HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State's baseball team opens the 2017 season on Friday, featuring a strong sophomore core in both the pitching staff and lineup.
The Lions host Motlow State for a doubleheader on Friday beginning at 1 p.m., and welcome Jackson State to James C. Bailey Stadium on Saturday for a twinbill.
"We are ready to get going. Our sophomores have built a good foundation for us through the fall and into the offseason. I think they have taken on a good leadership role as far as leading the freshmen into learning how to play college baseball. We will have to see how the freshmen react when the scoreboard comes on," said Wallace State baseball coach Randy Putman, who's entering his 28th season with the Lions.
Putman has led Wallace State to the postseason 25 times during his Hall of Fame career, including guiding the Lions to a 34-25 record last season and into the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) quarterfinals.
As Wallace State seeks its eighth ACCC championship this season, Putman is closing in on yet another career milestone. He is 27 wins shy of 1,000 career victories at Wallace State with a career record of 973-450.
"As it is for any baseball team, the key for us this season is consistency. If we are a mature team, we will be playing well towards the end of the season. We want to be consistently good all season. Look at a team like the Cubs and how consistently good they were last season. That's what it takes to be a champion in baseball," Putman said.
Among the 14 sophomores on this season's roster, Blake Schilleci, Jesse Scott and Braxton Light return to the pitching staff after each logged considerable innings last season.
Schilleci, an Auburn commit out of Oak Mountain, was a workhorse as a freshman, throwing 55 2/3 innings and compiling a 3.03 ERA. He struck out 55 hitters and walked only 19.
Scott, a Cullman grad, pitched to a 3.19 ERA, striking out 44 batters in 54 2/3 innings, while Light had a 3.45 ERA in 36 1/3 innings, punching out 61 batters. Light pitched in high school at Southside-Gadsden.
Peyton Hayes, a Grissom grad, and Neal Collins, out of Gadsden City, also return as sophomores to the pitching staff as does Weston Bonner of Berry.
Wallace State should also receive a lift on the mound from sophomore transfer Seth McWaters, who went 8-5 with a 2.09 ERA for Lawson State in 2015.
"The sophomores on our pitching staff put together a lot of quality innings last year, and I expect them to do the same this year and be successful. They should set the bar high," Putman said. "I think we should have a strong staff top to bottom."
Freshman pitchers Blake Rivera, Wallace Henry, Tanner Rusk, and Kevin Donovan should all contribute significantly on the mound this season. Rivera helped lead Smith's Station to its first state championship in 2015, while Henry was an ASWA Class 5A All-State selection at Marbury High, located in Autauga County. At West Point, Rusk was one of the top high school pitchers in Cullman County, and Donovan pitched at Enterprise.
Wallace State's lineup should also feature a handful of sophomores throughout. Infielder Cole Collins and Maison Goodwin return to the fold along with infielder Jonathan Smith. Collins and Goodwin are from Cullman and Smith from Auburn.
Billy Reed, a Hoover product, returns to the Lions at catcher. He'll share duties behind the plate with sophomore transfer Justin Henle, a Georgia native.
Cullman's Kolby Robinson, a Class 6A ASWA All-State selection, is among the Wallace State freshmen expected to contribute immediately for the Lions. Robinson is penciled in as the starting shortstop.
Dalton Sinquefield and Heath Haskins should anchor the outfield with Goodwin. Sinquefield is from Smith's Station, and Haskins was a Class 7A ASWA All-State performer at Thompson in Alabaster.
Austin Triplett (Auburn High), Dalton Cobb (Alexandria), Conner Daniel (Guntersville), Kevin Bryant (Corner) and Palmer Ford (Grissom) are among the freshmen expected to contribute offensively.
"I think we've got a chance to score more runs than we have the past couple of years. We have a good mixture of right and left-handed bats in the lineup. The main thing is getting the right guys on the bus and putting the best players on the field. As we did during the fall, we can experiment early and see which guys respond when we play," Putman said. "I believe this team has some depth. We have a lot of guys who are working hard and want to win."
Players on this season's roster not previously mentioned are Luke Whaley (Bob Jones), Tothan Matthews (North Jackson), Blake Dawson (Houston Co., Ga.), Heath Olive (Colbert Heights), Trevor Sanders (Shelbyville Central, Tenn.), Tyndall Kokocha (Grissom), Zach Gipson (Colbert Heights), Jordan Simpson (Lawrence County), Brett Spires (Marbury), Drake Cole (J.B. Pennington), Austin Odom (Lawrence County, Tenn.) and Matt Szustek (Eastwood Christian).
Wallace State begins conference play on March 16 at Snead State. The home conference opener is March 18 vs. the Parsons.
Putman has led Wallace State to seven ACCC titles and six NJCAA World Series appearances. At Wallace State, he has coached future big leaguers Craig Kimbrel, Derek Holland, Jake Elmore, Graham Godfrey, Zelous Wheeler and Terry Jones.
Chad Shannon enters his third season as Wallace State's pitching coach.