Diamond Statesmen preseason picked
No. 1 in GSC
By Andy Collier
Sports Editor, The Bolivar Bullet
The baseball season for the Delta State University Statesmen is just around the corner.
The Statesmen will begin the season at home on Saturday (Feb. 4) when they play the Harding Bisons in a doubleheader at 12:00 p.m. to begin a three-game series at Tim and Nancy Harvey Stadium at Dave “Boo” Ferriss Field. The series will conclude on Sunday (Feb. 5) with a single game at 1:00 p.m.
The Statesmen are coming off a 2022 season where they went 32-17 with a trip to the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament. They finished 20-7 in Gulf South Conference play last year which gave them a first place finish in the regular season going into the GSC Tournament where they went 2-2.
After getting off to a 6-10 start in the 2021 season, the Statesmen are 54-27 over their last 81 games. In Rodney Batts’ tenure as head baseball coach, the Statesmen are 73-47 with two trips to the NCAA regionals.
The steady progress the Statesmen have made has left an impressive on conference coaches as they were preseason picked to finish first in the GSC.
“I hope we stay on track,” said Batts, who is in his fourth year as Statesmen Head Coach. “You’ve got to get a team that meshes. You’ve got to get a team that plays together and has good chemistry. You’ve got to have relationships with coaches and players. I think the more you’re around guys, the atmosphere and morale you have on the team are better.”
The Statesmen will have a lot of positions to fill in the field as they lost many key starters due to graduation.
“We do have a 50-50 split between new guys and returning guys,” said Batts. “We went threw the fall, and we’re going through the preseason right now. We don’t have a lot of freshmen. We’ve got guys that have played baseball on a lot of different levels. Hopefully, they’ll go out and play as well as they can.”
Batts was proud of the fact his team was preseason picked to finish first in the conference.
“I hope that speaks well of the guys we’ve brought in,” said Batts. “We do have good players. It’s good recognition for the program and good recognition for the school. It is a preseason poll, and it’s doesn’t mean anything other than you’re going to get everybody’s best shot which we do anyway. I just hope we live up to it. I hope our guys feel good about it with their capabilities of what kind of team we could have. It’s not about where you start but how you finish.”
DSU will open GSC play on Feb. 24-25 when the Statesmen host Valdosta State in a three-game series. There are 13 teams in the GSC, and the Statesmen will play 30 games in GSC play this year.
“Our conference is really good and really competitive,” said Batts. “It doesn’t matter if its the first team or the 13th team, they’re all really good. You better show up and play. That’s just how competitive this league is.”
One thing DSU has going into its favor is the fact the team will be at home quite a bit this year. The Statesmen are slated to have 27 of their 50 games at Tim and Nancy Harvey Stadium at Dave “Boo” Ferriss Field. Out of the 27 home games, 11 take place this month.
Last year, the Statesmen loved playing at home as they were 15-3 at Harvey Stadium-Ferriss Field. In Batts’ tenure as head coach, the Statesmen are 38-10 at home.
“I think any time you open up your season at home, it’s a morale booster,” said Batts who is in his fourth year with the program. “You can sleep in your own bed, and everything stays routine. You get to play in front of your home crowd. Any of that should be a momentum boost playing your first games of the year at home. Hopefully, you come out of the gate and play well. The unfortunate thing about Division II is the first game of the year is just as important as the last game of the year. You don’t have time to get your feet wet. You don’t have time to kind of figure things out. You have to have it figured out to some degree before you ever start with your line-up and your pitching rotation. That first game can be a big indication at the end of where you are if you get into the postseason or not.”
This year, the Statesmen will rely heavily on their pitching staff as they have a number of players returning from last year.
“Pitching has to be our strong suit this year,” said Batts. “Our experience is on the mound this year.”
Junior right hander Harrison Haley, who was a finalist for the Ferriss Trophy last year, was selected Preseason All-GSC this year and will be counted on to produce big time. Last season, Haley went 10-2 with a 4.24 ERA in 15 starts. He gave up 102 hits with 68 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 97.2 innings of work. Junior right hander Hammer Franks (4-2, 5.57 ERA) is another starting pitcher returning for DSU. Franks tossed 63 innings in 15 games (13 starts) last season with 61 strikeouts and 24 walks with 71 hits given up. Junior right hander Trace McNabb (3-1, 5.91 ERA, 14 app., 21.1 IP), senior right hander Steven Lacey (0-1, 5.40 ERA, 3V, 15 app., 15 IP) and senior right hander Evan Bynum (1-0, 12.41 ERA, 11 app, 12.1 IP) are three experienced pitchers that will provide some depth to the bullpen.
Along with the experienced pitchers, there are several new players that will be counted on to produce in a major way on the staff.
Rich Mountain Community College transfer Drake Fontenot (RHP, So.), Grace College transfer Kameron Koch (Jr., LHP) and Tyler Junior College transfer Duke Jordan (LHP, So.) are three guys that will be battling for the spot as the third starter on the team.
“One of them will take over a starting slot and the others will solidify bullpen slots for us,” said Batts. “At least, we have options there.”
Northwest Community College transfer and Indianola Academy graduate Josh Hill (RHP, So.), Louisiana Tech University (Division 1) transfer Cade Hodges (RHP, Sr), Lewis and Clark Community College transfer Logan Cromer (RHP, So.) and Ole Miss (Division I) transfer Noah Magee (RHP, Jr.) are players that are capable of giving the Statesmen a strong bullpen.
At the plate and in the field, DSU’s most experienced players are shortstop and All-GSC preseason selection Carson Clowers (Jr.), right fielder Kirkland Trahan (Sr.) and first baseman Hayden Cooper (Jr.). Clowers led the Statesmen in hitting last year with a .379 average. He also had two home runs, 31 RBIs and 40 runs scored in 48 games. Trahan hit .301 with 10 home runs, 40 RBIs and 44 runs scored in 47 games, and Cooper hit .311 with six home runs, 27 RBIs and 28 runs scored in 34 games. Former Bayou Academy standout Brett Burrell, a sophomore returner that saw limited playing time last year for the Statesmen, has worked hard and will play third base this season.
There will be an intense battle for the starting second base position as Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College transfer and Brendan McCauley (Jr.), Pearl River Community College transfer and infielder Taylor Woodcock (So.) and Peyton Badon (So.), who red-shirted for DSU last year, are all in the mix. Woodcock is capable of playing multiple positions in the infield, and Cromer can play third base if needed.
In the outfield, returner Noah Thigpen (So.) and Angelina College transfer Jonathan Duberry (So.) are looking strong at left field, and Mississippi State University (Division I) transfer Matt Corder (So.) and sophomore returner Rodney Hilbler have shown they’re capable of helping DSU in center field.
At catcher, the Statesmen have five players that are capable of doing the job. Returners Brett Cobb (So.), Gabe Stockton, (So.) and former Cleveland Central HIgh School Eli Stallings (So.) have looked good behind the plate as well as Shelton State Community College transfer Matthew Nichols (So.) and Itawamba Community College transfer Connar Gardner (So.). Nichols is also capable of playing in the infield.