PREVIEW: Baseball set to host PBS, IRSC on opening weekend

PREVIEW: Baseball set to host PBS, IRSC on opening weekend


OCALA--The College of Central Florida baseball team is set to open the 2017 season on Friday and Saturday as they welcome Palm Beach State College and Indian River State College to Goodlett Field.

The Patriots are coming off a season in which they made a 10-2 run in the month of April (after starting 3-9 in conference) to clinch third place in the Mid-Florida Conference and a spot in the FCSAA State Baseball Tournament.

This year's Patriot squad, though, shows little resemblance to last year's team in that they are only returning four players. Head coach Marty Smith is excited about the plethora of new and young talent, but knows February is going to be a critical month for his team.

"We are young and very talented, but unproven," said Smith, who enters his 23rd season as the Patriot head coach. "February is going to be key for our guys, especially the newcomers, in order to learn and grow and make the adjustments they need to make prior to conference."

On the mound, Ryan Aspinwall and Jake Grenus are the lone returning pitchers, but CF looks to have one of their deepest and most talented pitching staffs to date.

Florida International University transfer Nate Pearson will be a force to be reckoned with at the top of the rotation with a power fastball that ranges in the mid-90s. Pearson, an LSU signee, has been tabbed No.1 pitcher in NJCAA by Perfect Game. Aspinwall and University of West Florida transfer Troy Brown will round out the top 3 starting rotation for the Patriots.

Smith will turn to FIU transfer Richie Cruz, freshman Josh Harper and Grenus to provide quality innings in the middle and backend of games. He is also excited to get back redshirt left-handed pitcher Jackson Stoeckinger, who underwent tommy john surgery last season, and Northwest Florida transfer Ben Koff as they will also be key components to the Patriot pitching staff this season.

"We know we have a very talented top of the rotation," said Smith. "We're just unproven in the fact of not facing the caliber of competition we're going to face day in and day out…it's just going to take time and February is going to be a great growth time to get innings under their belts and get them ready for conference."
On the offensive side of the ball, CF will be without power hitters Luke Heyer (University of Kentucky) and John Cassala (Jacksonville University). Infielder Vinny Addona and outfielder Will Reddick are the sole returners from last year's squad, but Smith is excited for the young talent stepping to the plate.

"Our hitters are going to see breaking balls and velocity that they have never seen in high school," said Smith. "So February will be a key seasoning month for them to make the necessary adjustments…and when they do [make the adjustments] I believe there are several guys that will be great assets and provide power in the lineup."

Freshmen David Flores and Blake Marabell are two key pieces to the outfield that Smith believes can step into that power-hitting role.

Newcomers Christian Smallwood (3B), Steven Lugo (SS), Luis Medina (1B), and Addona will bolster the infield come opening day, with Winthrop transfer Matt Coello and freshman Tyler Cameron splitting time behind the plate.

CF opens up the season against Palm Beach on Friday at 3 p.m. at Goodlett Field. Pearson will get the start in the first game. On Saturday, Aspinwall will start on the mound for the Patriots against Indian River. First pitch is set for Noon.