The 2009 Crusader Baseball season was a season of tremendous improvement and outstanding accomplishment under first year coach Travis Henson. I believe last season laid the foundation for a promising future.
Fielding a young team, with 26 underclassmen and only 3 seniors, and playing an ambitious schedule, with 20 games against teams ranked in the Top 25 Nationally and 30 games against teams who had won 28 or more games the previous season, the Crusaders still managed to make great strides throughout the 2009 campaign.
Despite the youth and challenging schedule, the team improved in almost every statistical category from the previous season - including wins. In addition to improving in the number of wins on the season, the team batting average improved by 10 points to .275. The 2009 team also amassed a .348 slugging percentage, an improvement of 21 points from the previous year. The team’s .332 on-base percentage was a 30 point increase over the previous year. In addition NGU also improved on their 2008 numbers in home runs (by 6), total bases (by 98), runs scored (by 57), runs driven in (by 41), and stolen bases (by 2). The improvements were not limited to offense, but defense as well. The team’s .940 fielding percentage was an 18 point improvement over last season and the 37 double plays turned, 21 more than last season, ranked second nationally among all NCCAA schools. The pitching staff posted 29 more strike outs than walks, an astounding improvement over the previous season in which the Crusaders recorded 108 more walks than strike outs.
The infield will be a major strength for North Greenville in 2010. Behind the plate the Crusaders will be anchored by sophomore, Anthony Foulk and junior, Perry Foster. Both Foulk and Foster are very solid defensive catchers as well as strong hitters. Red-shirt freshmen, Cory Matheson and freshmen, Daulton Knight provides added depth at the position. At first base, junior Tyler Callicutt returns. In addition to being a tremendous defensive player, Callicutt is also a key offensive producer hitting .327 last season with 12 extra base hits which include 4 home runs. Senior, Jairo Mateo also returns this season. Mateo is a solid offensive performer and will provide needed experience and depth. Two freshmen standouts, Adam Taylor and Daulton Knight will also provide depth at first base. Both Taylor and Knight have had very solid offensive numbers in the pre-season.
The middle infield boasts several key standouts. Talented sophomores, David Frazier and Dylan Fulk return from last season. Junior JUCO transfers, Bubba Giles and Nate Richards are both outstanding defensive talents who are also solid offensive performers. Both Giles and Richards also provide tremendous leadership. Catcher Anthony Foulk will also see time at second base. Freshmen John Reinholz also share time at second base. Reinholz has a good fall and has been solid performer at the plate throughout the fall as well as in the pre-season while battling an arm injury. Senior Dayton Lupton, Sophomore transfers Ben Stechshulte and Brice Hursey and freshmen, Ryan Westbrook are all solid third basemen. Lupton is a true defensive talent in addition to his offensive prowess.
The Crusaders will be a much improved team in the outfield this season as. Senior, Rand Stegall – a two-time All-American returns to center field to anchor an experienced group. Stegall will be joined by Juniors, Markus Duckworth, Daniel York. Duckworth has had a solid pre-season. His counterpart Daniel York has shown tremendous daily improvement. Sophomores Jacob Goetze and Derek Fulmer return as well giving providing needed depth. Goetze has hit the ball well and has been very solid in the pre-season. Fulmer, a freshman All-American in 2009, will provide an offensive boost for North Greenville in 2010. As a freshman in 2009 Fulmer hit .367 with 23 extra base hits, including 8 home runs.
Several very talented freshmen will add more depth to the outfield during the 2010 campaigne. Freshmen Jon Terbeek, Adam Taylor, Jonathan Polak, Ryan Westbrook, Will Gladden, Jared Williams, and Isaiah Johnson (a two-sport standout who also plays on the NGU football team) will be great additions to an already strong group of performers.
Perhaps the position that needed the most attention for NGU in the offseason was the pitching staff. First year pitching coach Chris Dennis’ first task will be replacing ace lefthander Devin Vance. To help him do this, Dennis will look to a stable of returners to help lead the way. One player tabbed by Henson to fill the void left by Vance is sophomore right hander Drew Province. “Drew has made remarkable strides in the offseason” remarked Henson, “he will be a key to our success this season.”
Province saw action in 13 games last season including 3 starts posting a 6.68 earned run average (era).Other key returnees in the bullpen are senior Trevor Greer who pitched in three games last season, and junior Daniel Goodnight who pitched in 20 games including two starts posting a 9.72 era. Goodnight is recovering quickly from “Tommy Jon” surgery performed after the 2009 season.
Also adding experience to the 2010 pitching staff is the three headed monster of Mark, Matt, and Mike Benjamin the junior triplets from Greenwood, South Carolina. Mark Benjamin bodes the most game experience of the three after throwing in 13 games last season and starting in 7. Mark Benjamin posted an 8.42 era, his brother Mike Benjamin saw action in three games.
To help sure up the bullpen, coach Henson signed two junior college transfers. Brian “Bubba” Giles from Florence Darlington Technical College, and Nate Richards from the University of South Carolina at Aiken will be brought in to help improve a NGU bullpen that struggled at times in 2009. North Greenville also signed 11 freshmen that will look to make an early impact on the 2010 campaign. Coach Henson is excited about the way the pitching staff is shaping up.
“Not only have we added new arms to the staff, we have several key returnees who have made great strides last season. I believe the greatest addition to our pitching staff is our new pitching coach Chris Dennis. He has been a remarkable asset to our program and has been a major reason why every pitcher on our staff has improved.”
While the win loss total did not reflect the improvement from the 2008 season (NGU was 10-40 in 2009), the Crusader pitching staff posted 29 more strike outs than walks in 2009 compared to 2008 when the same pitching staff recorded 108 more walks than strikeouts.
A lot of teams in the country develop a team motto or montra in which they dedicate their entire seasons to. North Greenville is no different. However instead of words, the Crusaders will look to a numerical figure as motivation. The Crusaders will strive for the number 427. However 427 is not a team batting average or an ERA but rather a distance. It is the distance between Ashmore Field in Tigerville, South Carolina and Prasco Park in Cinncinatti Ohio. Prasco Park is the site of the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCAA) World Series. “That is our ultimate goal. To make it to the NCCAA World Series” says Henson, “We have the number printed on the back of our practice gear to remind us every day that it is our goal and we have to sacrifice and work hard.” The Crusaders will be the march to Cincinatti, Ohio on Thursday February 4, with at home with a double header against King College.