Photo | Scott Donaldson/University of South Alabama
The University of South Alabama’s Ethan Wilson has been named a preseason All-American.
Several area baseball teams will be looking for postseason honors in 2020. Here is a quick glance at those college squads.
University of South Alabama (USA): Perhaps no local player has gained more national attention than USA outfielder Ethan Wilson. The sophomore’s most recent honor is being named to the 2020 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list. He was previously selected first-team Preseason All-America by Collegiate Baseball and second-team Preseason All-America by D1Baseball. Wilson has also been voted Preseason Player of the Year and Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference (SBC).
The Andalusia, Ala., native was voted the 2019 SBC Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year after finishing the season ranked second in the league in slugging percentage (0.686) and total bases (151), tied for second in home runs (17), tied for third in runs scored (59), sixth in batting average (0.345) and on-base percentage (0.453), tied for eighth in hits (76), ninth in RBIs (51) and tied for ninth in doubles (16). Wilson was the only NCAA Division I freshman in the nation to be named conference player of the year.
USA right-hander Drake Nightengale was named the Preseason Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and was selected second-team Preseason All-America by Collegiate Baseball. Nightengale went 6-2 with a 3.52 earned run average (ERA) and one save in 15 appearances with 12 starts last year. He recorded 91 strikeouts against 38 walks in 71 2/3 innings pitched while limiting opponents to a 0.196 batting average.
Wilson, Nightengale and first baseman Kaleb DeLaTorre were also voted Preseason All-SBC, while the Jaguars were picked to win the East Division. DeLaTorre batted 0.301 with 15 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 37 RBIs, 40 runs scored and a 0.391 on-base percentage in 56 games played last season. He ranked ninth in the Sun Belt in batting average (0.349) in league games.
Collegiate Baseball magazine has head coach Mark Calvi’s Jaguars ranked No. 23 in its preseason poll.
Spring Hill College (SHC): The Badgers captured the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) title last year and advanced to the NCAA Division II playoffs. Head coach Frank Sims has a strong core to compete for another trophy.
Spring Hill led all SIAC teams by placing six returners on this year’s preseason team. First-team members senior shortstop Daniel Rodriguez and junior outfielder Grayson Williams (Mobile Christian) had 112 combined hits for the Badgers. Last season, Rodriguez finished 14th in Division II’s “Toughest to Strike Out” category.
Junior Michael Romano returns on the mound after 16 relief appearances last season finishing with a 3.94 ERA in 32 innings pitched. He appears on the preseason first team after a 2-3 season with three saves and 26 strikeouts.
Junior third baseman Mason Bonnaffons is on the preseason second team after appearing in 49 games with 48 starts, and hitting 0.338 with six doubles, three triples, two home runs and 41 RBIs.
Junior pitcher Taylor Gibson (Foley High) and first baseman Hunter Romero round out SHC’s preseason selections on the second team. Gibson was 4-5 in 2019 with 56 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings pitched. Romero hit 0.262 for the Badgers last season despite limited play because of an injury.
In one final honor, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) announced its 2020 NCAA Division II Preseason All-South Region squads with Rodriguez on the first team and Bonnaffons on the second team.
University of Mobile (UM): The Rams’ program is entering uncharted territory without Mike Jacobs as head coach. Jacobs, who tragically passed away in December, founded the UM baseball program and was the only head coach in its 30-year history.
Jon Seymour, his assistant since 2004, has officially been named the Rams’ head coach. He takes over an impressive team that has been picked second in the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) preseason poll behind defending champion Faulkner University.
Back after earning first-team all-SSAC honors is pitcher-infielder Hunter Avery (Mobile Christian), who had a 2.38 ERA in 31 appearances while earning 12 saves with a 3-5 record. He struck out 46 in 53 innings.
On the second-team unit was catcher Zachary Presnall (Satsuma High). He batted 0.326 with five doubles and a triple. Presnall also appeared on the mound in 11 games.
On the all-freshman squad were infielders Trent Avery (Mobile Christian) and Skylar Gilchrist (Baker High). Avery hit 0.279 with 17 doubles while Gilchrist batted 0.158 with seven RBIs.
The Rams, ranked No. 24 in the nation, have already hit a milestone as they just earned the school’s 1,000th victory. The 2020 season has been dedicated to Jacobs, as his No. 18 is spray-painted on the field at Jacobs Field and his No. 18 jersey hangs in the dugout for each game.
Dueling at Daytona
Fairhope native Grant Enfinger opened the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series on Valentine’s Day by holding off Jordan Anderson on the final lap of overtime at Daytona International Speedway to win the NextEra Energy 250 race by 0.01 seconds.
Enfinger, a University of South Alabama graduate, did not win a race in the series in 2019. However, he collected enough points (13 top 10 finishes in 16 races) to claim the regular-season driver’s championship.
At the opening race for this season, NASCAR reported he got his shot following a wreck on the 98th lap of a scheduled 100-lap race that took out Ben Rhodes (his ThorSport Racing teammate) and a 13 of other trucks. Enfinger had the lead for a restart on lap 105. But on the final circuit, Anderson made a move to the outside and briefly took the top spot.
Enfinger, though, turned the wheel of his No. 98 Ford to the right, door-slamming Anderson’s No. 3 Chevrolet and breaking his momentum just enough to get to the finish line with two feet to spare.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Enfinger, who broke a 28-race winless streak in the truck series. “It’s the 100th win for Ford in the series; unbelievable for them. God’s blessed us with a great opportunity to come out here and pull it off tonight.”
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