Returning players and new recruits on the baseball team played their first 12-inning scrimmage of the year Sept. 28 at 4 p.m. The team enters the 2017 season with the majority of the players from last year, plus 11 new recruits who have proven to be incredible assets to the program, especially to the pitching staff.
“This year’s recruiting class will be important with five guys leaving next year,” Head Coach Lee Driggers said. “We’ve got some good young arms and some good returning arms.”
When Driggers came to Union as head coach in 2014, he began the process of rebuilding the team, and it has come a long way since then. His first season to work with his own recruits was last year, when he brought in 25 guys, creating a completely new team. Since then, substantial improvement has come at an accelerated speed, in comparison with the usual 4-5 years allocated for any rebuilding period.
“It’s extremely impressive, how quickly [Coach Driggers] has put together a team like this,” said Zach Wylie, senior Christian studies major. “I’ve never been more ready for the season to start.”
Of the 11 newcomers, there are seven pitchers: five freshmen and two transfers. Austin Kitterman, Landon Walker, and Cooper Bullough, along with Cade Canada and JD Fuzzell, all freshmen, have proven themselves on the mound and will be major assets this season. The two transfer pitchers, JR Miller and Walter Rook, both sophomores, will also add a lot of depth to the bullpen. In addition to adding talented players to the pitching staff, Driggers recruited Tyler Thomas, a freshman, and Lowell Haney, Chase Diggs, and David Robins, all transfers, who will enhance the team defensively and offensively.
In addition to the new talent on the team, returning players have been developing their skill and come back this year physically and mentally prepared. Wylie said that Teddie Christie, a vital part of the pitching staff last year, will be back this season as a solid, dependable starter, and Ryne Roper, who didn’t get a chance to pitch last year due to an injury, will be a weapon on the mound as a closer.
If the optimism on the team right now is any indication of their performance when the season starts, Union baseball could see the best season they’ve had in years. Not only does the team have a powerful combination of talent and commitment, but returning players and new recruits formed a bond that is cohesive and strong.
“There’s definitely an optimism on the team I’ve never experienced,” Wylie said. “We’re the exact same team this year, minus one, and we’ve really, really improved our pitching staff. This is without a doubt the best team we’ve had at Union University. Without a doubt.”
The time between now and February will determine the effectiveness of what the baseball program has done to ensure a successful 2017 season, but as of right now, it looks promising.
“You don’t get anything turned around without players,” Driggers said. “We had a good nucleus coming back this year [and recruited] talented players that want to excel… This is the best team we’ve put on the field in three years.”