College baseball has been played in Mobile since at least 1889, when the students at Spring Hill College first stepped onto the diamond at Stan Galle Field. Now, more than a century later, the sport remains just as popular.
Along with the Badgers, the Jaguars at the University of South Alabama and the Rams at the University of Mobile are looking for successful campaigns. Here is a glance at their rosters:
Spring Hill College — Head coach Frank Sims, who first took the helm at SHC in 1985 and has since led the Badgers to 822 wins, had a busy off-season. During the summer, the veteran mentor was inducted into the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Sims has also been overseeing the team’s transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II. Since joining the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the Badgers have a 34-3 league record. Now in the final campaign before being able to compete for postseason berths, Sims is excited about his latest team.
“I can’t say we have that one player this year who stands above the rest,” Sims said, “but this year we have more consistent players who all play at a high level, and that will make us a better team in the long run.”
Among the 19 veterans on the roster are 11 seniors and 13 lettermen.
“This is possibly the most experienced team we’ve had in years,” Sims said. “We not only have depth this year, but we also have experience in reserve and that is a real benefit in the late innings and as the season goes along.”
Spring Hill had three players named to the SIAC preseason squad. On the first-team unit is senior Michael Druhan of Mobile. On the second-team roster are fellow seniors Ulysses Fluellen and Christian Bahlinger.
Last season, Druhan had a .388 batting average, 40 runs scored, 14 doubles and 11 home runs. He is moving from right field to first base. “Michael is really a first baseman,” Sims said. “This move is where he needs to be for his future and to make us better.”
Fluellen hit .331 with 36 runs scored, 14 doubles, four triples and eight home runs. Bahlinger had a 1.71 earned run average over 63.1 innings and a 7-2 record.
Completing the infield are Keaton Smith at second, Maverick LaTour at shortstop and transfer graduate student Brandon Harigel at third base. Brennan Fontenot moves to catcher following the graduation of Alex Jones, the SIAC Player of the Year.
Fluellen is set in center field. Conner Harrison will play in left field while freshman Justin Collier of Mobile starts in right field.
Returning to the mound with Bahlinger is senior Dylan Kiene of Mobile. Other key hurlers are Justin Whitsett and Jordan Fontenelle. Coming out of the bullpen will be William North, Steven Saucier and Michael Romano.
University of South Alabama — Head coach Mark Calvi led the Jaguars to the school’s 16th Sun Belt title and 26th NCAA Regional appearance in 2016. The club closed the season ranked 26th in the final Collegiate Baseball poll.
USA went 42-22 overall and 21-9 in Sun Belt Conference play while advancing to the NCAA Tallahassee Regional final. The Jags also broke the school’s single-season fielding percentage record for the second straight season with a league-leading mark of .979, which ranked in the top 10 nationally.
For these efforts, Calvi was named the 2016 Large College Division-Division I Coach of the Year by the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association. He received the same honor in 2013.
Some USA players also were recognized. Shortstop Drew LaBounty and outfielder Travis Swaggerty were named to the preseason all-Sun Belt Conference team.
LaBounty earned first-team all-SBC honors last season after leading the conference and finishing sixth nationally in walks (59). He hit safely in 42 of 63 games played, and batted .291 with five doubles and one triple. Swaggerty earned Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American after finishing second in the conference in walks (42), stolen bases (20) and steal attempts (31). He led USA with a .303 batting average.
In 22 intrasquad games this fall, Swaggerty paced the team in batting average (.348), hits (24), doubles (8) and on-base percentage (.438), and ranked second on the squad with seven stolen bases. Carter Perkins, Brendan Donovan and Jared Barnes tied for second on the team, each with 23 hits. Colton Thomas finished as the team leader with eight stolen bases.
On the mound, right-hander Randy Bell struck out nine batters without issuing a walk and did not allow a run in 11 innings pitched. Right-hander Avery Geyer ranked second on the staff in ERA (1.12), and recorded nine strikeouts against two walks in eight innings pitched. Right-handers Harrison Spruiell and Alex Adair shared the team lead with 20 strikeouts each.
South Alabama was picked to finish second in the SBC East Division behind defending national champion Coastal Carolina. The Jags will open the season Friday when USA hosts Eastern Illinois at 6:30 p.m. at Stanky Field.
University of Mobile — Mike Jacobs is starting his 28th season as the Rams’ head coach. Last year, UM finished 33-22 overall and 17-10 in Southern States Athletic Conference games.
In the league’s preseason poll, the Rams are picked to finish fourth behind defending champion Faulkner. One of the keys this season will be the right arm of junior pitcher Garrett Waters of Theodore.
Waters was a first-team all-conference pick in 2016 after tying the school record for 10 complete games, while his 111 innings pitched was the second most in a season and his 11 wins the fourth best. In his first start of 2017, he tossed the fifth no-hitter in UM history as he struck out six during a 12-0 win over Midway.
Another key veteran is senior first baseman Chris Hopballe, whose 8-RBI effort against Brewton-Parker last year was second-most all-time at UM while his 57 RBIs was 10th best for a season. He was second-team all-SSAC.
Third baseman Logan Palmer made conference all-freshman squad after tying the school mark with three doubles versus Blue Mountain. Junior second baseman Norberto Torres earned a berth on the league’s Gold Glove roster.
Others coming off good seasons are senior outfielder Mason Schoettlin (.316, 6 homers) and senior pitcher Christian Breath (4-3 record, 5.40 ERA). In the Rams’ 4-0 start this year, they are hitting .314 as a team and have outscored their opponents 33-9.