Bolstered by 18 sophomores and the return of six starters in the field, the East Mississippi Community College baseball team is set to open the 2014 campaign by competing in the two-day Carl McInnis Classic, hosted by Northwest Florida State College, Friday and Saturday in Niceville, Fla.
Head coach Chris Rose’s experienced EMCC ballclub will take on the host Raiders of NWF State Friday at 11 a.m. and then again on Saturday at 5 p.m. Sandwiched between those two tournament contests, the Lions will meet another NJCAA Division I opponent in Georgia Perimeter College both Friday and Saturday at 2 p.m.
Along with the return of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges’ top two freshman hitters from a year ago in Tyler Odom (.390, 4 HR, 27 RBI) and Colton Caver (.389, 2 HR, 20 RBI), EMCC also boasts the nation’s No. 40 junior college prospect – outfielder LeDarious Clark - according to nationally renowned baseball scouting service Perfect Game. A former all-state standout at Meridian’s Southeast Lauderdale High School, Clark was the Lions’ fourth-leading hitter with a .310 batting average last spring, ranking second in home runs (5) while standing third in runs batted in (24) as well as runs scored (30).
In addition to Odom, East Mississippi also returns infield starters Trent Waddell and Drew Standland. A veteran southpaw who will again occupy first base, Waddell was last year’s MACJC Golden Glove recipient after committing only two errors in 315 fielding chances. Standland, who previously teamed with Odom and left-handed pitcher Hunter Floyd at Oak Grove High School, was EMCC’s primary starter at shortstop as a freshman.
A welcomed late addition to EMCC’s talented infield is former Pascagoula High School product Chase Nyman, who signed with Ole Miss out of high school and played last season at Chipola College in Florida. Nyman was the state’s 2012 Class 5A Player of the Year after leading the PHS Panthers to the state championship.
Another former Ole Miss signee, Chase Reeves returns to the Lions’ outfield after having his 2013 season cut short due to shoulder surgery. The left-handed Reeves was a Louisville Slugger All-American and 2011 Mississippi Class 2A Player of the Year (Mississippi Association of Coaches) at Hamilton High School.
Other returning position players for EMCC include Fredrico Moody, Brad Swede and Colby Ramey.
Behind the plate, the Lions will look to Tupelo product Dylan Vuncannon, Hunter Gasaway, from East Central High School, and East Webster’s Codie Silver.
The Lions have significantly upgraded their pitching staff with the addition of the likes of incoming prep all-state selections J’Daylin Jackson and Andrew Crane. Jackson, a southpaw, led Greenville’s St. Joseph Catholic School to the Class 1A state championship series last year, while Crane, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, did the same at the Class 5A level as the pitching ace for Pascagoula High School.
Among other hurlers likely to contribute to East Mississippi’s pitching cause this season include out-of-state transfers Joshua Griffis and Chase Cameron, who both sat out the 2013 campaign due to injury. A southpaw from Jacksonville, Fla., Griffis joins EMCC’s staff after transferring from Gulf Coast State College in Florida. Cameron, a 6-foot-2 right-hander from Demopolis, Ala., previously signed with the University of Montevallo out of high school.
Headed by returning closer Brock McKnight, out of Kosciusko, the Lions also return sophomore pitchers Conner Burton, Da’Keith Burton and Floyd.
After competing in this weekend’s Northwest Florida State College tournament and next Thursday (Feb. 13) against Wallace CC Selma at the University of West Alabama’s home field in Livingston, East Mississippi is scheduled to open its home baseball slate by playing host to Bishop State Community College on Saturday, Feb. 15.