FLORENCE, S.C. – The Francis Marion University baseball team, ranked 33rd in the preseason Collegiate Baseball Magazine NCAA II Top 40 poll, will open its 2009 season on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 1) when the Patriots host 21st-ranked Valdosta State University for a doubleheader.
The twinbill will begin at 1 p.m. on Cormell Field. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for students. The Patriots are 130-40-1 in their last 171 home games at “The Cliff.”
Ninth-year FMU head coach Art Inabinet welcomes back 15 lettermen, including four position starters and three starting pitchers, from last year’s squad that finished 34-20. FMU tied for third during the 2008 Peach Belt Conference regular season, advanced to the PBC Tournament title game, and narrowly missed earning a bid to the NCAA II national tournament for the second year in a row.
Senior All-Region catcher Jared Barkdoll (.362, 7 HRs, 50 RBIs) leads the returning starters. First baseman Preston Shuey (.344, 7 HRs, 55 RBIs), last year’s PBC Freshman of the Year, also returns as does senior third baseman Keon Graves (.262, 8 HRs, 41 RBIs) and junior outfielder Trent Knight (.261, 17 RBIs).
Senior righty David Walters (9-4 record, 4.66 ERA), who was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 47th round of last year’s draft but chose to return to school, leads the returning starters on the mound.
Walters will start game one of Sunday’s doubleheader, and Inabinet has yet to name his game-two starter.
“We are excited to get the season underway,” Inabinet said. “The players have worked extremely hard. Defensively, this year’s infield is as good a group as I have had here at FMU. The catching position is as solid as it can be, and from a pitching standpoint, this is the best depth I’ve had with Patriot arms, especially in the bullpen. I also feel good about our hitting as we open the year.
“We have four quality starters in Walters, junior right-hander Erik Sommerville (6-3, 3.46 ERA), and junior southpaws Josh Edgin and Jeremiah Meiners.” Edgin is a transfer from Ohio State University, while Meiners came over from Coastal Carolina University. “Junior Barrett Kleinknecht (Florence-Darlington Tech) will start at shortstop and, along with junior Josh Biggers (Southern Union State Community College), will handle the load of short relief pitching. Newcomers Shane Gebhards (Jr., LHP), Drew Watcher (Fr., RHP), and Jared Hooks (Fr., RHP) will all pitch in long relief.”
Junior Colby Green, a transfer from Southern Union State Community College, will likely start at second base, while Graves and junior Taylor Norfleet (.272, 1 HR, 24 RBIs in 2007), who missed all of the 2008 season with an injury, will platoon at third base.
In the outfield, Inabinet will have junior Martin Gordon (Glendale Community College) or freshman Tyler Boyd (Lamar High School) in left and junior Alex Lee, a transfer from Clemson University, in center. The right field starting spot is a battle between Knight, junior Josh Smith (.338, 1 HR, 12 RBIs), junior transfer Matt O’Rourke (Spartanburg Methodist College), and redshirt freshman Austin Smetana (West Florence High School).
Junior Jacob Wallace, another SMC product, will spell Barkdoll behind the plate and the two will alternate in the designated hitter role.
The 51-game Patriot schedule includes 30 homes games and this year’s edition of the South Atlantic Challenge, to be held Feb. 6-8. The 2009 PBC Tournament is set for May 9-10 in Aiken, S.C.
FMU, which surpassed 900 wins last season, has won at least 34 games each of the past four campaigns. Inabinet has directed the Patriots to three NCAA Tournament appearances over the past six seasons.