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Hopefully rain ends so Francis Marion can face a season-opening Tornado on Sunday

FLORENCE, S.C. – The nationally ranked Francis Marion University baseball team will open its 2011 season on Sunday (Feb. 6) with a home doubleheader against King College. The first game will start at noon on Cormell Field. 

Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for students with FMU students being admitted free with a valid identification card.

Francis Marion graduate and former Patriot infielder Mike Wilson will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Wilson is a member of the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame and was the first Patriot to sign a professional baseball contract. His son is also a member of the 2011 Patriot squad.

King College is coached by former FMU assistant Mac McClarrinon. The Tornado were 29-16 last season and played in the NCCAA Division I World Series. King College is also the alma mater of current Patriot assistant Robbie Wilson.

FMU head coach Art Inabinet welcomes back 13 letterwinners, including four position starters and eight members of the pitching staff, from last year’s 40-14 squad that made a second straight appearance in the NCAA Division II National Tournament where the Patriots hosted the Southeast Regional. The 40 victories is the second-highest win total in team history, and the Patriots ended the season ranked 10th in the nation.

Francis Marion starts the 2011 campaign ranked 15th and ninth in two preseason Division II national polls.

Leading the FMU returnees are sophomore right-handed pitcher Don Sandifer, a preseason All-American selection, and senior first baseman Preston Shuey, who was named to the “Players to Watch” list for 2011 by the American Baseball Coaches Association. Sandifer was 7-1 with a conference-best 2.73 earned run average as a freshman in 2010. He led the PBC in fewest walks, runs, and earned runs allowed and had the third-best opponent batting average against at .230. In 69.1 innings pitched, he allowed only 59 hits, struck out 49, and walked only nine, ranking him ninth nationally in fewest bases-on-balls issued per nine innings (1.17). Shuey hit .341 last season with 31 runs scored, 12 doubles, five home runs, and 40 runs batted in. The Charlotte native posted a .423 on-base percentage and committed only four errors in 502 chances for a .992 fielding percentage.

A three-year starter, Shuey already owns the FMU career record for defensive put outs and could end his career owning records for games played and started, doubles, RBIs, total bases, and sacrifice flies.

“When we send Sandifer to the mound, I feel we have a chance to win every time,” Inabinet said. “He appears to be ready to take on the role of a No.1 starter. He is a fierce competitor, and even though he is just a sophomore, he knows have to pitch.

“Preston will be counted on heavily on the offensive side. We hope he will produce similar numbers to last season, and lead us in runs batted in from the clean-up spot in the order.”

Also returning is third baseman Tyler Cappelmann (.314, 1 HR, 20 RBI), outfielder Tyler Boyd (.314, 3 HR, 29 RBI), and designated hitter Chris Honeycutt (.337, 2 HR, 21 RBI).

The Patriots regain the services of senior outfielder Martin Gordon (.394, 18 RBI, .470 OB%) who missed last season with an injury. Gordon played for South Africa in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Senior righty Patrick Mincey (3-2, 2 saves, 3.43 ERA) returns in the bullpen and will most likely man the closer’s role.

Among the newcomers are junior outfielder Buddy Sosnoskie, who has been named to the ABCA’s “Newcomers to Watch” list for 2011; senior right-handed pitcher Joe Wagstaff (2-0, 2.89 ERA), a transfer from Campbell University; and freshman infielder Michael Wilson (Florence Christian School) and freshman right-handed pitcher Jeffrey Stoner (Lakeside High School in Martinez, Ga.).

Sosnoskie transferred from Virginia Tech this past summer. As a Hokie in 2010, he batted .347 with a team-leading 13 home runs, 10 doubles, 46 runs scored, and 48 runs batted in. He ranked 14th in the ACC in home runs and 19th in batting average. He registered a .609 slugging percentage, 15th-best in the ACC, as the Hokies posted a 40-22 record and made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000. He was named to the All-Regional Team at the Columbia, S.C., regional, and was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 25th round of Major League Baseball’s 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

Sam Pepper, a transfer from Barton College, will also see time at the DH spot. Last year, he batted .351 with 10 doubles, four homers, 25 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases for the Bulldogs.

According to Inabinet, Sunday’s probable starters will be Sandifer in game one and Wagstaff in game two. The likely starting line-up for opening day will include an infield of Shuey (1B), senior Brooks Arnette (2B), Cappelmann (SS) and Wilson (3B) with Gordon, Sosnoskie, and Boyd in the outfield.

Behind the plate, Inabinet is looking at the trio of juniors Jeff Gaston, Brian Paulhus, and Zac Livingston. “To open the season, catching will be by committee. “Each player has good skills, but they don’t all have the same skills. They have improved as we have moved through the preseason, but that improvement will have to continue throughout the year for us to be a consistent competitor.

“As a whole, I feel comfortable with our defense up the middle. We have two returning seniors at second and short and Sosnoskie, who is a 5-tool player, in center. We also have good speed in all three outfield positions.

“The 2011 season will be a new challenge, especially with some many new faces. Our aim is to get the team chemistry right and figure out what positions these youngsters need to be put in so they can be successful. The opening day line-up may not be the same as the crew we put out there two weeks later. Last year with a large core of seniors, they knew what was expected, but this year we are still learning signals and adapting to our ways of doing things.

“For the first time since I have been at Francis Marion, the team voted on a team captain and they selected Preston and Joe (Wagstaff). I went in this direction because we had some many new players that needed direction in our philosophy. It has worked out well with both players taking to the role in fine fashion.”

One adjustment that all Patriots will have to make at the plate is with the new NCAA regulations on bats. New restrictions on the metal bats have been implemented to make them perform more like wooden bats.

The NCAA’s goal is to reduce the speed of the ball coming off the bat and make the game safer for infielders and pitchers.

Inabinet responded with, “This means that our small-ball game will be emphasized even more. We will look to drag and push bunt more often, execute the hit-and-run, and be more aggressive on the bases, including straight steals. Basically, this means all the offensive elements that do not include the long ball.”

In 2010, the Patriots were ranked nationally among the Top 20 in six categories: 8th in sacrifice bunts (56), 13th in ERA (3.67) and fewest hits allowed per nine innings (8.63), 14th in won-loss percentage (.741), 15th in fielding percentage (.967), and 20th in players being hit-by-pitches (83).

FMU was 22-9 at home last season and is 174-56-1 in its last 231 home games at “The Cliff.”  This will be the final season at the field as FMU’s new athletic complex is set to open in 2012.

The No. 15 ranking in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s NCAA Division II Top 40 pre-season poll means the Patriots have appeared in 95 of the past 101 national polls dating back to the 2005 season. FMU was ranked in every poll during the 2010 season, including 12 weeks in the Top 10.

FMU was tabbed to finish third according to the PBC coaches’ preseason poll. Francis Marion has made six trips to the NCAA National Tournament, including five in the past eight seasons.

#91/2-4-11

Last Published: February 28, 2011 1:23 PM
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