouts as Griffin Jones of Shelby Township, MI, who joins the pitching team as a Pitt Community College Transfer. He comes to the team with a 3.12 ERA and 94 strikeouts. Drew Freie of Wilton, IA brings an impressive resume as well, having earned First Team All-Region honors at Des Moines Area Community College and had a 3.68 ERA.

Southern Methodist College and USC transfer, left handed pitcher [LHP] Jimmy Revan of Boiling Springs, SC, brings with him a 4.85 ERA from his season with the Gamecocks and a 2.10 ERA from his stint with SMU. Taylor Blanton of Spartanburg, S.C. also joins the team as an RHP, once having played at the high school level in 2008 with Revan where they helped bring their team a national ranking of thirteenth.

Junior Derrick Smith transfers in from USC-Lancaster with a 2010 record of 63 strikeouts in 49.1 innings. LHP Ryan Walker of Lexington, SC, a Mid-State Conference Pitcher of the Year, comes to the team from UNC-Wilmington, where he gave up only nine runs in 8.2 innings.

If you lost count, that’s nine players ready and primed to join the Cougar’s pitching staff. They’re hardly the only talent on the team though, as such players David Peterson of Walnut Creek, CA, Christian Powell of Greenwood, SC, Josh Renfro of Bradenton, FL, Jake Zokan from Columbia, SC and Dre Watts of Laurens, SC, come back this season to form a well practiced and strong team of CofC pitchers. RHP Peterson, who was drafted to the Houston Astros, chose to come back to the College for his senior year to take his spot as one of the veteran members of the team, bringing with him a record of 56 strikeouts last year and a then team high 68 in the 2010 season. LHP Renfro earned the distinction of taking the most wins and most strikeouts (77) of the 2011 season, accomplishing a season high of 9 strikeouts in April 9th’s game against The Citadel.

Lee, in his 4th year with the program, said “We have a very strong pitching staff,” going on to say that, despite losing starters that helped power the lineup, that this year’s team is the “most talented and experienced” in his time at the College.

Lynsey Chicon/GSO

The Offense

Stepping up to fill in the vacancy for primary shortstop [SS] Jamie Holler’s position are SS Devon Reed of Lincoln, DE, SS Morgan Phillips of New York, NY, and SS Bradley Goodson of Jacksonville, FL, Reed led his high school team to the 2011 Henlopen Conference championship and all-conference honors throughout his time in high school. He also managed All-state honors in 2010 and 2011. Phillips sports an impressive history of being a 2010 Perfect Game All-American as well as being a 17th round pick for the Cincinnati Reds. Central Florida CC transfer Goodson is merited with being a Mid-Florida All-Conference selection in 2011 and was a FHSAA District 2A Player of the Year during his high school career.

“Bradley’s one of the better defensive shortstops in junior college baseball,” said coach Lee. “We felt he was one of the top shortstops in the state of Florida, which has become a hotbed for our recruiting. Aside from his tremendous defensive skills, Goodson is turning into a good hitter.”

Cody Martin of Marianna, FL, coming to the College from Spartanburg Methodist University, joins the team as a third baseman [3B], having already been drafted twice and last year hitting .237 and managing 12 RBIs. Joining him from Spartanburg Methodist is infielder Tyler Jackson of Bishopville, SC, who hit a .359 and had 51 RBIs to his name at the end of the 2011 season.

New infielders Aaron Collazo of San Antonio, TX, a Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason Texas All-Region Honorable Mention selection in 2011, and Gunnar Heidt from Garden City, SC, a 2010 AAA All-State Baseball team member as well as a VII-AAA All-Region team member with a .473 batting average and 37 RBI, add to the lineup of the young team.

“Gunnar’s a great in-state kid for us.” coach Lee said. “He’s a very good defender and plays on a talented high school team, as well as the South Carolina Diamond Devils, which is one of the premier travel ball programs in the nation.”

The Catchers

Rounding out the new recruits are freshman catcher Davis Richardson of Kennesaw, GA, and junior college transfer Ryan Welke of Tallahassee, FL. Richardson earned First Team All-Region honors and All-County in 2010 and 2011 and posted 56 RBI as well as a .389 batting average, while Welke from Tallahassee, FL, a 2008 and 2009 First Team All-State and All-Big Ben selection, and hit a .265 batting average and earned 28 RBIs.

“Ryan’s a big, physical catcher who knows the game well. He’s intelligent behind the plate and has good catching/throwing skills. He has the potential to be a power hitter as well,” Coach Lee said.

The Cougars…are they ready to make the College proud in 2012?

As the season opener draws closer, both Powell and Aldrich are optimistic about the months ahead. With so many veterans gone and a heavy reliance on the pitching staff, this puts particular pressure on the right-handed pitcher with last year’s lowest opposing batting average and 63 struck out batters.

“I’m hoping to have a better year,” Powell said, adding that he, and the entire team, is using the month prior to their opener to “help the younger guys get better.”

Aldrich, one of the few returning members to the offense, is feeling the pressure as well. Besides have gained several titles both last season and over the summer, he has the added pressure of trying to top the standout year he had last season. Despite this though, the .347 batting average hitter seemed at ease about the upcoming season.

“I came out with the same work ethic…it will take care of itself,” said Aldrich

The team has another tough line up this year, including a go at the two-time consecutive College World Series winner USC, where Coach Lee was an assistant coach from 2003-2008. The team will start off the season on Feb 17th for a three game spread against South Alabama, a first for Coach Lee. The home opener takes place during the Cougar Invitational on Feb 24th against Rhode Island. The last match up between these two teams in the 2011 season saw the Cougars fall 3-2, with Powell only allowing 6 hits over 6 innings.

“We are really excited about the 2012 schedule,” Coach Lee said. “As usual, we are playing a very tough non-conference schedule, and our conference schedule is always difficult. We look forward to playing this spring against so many quality opponents.”

Coach Lee, despite the tough line up ahead of him, was positive about the team, saying, “We feel good about the club,” adding that the talent was already out on the field and that the month before their opening game would be simply to get the team ready for the workload they’ll be facing and to “solidify the roles of the ball club”.

Aldrich expressed the same sentiments, saying that, even prior to the practice, “All the hard work’s been done.”

To come see the Cougars in action, be sure to come out on Friday, Feb 24th at 5 p.m. to Patriot’s Point.

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