The Cougars open up their competitive 56 game schedule at Georgia Highlands on Tuesday, February 5th at 3:00 PM.
Cleveland State coach Mike Policastro enters his 26th season as head coach of the Cougars. The Cougars are coming off a 39-18 season and a 14-12 TCCAA conference record and a deep run in the TCCAA baseball tournament.
Cleveland State will play their home opener on Monday, February 11th vs. Union College JV at 1:00 PM. The Cougars' schedule will be very competitive, not only in the TCCAA, but also in their out of conference games as they will compete against Georgia Highlands, Gordon College,and Vincennes University. TCCAA conference play will open up at Cougar Field on Friday, March 1st with a three-game series against Jackson State. The Cougars will also have five home conference series in 2019.
"We are looking forward to the start of the season," Policastro said. "The guys have worked really hard during the pre-season and the fall to put themselves in this position. I feel like we have the talent to compete in our conference and have success throughout the season. I'm looking forward to the upcoming year."
As they enter into the 2019 season, the Cougars find themselves having to replace key offensive players as well as the majority of their pitching staff. The turnover from last year's team to this year's team will provide Cleveland State with a good balance of speed and power. Returnees 3B Rhett Baldwin, who batted .317 with 17 RBI in 2018, and CF Tucker Mendenhall , who batted .250 before facing an injury build a solid foundation for the starting lineup. On the mound, Ryan Inches, who posted a 6-3 record in 15 appearances, Brock Browning, who was 1-0 in 14 appearances and Gunnar Norwood, will return from last year's staff.
With a recruiting class that saw 25 new players enter the program, many new faces will see extensive playing time this season. On the infield, the first baseman position has yet to be settled. A platoon situation with freshman Caleb Hopkins and sophomores Matt Hopson and Marcial Hernandez is a possible look for the Cougars. Middle infield will be led by SS Parker Hill. Second base has been very competitive this spring with sophomore Connor Weldy and freshmen Pete Williams and Andrew Carpenter vying for playing time. Outfielders Lance Dockery and Jonny Hickman will flank Mendenhall and provide middle-of-the-lineup pop. Behind the plate, there is strong competition with a talented group of five catchers on the roster. Sophomores Kendall Catlet and Marcial Hernandez along freshmen Jack Gobble, Alex Coulter and Ryan Wilson all have strong arms and have worked well with the pitching staff. Offensively, the catcher that separates themselves from the pack will get the starting nod.
The pitching staff, as always, will be key. Transfer RHP Zach Hall won five games last year at South Carolina Beaufort and could slot himself into a weekend spot. Freshmen LHP Justin Morris, Ryan Inches and redshirt Ethan Walls have had good training camps. The closer position should fall to freshman Jonny Hickman, who has the velocity and breaking ball to get out of late inning jams. Middle relief will showcase combination of left handers, including, Seth Wicker, Tanner Doran, Caleb Hopkins and Matt Voda. The bullpen will also feature good balance with right handers Brock Browning and Bradford Mills.
The early part of the season will be critical for the Cougars in rounding out the starting lineup. The young pitching staff will learn quickly in immediate action and must be competitive in the strike zone and not give up free bases. Staying healthy is also a key piece of a lineup that can provide fire power. The talent is there for the Cougars to post another strong record and, if they can stay healthy, the roster will provide another exciting season.