PREVIEW: 2017 Crusaders look to build on record breaking 2016-season

PREVIEW: 2017 Crusaders look to build on record breaking 2016-season
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
By Alan Kahaly
PREVIEW: 2017 Crusaders look to build on record breaking 2016-season

North Greenville Baseball enters the 2017 season with a chip on its shoulder after an unfortunate end to the season in last year’s Conference Carolinas tournament.

The Crusaders can draw from several accomplishments from last season to build on, including a team-record 21 conference wins, a walk-off win in a team-record 16 inning game against Mount Olive, and a national ranking in several statistical categories. With Landon Powell returning for his third season as head coach, the 2017 Crusaders will look to achieve their third consecutive winning season with a large number of returning players, but will have to do it with a very tough out of conference schedule that includes Wingate, Francis Marion, USC Aiken, and Catawba. Predicted to finish fourth in the Conference Carolinas, North Greenville will turn to its experienced starting rotation, strong batting lineup, and solid defense for its success.

The 2016 North Greenville pitching staff finished the season with a 3.40 ERA, which ranked 14th in Division II. The Crusaders were also ranked nationally in shutouts pitched with six, which was tied for 15th in Division II.  Starting pitching will be a key strength in 2017 as four pitchers with starting experience on last season’s team return. Sophomore Tucker Burgess had a very impressive 2016 season as a starting pitcher, posting an 8-1 record and a 1.80 ERA. Junior Blake Hamilton finished the 2016 season with a 5-1 record and a 3.92 ERA. Zack Kamerman started 12 games last season, and posted a 3-2 record and a 3.04 ERA. Canaan Cropper, a junior transfer from the University of South Carolina, will also begin the season as a starter. Cropper was ranked by Perfect Game as the number one pitching prospect in the state of Maryland in 2013.

The bullpen remains a question mark heading into the 2017 season with the loss of setup reliever John Leopard and closer Mike Gilroy. North Greenville will feature a number of talented relievers including Avery Greer, a junior transfer from the University of North Georgia, Connor Grant, a sophomore transfer from College of Charleston, junior transfer Clark Scolamiero out of the University of South Carolina, and senior Sam Pruitt, who pitched 9.2 innings last season.

With the departure of David Houser, the catcher position will be filled by a familiar face in senior Wheeler Smith. Smith did not see much playing time last season, but is an experierienced option, starting in 100 games in his college career and posting 337 career at-bats. He was a key to the Crusaders’ 2015 conference championship team. The catcher position will also feature sophomore Brandon Odachowski, who started three games last season as well as freshman Shannon Glover, who was ranked the 8th best Division II prospect by Perfect Game USA and was a member of the 2013 15U National Team.

The Crusaders will see the bulk of its infield returning for the 2017 season. Nathaniel Maggio, who finished second in Player of the Year voting for the conferecne, returns for his senior season and will play first and third base. Maggio posted a .324 AVG and hit a school single-season record 17 homeruns in 2016. He will have a chance to break the career homerun record of 30, which was set by Allen Staton from 2012 to 2015. Other first basemen will include senior Taylor McCuen, who had significant playing time in 2015, and Andrew Plunkett, a junior transfer from the University of Tennessee.

Second base will be occupied by senior Bennette Hill. Hill finished the 2016 season with a .286 AVG and was second on the team in stolen bases with 16. Stolen bases have proven to play a large role for the Crusaders as they finished 29th in Division II with 90 total stolen bases. Hill will also see playing time at third base. Other players who will see playing time at second base include junior Eric Gilbert and freshman Daniel Myers. Gilbert started in 18 games but saw playing time in 35 total games in 2016, and finished the season with a .261 AVG. Myers, a freshman out of Spartanburg High School, finished his senior year in high school with a .401 AVG and received a Golden Glove Award for his defensive play. Myers’ defensive skills will add to an already solid defense. North Greenville’s .970 Fielding Percentage in 2016 ranked 19th in Division II.

With the departure of Foley George, North Greenville will turn to Nathaniel Maggio and Bennette Hill to share playing time at third base. George played the majority of games at third base since 2013, so third base will be a key position for the Crusaders to fill this season.

Senior Andrew Frazier will see the bulk of the playing time at shortstop. Frazier transferred from Central Florida and made an immediate impact in 2016, posting a .333 AVG and 12 stolen bases.

A season-ending injury to Mitchell Painter as well as the departure of Drew Lipscomb and Shaquille Rolle will bring a trio of Division I talent to the outfield for the 2017 season. Josh Black, who came to North Greenville as a transfer from Furman University, played in 35 games for the Crusaders last season, and posted a .297 AVG. Junior transfer Clark Scolamiero was the University of South Carolina’s opening day center fielder for the 2016 season.

Scolamiero was listed as Perfect Game’s Preseason Prospect to Watch, and played under North Greenville assistant coach Scott Wingo for the Summer League Wilmington Sharks. Another transfer from College of Charleston, Connor Grant will be a key to the outfield in 2017. Grant started a number of games as a freshman for College of Charleston, and is considered a five tool player. Ryan Brown, who also transferred from a college of Charleston, was an NCAA freshman All-American.

The North Greenville Crusaders have high expectations heading into the 2017 season. Experience as well as highly-regarded new talent brings a lot of excitement for Crusader baseball. The 2017 season begins Friday when the Crusaders take on Wingate in their first of three games in the Carolinas Hospital System Classic, a baseball tournament hosted by Francis Marion University in Florence, SC.