Following a 2017 team that set a program record for number of wins in a season with 38, the 2018 North Greenville baseball team will look to set that record even higher. North Greenville returns the majority of its pitching staff as well as four players with at least 20 starts in the batting lineup last season.
The Crusaders will expect Ashmore Field to be even more of a homefield advantage as the 2018 season will feature a brand new Sports Turf playing surface, which is currently being installed. The field is scheduled to be complete in time for NGU's mid-week home series against Northwood University, which is scheduled for Wednesday, February 21st. North Greenville has enjoyed a large homefield advantage in recent years as the Crusaders lost only three games at home in 2016 and only one game at home in 2017.
John Jones will begin the season as the starting catcher for the Crusaders. A senior transfer from the University of South Carolina, Jones is a switch-hitter and brings much-needed experience to the position with 82 games played while at South Carolina. He is an NCAA National Player of the Week and a two-time SEC Player of the Week.
Andrew Plunkett and Sean Parsons will share playing time at first base to begin the season. Plunkett, a senior, started 16 games last season for NGU, hitting .278 and recording the fifth-highest on-base percentage on the team at .404. A redshirt sophomore, Parsons recorded four hits in 2017; a single, double, triple, and home run.
Jared Williams and Eric Gilbert will both see playing time at second base. Williams, a junior transfer from the University of South Carolina Lancaster, led USC-L with a .400 AVG and made 2nd Team All-American JUCO in 2017. He also played at the University of South Carolina before his time at USC Lancaster. Gilbert started 35 games for NGU last season and is certainly a vocal leader of the team.
Ryan Brown will see significant playing time at third base. Brown started every game for the Crusaders last season. His .484 slugging percentage was fourth-highest on the team among starters. He also led the team in sacrifice fly balls with 8.
Utah Jones will be the starting shortstop, but an unfortunate injury will keep him out for the first few weeks of the season. Connor Driscoll and Dawson Price will both see playing time at shortstop while Jones is out. A junior transfer, Jones played at the University of North Carolina prior to arriving at NGU. Driscoll is a transfer sophomore from Daytona State College. He played in 29 games at DSC in 2017, hitting .277 for the season. Price is a true freshman from Sumter High School. In his senior year, he made All-Region as well as the North/South All-Star team.
Mitchell Painter, Connor Grant, Jack Morris, Jeff Chandler, and Toby Sponseller will see playing time in the outfield. Painter sat out the 2017 season with an injury, but was a key weapon in the 2016 lineup with a .376 AVG and a .556 SLG. Grant, a junior, started 49 games in 2017 and posted a .338 AVG and 7 home runs. Morris is a junior transfer from Liberty University. During his two years at Liberty, he played in 72 games, recording a .368 OBP and 8 doubles. Chandler, a junior transfer from Gateway Community College in Arizona, hit .324 and achieved an on-base percentage of .435 during his two years at GCC. Sponseller is a junior transfer from Harford Community College. Sponseller produced offensively in multiple ways during his two years at GCC, recording a .395 AVG, 15 home runs, and 36 stolen bases.
Josh Black will begin the season as the designated hitter, but Alex Williams and Toby Sponseller will get their opportunities at the plate as well. A senior, Black led the 2017 team with a .373 AVG. He is also a vocal leader on and off the field.
Tucker Burgess, Blake Hamilton, Ethan Garner, and Frankie Fernandez will begin the season as the starting rotation. Burgess started 13 games last season for the Crusaders and finished with an astounding 9-1 record and a 2.56 earned run average. He has been named Preseason All-Southeast. Hamilton started 11 games for NGU in 2017. He finished the season with a 3.76 ERA and 5-1 record. Garner was the 2016 Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year with a 2.76 ERA and a 5-2 record. He took a redshirt during the 2017 season due to Tommy John Surgery, but looks to have a bounce back year and is now completely healthy. Fernandez, a junior transfer from Hillsborough Community College, recorded a 3.25 ERA in 17 appearances for HCC in 2017.
Relief pitchers of note are Canaan Cropper, Avery Greer, Daniel Kight, and Kipp Rollings. Cropper led the pitching staff last year in starts with 14, and pitched just two games in relief. He led the team in strikeouts with 85. Greer pitched just twelve innings last season, but was highly effective with a 2.25 ERA. Opponents hit just .125 against him and struck out 14 times. Kight made 15 appearances for the Crusaders in 2017, and looks to have much more of an impact in 2018. Rollings is a junior transfer from the University of South Carolina Lancaster, where he made 13 appearances as both a starter and reliever.