Baseball team set to start season

UNA sophomore Josh Carpenter tries to score during a game against Southern Arkansas last season.

Coming into the 2012 baseball season, the Lions have to carry the burden of high expectations while dealing with a tough schedule.

With six returning All-Gulf South Conference selections from a team that went 37-14 a year ago, the Lions are the pre-season co-favorite to win the 2012 GSC baseball title in voting by the league’s head coaches. The Lions are tied in the pre-season poll with defending NCAA Division II National Champion West Florida with 44 total points.

“We are all really anxious to get started and get on the field to play and see the hard work we put in the off-season shows,” said Head Coach Mike Keehn. “Our biggest thing right now is to get all the little things ready for the season such as our bunting, stealing and our signals.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Lions will return some key pieces-including five all-conference performers-while also returning the entire infield from a year ago to help with the defensive percentage.

“On paper, we look like we should be pretty good with our bats, but it comes down to defense,” Keehn said. “With as many infielders as we have returning, we have the opportunity of being even better on defense than we were a year ago, and that will be our key to success.”

Junior Josh Cyr will return for the Lions at first base in his third consecutive year of starting at that position and also as a second team all-conference performer. Last season, Cyr had a 314 batting average with seven homeruns and 46 RBIs.

“Cyr has been in our league longer than anybody else and really understands how to make the necessary adjustments at the plate, and playing as a freshman helps him,” Keehn said. “Last season, teams pitched him real tight, and he had to make adjustments in the season.”

The other returning all-conference players include J.P. LaMunyon, third-baseman; Josh Carpenter, short-stop; Jake Sloan, designated hitter and Michael Schmidt, second baseman. All four of those players had breakout seasons last year and make big contributions to the team.

“The biggest thing with those guys (LaMunyon, Carpenter, Sloan and Schmidt) is that they came out of nowhere and nobody knew anything about them in terms of pitching to them,” Keehn said.

“Whatever they weren’t doing right, teams figured that out late, so that’s what we’ve been telling them that they need to make adjustments on,” Keehn said. “I think they are capable of doing that; they are just going to have to mature and work on it.”

As for the pitching staff, the Lions lost Trey Mitchell in the starting rotation but will return two of the three weekend starters to the team, including junior Chad Boughner and senior Johnny Hornbuckle.

Boughner finished last season with an 8-3 record with a 3.53 ERA while striking out 57 batters. Hornbuckle also had a solid year, with an 8-3 record with a 4.07 ERA while striking out 80 batters.

“Both guys didn’t have the numbers that (Mitchell) had last year, but I felt that they were pretty consistent for us last season,” Keehn said. “Having two weekend starters will be huge for us this season and our staff.”

One of the biggest concerns coming into the season for the Lions is the back end of the bullpen, as the team lost both setup man Casey Jones and closer Joel Sessions, and closing out games will be a big question mark.

“We have about four guys right now who all have good arms, but we are still trying to find out what their roles are for the bullpen,” Keehn said. “Right now, that has to be one of the biggest questions we have.”

The baseball team is set to start the season this Saturday against Kentucky State with a double header starting at 1 p.m. and a game Sunday also starting at 1 p.m. Both games will be at home.