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Spring Hill’s Grayson Williams, a Mobile native on the preseason all-SIAC team.
Baseball has been known as “America’s Pastime” for many generations. In Mobile, the sport’s history goes back almost 140 years, when college and minor-league teams first stepped onto the diamond.
The game retains its popularity on the collegiate level. Spring Hill College (SHC), the University of South Alabama (USA) and the University of Mobile (UM) all hope to have successful 2019 seasons.
• Few colleges can boast of a lineage as rich as SHC’s. The Badgers formed their first baseball team in 1889. Stan Galle Field is believed to be America’s oldest active collegiate baseball complex.
But the future is of even greater importance to the Badgers. The team is finally a full member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division II. During its transitional period, no SHC teams could compete for postseason action.
The 2018 squad would have certainly been in the running. The Badgers ended the year with an 18-1 record in the West Division of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association Conference (SIAC) while going 27-17 overall.
“We are looking forward to playing in the SIAC conference tournament this year,” said Frank Sims, who has won almost 900 games since taking over as head coach in 1985. “We have had a 70-8 record in the regular season over the past four years, so we are ready to try and play to advance to the NCAA regional tournament.
“The Badgers have a lot of players back and have added some good young arms, so we are looking forward to the season getting underway. We will be able to gauge how our season might go in our first 15 games. We play a very strong schedule early so we need to be ready.”
Three SHC veterans have earned all-conference honors — senior outfielder Luke Wall (.415 average, 40 runs, 59 hits, 32 RBIs), sophomore outfielder Grayson Williams (Mobile Christian School, .375 average, 47 runs, 57 hits, 40 RBIs) and senior catcher Brennan Fontenot (.340 average, 46 runs, 54 hits, 43 RBIs). All are on the SIAC preseason team, along with Mobile native Nytorious Cooler, a pitcher with Tuskegee.
Other veterans are junior outfielder Justin Collier (Baker High, .317 average, 37 runs, 39 hits, 35 RBIs), senior infielder John Sklopan (Saraland High, .285 average, 28 runs, 29 hits, 26 RBIs), junior shortstop Dan Rodriguez (.310 average, 17 runs, 31 hits, 16 RBIs) and senior infielder Maverick Latour (.215 average, 24 runs, 23 hits, 15 RBIs). Back on the mound are sophomore Mike Romano, senior Will Shaw (Mary G. Montgomery High) and senior Zachary Pauline.
• USA has been picked to finish second in the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division. The Jaguars went 32-25 overall last year and 18-11 in league play.
USA returns 22 veterans, including second-team All-Sun Belt catcher Carter Perkins. As a junior, he hit .301 with 9 doubles, 9 home runs, 43 RBIs, 38 runs scored, a .410 on-base percentage and a .506 slugging percentage.
Other veterans are first baseman Wells Davis (.295, 10 doubles, 8 home runs) and right-handed pitcher Zach Greene, who was selected in the 15th round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Miami Marlins. USA also has a pair of fifth-year senior outfielders in Colton Thomas and Eddie Paparella, each of whom redshirted last season.
Mark Calvi returns as head coach. In his seven seasons with USA, the Jaguars have a 239-175 record. The Jaguar baseball home schedule features 30 games, highlighted by a three-game series with Alabama on March 1-3 and a March 12 contest against Auburn.
• UM is coming off one of its most successful seasons. The Rams advanced to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ World Series and were ranked No. 22 in the final poll. They were 42-14 overall and 17-7 in the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC).
For this campaign, Mobile is picked third in the SSAC preseason poll behind Faulkner (defending regular-season champion) and Middle Georgia State (league tournament winner).
Christian Snow of McIntosh returns for his senior year. Playing in the outfield and infield, he was first-team all-SSAC and Newcomer of the Year after hitting .401 with 15 doubles, 16 home runs and 63 RBIs.
On the second-team unit was senior Kyle Friday, who hit .358 with 6 doubles and was 6-3 on the mound. Senior third baseman Gunner Hendrix of Spanish Fort was a Gold Glove winner who hit .301 with 14 doubles.
Other veterans include seniors Blake Carnley of Daphne (.315) and Logan Palmer (.301). Back in the bullpen are junior Hunter Avery of Mobile Christian (3-0, 2.55 ERA), senior Jordan Taylor of Theodore (3-0, 5.06 ERA) and junior Bailey Bannon of Baker High (1-1, 5.92 ERA).
Head coach Mike Jacobs is back for his 30th season after starting the Rams’ program in 1990. He was inducted last year into the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding achievement in the game of baseball.
Save the dates
• The USA Department of Athletics will conduct several events to learn more about the on-campus Hancock Whitney Stadium, set to open in 2020. The events are at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21, and Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Mitchell Center.
Free parking will be available in the Mitchell Center’s south lot, with Jaguar fans encouraged to use the main entrance to access sections 107-109 for the presentation. The events will include a virtual tour of the 25,000-seat stadium as well as a guided view of the facility’s website, and will be followed by a question-and-answer session.
• The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will conduct an artificial reef zone naming ceremony at Gulf State Park on Friday, Feb. 22. The ceremony will take place at the Dunes Terrace at the Gulf State Park Lodge at 2 p.m.
During the ceremony, eight artificial reef zones will be named in honor of individuals and organizations that have made substantial contributions to the continued development of the largest artificial reef program in the U.S. The list includes: Dr. Robert Shipp, Dr. Sean Powers, Dr. Stephen Szedlmayer, Alabama Charter Fishing Association, Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation, Alabama Wildlife Federation, Coastal Conservation Association of Alabama, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
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