As is always the case in junior college baseball, there is going to be steady turnover on a year-in, year-out basis. However, for the University of South Carolina Sumter, there is going to be a bit more than usual.
The Fire Ants will have just …
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The Fire Ants will have just three returning starters in their lineup when they open their season today in Greenville, N.C., with a doubleheader against Pitt Community College. Head coach Tim Medlin will have the good fortune of starting a pair of sophomores on the mound today, but will go with freshmen in Saturday's doubleheader.
"The biggest thing we have with these guys is seeing how they react when they get in a big game situation," said Medlin, whose team went 28-29 last season and 7-15 in NJCAA Region X. "We know how they perform when things are going right; we've got to see if they can find a way to do it when things don't go right.
"I like this group's athleticism, and I like most of their work habits," Medlin added. "We've got more foot speed, more raw power. We've just got to see how those freshmen are going to react."
One of the returnees who will start at first base is Lenny Gonzalez, the former Lakewood High School and Dalzell Post 175 American Legion standout. Gonzalez, who batted .265 with 10 doubles, four home runs and 27 runs batted in last season, will bat third in the order. He is a verbal commitment to Erskine College.
Two freshmen will be batting in front of Gonzalez -- centerfielder Neil Taylor, a transfer from Erskine and shortstop Donta Green from Laurinburg, N.C. Medlin raved about their combination of speed and power on offense as well as their defensive prowess.
"Those three will have to do things for us to be good," Medlin said of Taylor, Green and Gonzalez. "They're all capable."
Another freshman, Brett Young of Conway High School, will bat in the cleanup spot and serve as the designated hitter.
After that, Medlin has no set positions in the batting order. "It will depend on who we're facing on the mound, who's hitting well," Medlin said.
Two more freshmen will man the other two spots on the infield. Vince Hanna of Lake City will start at second while Clover High's Kyle Kalick will start at third.
There was one extra hole on the infield because Grayson Cottingham transferred to defending Region X champion Florence-Darlington Technical College. However, Cottingham didn't transfer because he was disappointed with USCS. Cottingham, who is from Florence and played for Florence Post 1, transferred because his mother became ill and he wanted to be with her.
"I hate it, but I completely understand," Medlin said of Cottingham, who batted. 371 in 143 ABs with 13 doubles, three homers and 26 RBI.
Sophomore Austin Price from Swansea High returns behind the plate. Price batted. 291 in 103 at-bats last season, hitting three homers and driving 15 runs.
Another Clover High product, freshman Cole Hybarger, will start in right field today. Sophomore Chris Edwards will share time in left this weekend with Shanif Harani, a freshman from Petersburg, Ontario. Edwards batted .236 in 123 at-bats last year.
Brothers Blake Robinson and Lindsey Robinson will start today's games on the mound. The Robinsons are right-handed sophomores from Florence. Blake will toe the rubber in the opener.
They struggled as freshmen, as did much of the pitching staff as Sumter had a 6.11 team earned run average. Blake threw 61 1/3 innings in 16 appearances, four of them starts. He had a 3-6 win-loss record with a 7.34 ERA. Lindsey was 4-5 with a 6.65 earned run average in 47 1/3 innings. He made two starts in 11 appearances, but did toss a complete game.
The Game 1 starter on Saturday will be freshman Jack Webb from Hamlet, N.C., and freshman Sam Hunt from Rome, Ga., will start the nightcap.
Medlin is hoping to get right-hander Alex Sanchez back very soon from a tender arm. Sanchez was 2-0 with a 4.21 ERA in 25 1/3 innings last year.
"He really was our best pitcher at the end of last year," Medlin said. "He stepped up and did really well. He will be one of our starters when he returns."
Medlin likes the power arms he has in the bullpen with the likes of freshman Jake Rife from Irwin, Pa., and Tristen Campbell from Cheraw, a transfer from Region X foe Spartanburg Methodist College. Medlin also likes the progress Sumter High School freshman Daniel Twitty has made on the mound and behind the plate.
"He's really come a long way since the fall, Medlin said of Twitty. "I think he's going to be able to help us in both areas."
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