Bucs have young talent but could struggle

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   The Last name of ETSU's head baseball coach may be named Skole, but don't expect the Bucs to take a dip in the Southern Conference standings.
   The Bucs have plenty of young talent, and should be ready to earn some respect starting Friday when they travel to South Carolina for a weekend series.
   The Bucs were picked seventh in the preseason coaches poll, and will have to replace two of the best players in ETSU history if they're going to move up any higher.
   Nathan Copeland and Andy Baxter are now playing minor league baseball, but they definitely did some damage before heading to the Appalachian League last summer.
   "I don't know if you could have two seniors to have better years in the middle of your lineup than those two kids," Skole said. "Those were two of the better years that's ever happened here at ETSU. But we're a different team."
   Copeland and Baxter were among the Southern Conference's leaders in homeruns, but Skole says this team won't have to rely on the long ball as much.
   "Last year we pretty much had to wait around to an inning where they were coming up to bat to get something going," Skole said. "This year we've got nine guys that we feel aren't outs. We've got nine guys that can hit, and we don't have an out in our lineup."
   Skole believes pitching will also be big key for the Bucs, and the third-year coach believes his No. 1 man is as good as anybody around.
   Former Sullivan South standout Reid Casey returns to the mound for his senior season. Casey has had some big wins over his career, including a victory over Tennessee his freshman season.
   "We consider Reid to be one of the top pitchers in all of college baseball this year, definitely in the Southern Conference," Skole said about the senior. "He's been in a lot of wars for us in his career, and has pitched in a lot of big games. He had a great summer last year in a collegiate wooden bat league, and has really taken control of our pitching staff. We're expecting big things from Reid.
   Casey is expecting big things of himself during the 2002 campaign.
   "Obviously I expect to go out and give my team a chance to win," Casey said. "I expect to go out and throw at least six or seven good innings, and at least keep us in the ball game for our guys to drive in some runs."
   Sophomore right-hander Donnie Sharp had the most wins of any ETSU pitcher last year, and Skole also feels very good about him.
   "He's a great competitor," Skole said. "We would like to use Donnie to close games, but he's really pitched so well that we know he's going to give us a great chance to win everytime he takes the mound."
   Freshman Michael Bauer has impressed Skole enough in the fall and winter to land the Sullivan South graduate the No. 3 starting spot for the Bucs.
   Sophomores Josh Kite, Tim Turner and Matt Hensley will be candidates to close games for Skole.
   Jackson Simerly will see time closing and in middle relief for the Bucs.
   "He'll probably throw for us just about every game unless we get a complete game," Skole said.
   Skole is also very high on former Happy Valley standout Jarrod Hyder.
   "He's really had a good preseason for us," Skole said.
   Freshman Trevor Smith has also had an impressive preseason, and will get to pitch a lot for Skole.
   Overall, Skole believes pitching might just be what the Bucs do best this season.
   "We've got a lot of quality arms," Skole said. "That's something that we just haven't had my first two years here. We're very excited, and we consider our pitching staff to be the strength of our team this year.
   With the exception of Brandon Cross, the top of Skole's lineup will be all freshmen. Leftfielder Matt Traylor, catcher Caleb Moore and Designated hitter Davis Burkett will bat one, two, and four in the lineup, respectively.
   "These new guys that we've got are going to contribute for us right away," Skole said. "They're very talented."
   Cross is a third baseman that will bat third for the Bucs. He should provide ETSU with a lot of power this season.
   "He's a proven hitter at the Division I level," Skole said. "We're looking for Brandon to boost our production, and give us a lot of production as far as RBI's and power numbers.
   Chad Boruff and Brian Crouse are currently battling it out for the first base slot, and will most likely hit fifth.
   Rightfielder Kirk Keithley will bat sixth, while shortstop Jeremy Terry will hit seventh for the Bucs.
   "Jeremy is a big time leader," Skole said.
   Former Unicoi County standout Ryan Hyder will hit eighth, and play second base.
   When not pitching, Tim Turner will play centerfield and bat in the ninth spot.
   Turner is a familiar face to most ETSU supporters. Buccaneer fans know him mostly for his lightning-quick speed as a wide receiver on the football field, but Skole is very high on his fielding abilities in baseball.
   "I think it's pretty much easy to say that Tim is one of the best defensive outfielders in all of college baseball," Skole said. "If there's anybody better I would like to see him. He can flat out go get it."
   The experts may not be picking the Bucs to finish very high, but Skole is remaining optimistic.
   "We haven't done anything to change that perception in anybody's mind the last few years," Skole said about the preseason prediction. "I want to be picked first in the conference. I want those expectations. I want everybody that's associated with our program to expect us to be good. And I think we're getting to that point."
   ETSU NOTES:
   * In addition to the series at nationally-ranked South Carolina, the Bucs will play at Georgia Tech, Clemson and Tennessee.
   *The Bucs first two home series of the season will be played at Hunter Wright Stadium in Kingsport. Those are the series with North Carolina A & T on February 23 and 24, and Indiana on March 1, 2 and 3.