OCALA--The College of Central Florida baseball team begins the 2018 season on Friday, when it travels down south to play nationally renowned Palm Beach State College and Indian River State College during a weekend road trip.
Head coach Marty Smith enters his 24th season for the Patriots, just 10 wins shy of 700. Smith became one of only three coaches in the state to reach 600 wins when he defeated conference rival Santa Fe College on April 12, 2014.
Smith is excited to get the season underway as several offensive powerhouses are set to return to the Patriot lineup.
"We have never had this much offense back on a team," said Smith. "We have four hitters that produced a lot of runs, home runs and RBIs ... so the middle of the lineup is back and we are really excited offensively."
Sophomores Luis Medina (1B), Blake Marabell (OF), David Flores (OF), and Christian Smallwood (INF) return to bolster the middle of the lineup for the Patriots. Last season, the quartet combined for 145 RBIs, 145 runs scored and 23 home runs.
Smith will also look to a handful of newcomers to complete the lineup offensively and defensively.
"Last year was not a fun year for the Patriots ... we are looking to redeem ourselves," said Smith, who finished 17-33-1 a year ago. "Day by day, we just need to get better [defensively]."
University of West Florida transfer Tanner May will guide the defense at shortstop, while Ocala native Zach West (Trinity Catholic) will start at second base, and Stetson University transfer Chris Tidwell will provide solid defense behind the plate.
Newcomer Yorvis Torrealba, son of MLB catcher Yorvit Torrealba, will team up with all-conference outfielders Marabell and Flores to provide additional speed and athleticism in the Patriot outfield. First and third base are still up for grabs as the CF coaching staff will monitor the competition the first few weeks of the season.
On the mound, CF lost a handful of seasoned veterans, including MLB No. 28 overall pick Nate Pearson (Toronto Blue Jays) and Washington Nationals' ninth rounder Jackson Stoeckinger
"Pitching wise we have lost a lot," said Smith. "But we have a lot coming in at the top of the rotation that we think is pretty solid."
University of Florida transfer Hunter Bowling projects to be a good No. 1 for the Patriots. The 6-foot-7 lefty returns to the mound after a red-shirt season recovering from an injury. Bowling brings a lot of power to the rotation along with an excellent breaking ball.
Six-foot-six righty Mark Potter, a transfer from Jacksonville University, will bring a lot of experience to the Patriot rotation, as well as returner Ben Koff, who returns to the rotation after a season-ending injury.
Smith will also look to the middle and back-end of the pitching rotation as integral pieces to the Patriots' success this season.
"If we can plug in a couple of things in the bullpen and some stuff in the back-end of our pitching rotation, Pats should have a solid year."
CF starts its ever-tough Region VIII schedule on the road with the weekend series down south and a trip to Steinbrenner Field to take on Hillsborough Community College. CF also will face stiff competition in State College of Florida, St. Petersburg College and several others in the first month of the season before opening up Mid-Florida Conference play against some of the top programs in the country, including nationally-ranked Santa Fe College and St. Johns River State College.
"We always have a tough schedule," said Smith. "Not only in our conference, but everyone around the state [is tough]...Every day we have to come to play."
The Patriots' home opener will be Feb. 2 against South Florida State College at 1 p.m. Click here for a complete 2018 baseball schedule.