Eastern baseball gearing up for new season
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The Eastern baseball team is starting its 2017 season soon, and the Panthers hope to earn themselves a little redemption from last year.
After finishing with a 15-39 record, redshirt junior Frankie Perrone said that after a long pre-season, they have gotten better at every facet of their game.
“Our offense looks promising,” Perrone said. “But I think we have made our biggest strides in our pitching. We have a lot of talent on the pitching staff this year and a few guys who can be make or break for us.”
Senior Matt Dunavant said that Eastern’s pitching has improved immensely from last year, due to extra experience from younger members of the team.
“Last year we were young and this year we won’t have that excuse,” Dunavant said. “We are really looking to take the next step. We brought in a lot of junior college guys who should play a big part in helping us win games.”
Aside from the improvements on the pitching mound, Perrone said that, overall, the team has a different vibe than last year.
“I feel like we are a lot closer this year and all of us understand that we want to win rather than just accomplish things as individuals,” Perrone said.
With new team morale, the Panthers are looking to their seniors for leadership on and off of the field.
With five graduating seniors, pitcher Alex Cain said that the team will look to them for leadership this season.
“We’ll look to Chase (Thurston), Brendon (Allen), Mike (McCormick), and Matt (Dunavant). But the new junior college transfers will help us with their experience too,” Cain said.
Dunavant had a .246 batting average last season, Allen had a 7.21 earned run average, McCormick had a 6.46 earned run average, and Allen had a 7.21 earned run average.
Perrone earned a .282 batting average last season, but looks to improve on his hitting this season.
“I’m trying to work on pitch selection and not swinging at off speed pitches out of the zone,” Perrone said. “Pitchers throw me out by throwing me off speed pitches so if I can lay off them then I’ll put myself in better positions to get fastballs.”
While Perrone is working on perfecting his at-bats, Cain and McCormick are working on their pitching skills and accuracy.
“I’m getting my arm in shape and working to command my pitches to help us whenever I’m called on to pitch,” Cain said. “Overall, as a team, we’re looking to be better as a team and compete for a chance to go to the OVC Tournament.”
McCormick is working on his pitches as well, but it’s not about getting his arm in shape as much as it is about perfecting his endurance.
“I’m working at keeping my pitch count low to each hitter so that I can pitch deeper into games,” McCormick said.
Eastern coach Jason Anderson said he believes the team has a chance to make a jump in the conference from previous years, but how big of a jump will depend on the health of the team throughout the season.
Anderson said he fully expects the team to make their way into the tournament and compete for the championship, after finishing 8-22 last year and not making the tournament.
“We are trying to get healthy as we are dealing with an extraordinary amount of injuries. We are also doing our best to get the pitch counts up, get as many at bats as possible and prepare to face a tough early schedule,” Anderson said. “I always believe the seniors have to provide most of the leadership on a championship team. We consist of a lot of juniors but our seniors have the most experience and will be looked at to carry the team.”
The Panthers played a lot of close games last year as 24 games were decided by two runs or less, with 18 of those being losses.
“The team is looking good this year,” McCormick said. “People ranked us second to last in the conference but we plan on proving them wrong. We’re going to look to everyone to step up at a certain point this year if we want to make a run.”
The Panthers start their season Feb. 17-19 in Mobile, Alabama, against South Alabama University.
Maria Baldwin can be reached at 581-2812 or firstname.lastname@example.org