season outlook

The 2004 season for the Union University Bulldogs has the potential for a great run at the NAIA postseason. Union will have several new players this year that will have the opportunity to contribute along with the 12 returning players from a season ago. Among the 12 returning players, just five of them were considered as starters last season, including three fielders and two pitchers. Union returns their starting centerfielder, first baseman, and third baseman. Two weekend starters, along with three relievers returning to the mound from last year. Unions head coach Andy Rushing, in his 16th season with the Bulldogs, will look to mold this very talented team into not only a conference championship contender, but a team that can make a run for the NAIA World Series.

On the mound, senior right hander Todd Winchester enters the year as the top arm on the staff. Winchester started out as a reliever, but earned a starting job because of his consistent pitching through the year. Nash Powell, a senior right hander from Jackson, returns as a starter and bullpen guy. Powell will be very important to the success of this year's staff as he returns to the mound after missing part of last season with an injury. Another senior reliever, Matt Glass, returns as one of the best story's of the past few years. The left handed Glass converted from an outfielder as a freshman to on the best arms on the Union pitching staff. Junior Matt Gibbs looks to regain the form from his freshman season that has proved to be his best year to this point. David Canary, a senior, is looking to be another player to convert from an everyday fielder to a valuable reliever. Canary, last year's shortstop, has worked with pitching coach Brent Fronabarger this off season and has proven he has the physical ability to make the change successfully. Sophomore Garrett Pepper will be used as a starter, reliever, and also a designated hitter this year. Junior Eric Vanderburg and freshman Clint Author will join Winchester as the top starters on the team this season. Both have good arms and will be used a great deal this season, especially on the weekends. Freshman pitchers Bill Stewart and John Mark Walls will be used as both starters and relievers. Prior to the season's first game, Union has already felt the sting of injury as senior transfer from the University of Mississippi Adam Yates will undergo shoulder surgery this spring. Yates, a native of Jackson, will use his medical red-shirt this year and look to return fully recovered for the 2005 season.

Looking at Union's infield, only two from last season's infield will start in 2004. Coach Rushing believes that the biggest improvement from last season to this season is the infield defense. Junior first baseman Josh Allen returns, not only to his usual spot at first, but as one of the Bulldogs' top offensive producers. Sophomore Steve Sweat played third base for most of the season last year and will make the move to shortstop this season. He too, will be one of Union's top run producers. The starting role at second base has two players who will share time at the start of the season. Senior Chris Wright and sophomore Jeffrey Jackson will both have the opportunity to show what they can do. Wright has the defensive edge while Jackson holds the offensive edge at that position. Third base honors go to junior transfer Seth Silcock. Silcock, and outfielder Patrick Williams, are the outstanding defensive additions to this year's Union squad. Leading a new group of catchers will be Chris Godwin, a junior transfer from Jackson State Community College. Freshman Zach Lowery will share time with Godwin behind the plate. When not catching, both Godwin and Lowery will be in the lineup in some form because of their great baseball talent. Junior transfer Bobby Lopez and sophomore Jonathan Ross will be used see time at backup in the middle infield. Sophomore Ricky Lopez will add depth to the catching position.

The outfield for Union took the biggest hit of all from graduation by losing two starters. Senior Joel Hysmith the only returning starter. Hysmith, from Jackson Christian School, played centerfield last season but will move to left field in 2004. Junior utility player Jason Johnson will start in right field this season. Johnson played right field for the first month of the season last year in place of injured Chip Briggs. Because of his great play during that stint, Johnson continued to find his name on the lineup in some fashion throughout the 2003 season. Junior transfer from Southwest Community College Patrick Williams will take over the centerfield duties. Williams is one of the fastest players on the team and plays a great outfield. Freshmen Tyler Porter is a great athlete with tremendous speed. He will provide depth to an already fast outfield but will make major contributions in the running game for the Bulldogs.

Coach Rushing surpassed 600 wins for his career late last season. With the group of talented players assembled, the wins will continue to mount this season and are set up well for years to come. Coach Rushing and Coach Fronabarger consistently develop players and field a team that has always competed for the top spots in the league and beyond. This year looks to be no different; however, this team will depend on their six seniors to lead a large group of freshman and newcomers to battle in the always tough TranSouth Conference. In addition to conference play, Union will battle six non-conference teams ranked in the NAIA preseason polls. Also on the schedule are NCAA Div. II powers North Alabama and Delta State. Union will enter the season having received votes in the NAIA's preseason baseball polls. TranSouth opponents Cumberland (No. 8) and Lee (No. 14) are ranked in the Top 25 with one other team receiving votes (Trevecca Nazarene). The NAIA's representative from the TranSouth Conference will have a great shot at advancing far toward the main goal of the NAIA World Series.

 

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