FLORENCE, S.C. – The Francis Marion University baseball team will open its 2003 season on Saturday (Feb. 1) with a doubleheader against Limestone College.
The first game of the doubleheader will begin at noon on Cormell Field. The two squads will conclude the three-game series with a single game on Sunday at noon. Former FMU head coach Gerald Griffin, who founded the Patriot baseball program in 1973, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Saturday’s opening game. A member of the NAIA Hall of Fame, Griffin retired in 2000 with a career coaching record of 736-521-1.
Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for students. Swamp Fox Club members will be admitted free with their season passes.
Third-year Patriot head coach Art Inabinet welcomes back 15 lettermen from last season’s 26-27 squad. Among the returnees are five position starters and seven members of last year’s pitching staff.
“I am excitedly optimistic,” Inabinet said. “We are vastly improved, both defensively and athletically. We targeted several areas that we felt needed improvements, and with this group of newcomers, feel as though we have addressed those needs. In doing so, we have also drastically improved our depth.”
According to Inabinet, junior right-hander Erin Jones (Dillon, SC) and junior lefty Phil Padgett (Surfside Beach, SC) will start games one and two respectively on Saturday. “Jones is coming off a tremendous year in 2002, and he will be our number one workhorse,” Inabinet said.
Last season, Jones tied for seventh in the nation (NCAA Division II) in total wins with his 12-6 record, and ranked 19th in earned run average (2.29). He set team records for innings pitched, strikeouts (106), and complete games (11) during the 2002 season. Unofficially, his 117.2 innings pitched ranked as the second-highest workload of any Division II pitcher during the 2002 season. Padgett was 2-1 with one save and a 3.44 ERA in 16 appearances.
Among the other returning pitchers are senior righty Bubba Strickland (Florence, SC), who was 3-4 with one save and a 4.86 ERA in 14 games, and senior righty Kenny Cooley (North Charleston, SC), who recorded 23 strikeouts in 17.1 innings of late-season work.
Senior designated hitter Jerry Honeycutt (Fort Mill, SC), junior right fielder Horace Reeves (Irmo, SC), sophomore center fielder Quentin Davis (Darlington, SC), and sophomore second baseman Bert Rollins (Lexington, SC) lead the position returnees. Honeycutt batted .279 last year with six home runs and 29 runs batted in, while Reeves hit .308 with a pair of home runs and 26 RBIs. Davis led the team in stolen bases with 18, while hitting .304.
All Rollins did in his freshman season in the leadoff spot was lead the Patriots in hitting (.369) and multiple-hit games (19), record the team’s second-highest on-base percentage (.434), and finish third in runs scored (38). His averages included a .443 average when leading off an inning and a .426 mark with runners in scoring position.
Among the newcomers Inabinet will look to for immediate contributions are freshman shortstop Jason Weaver (Lake City, SC), who redshirted last year at the University of South Carolina; junior catcher Kenneth Yaeger (Bowling Green, KY), who played last year at Western Kentucky University; and third baseman Wilson Burwell (Spartanburg, SC), first baseman Seth Bixler (Orangeburg, SC), and outfielder Derek Wilson (Columbia, SC), who all played last season at Spartanburg Methodist College.
Interestingly, Inabinet will likely call Yaeger, a 6-foot 170-pound right-hander, from behind the plate to serve as the team’s closer.
The Patriots were picked to finish eighth in the Peach Belt Conference, according to the PBC’s annual coaches’ preseason poll. “With the squad we have assembled for 2003, I will be disappointed if we finish eighth or worse,” said Inabinet.
During the 2003 campaign, FMU will face six teams ranked in the preseason Collegiate Baseball Top 40 poll, including the preseason favorite Kennesaw State University (Feb. 21-22) and defending Division II national champion Columbus State University (Apr. 18-19).
Twenty-four of the 29 Patriot roster members for 2003 are from South Carolina.
Limestone is coached by Francis Marion graduate and former player Anthony “Chico” Lombardo. Lombardo owns a career coaching record of 289-254 in 11 seasons at the collegiate level.