2009 Campbell Season Preview

FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
BUIES CREEK, N.C. – After a significant turnaround in the 2008 season under, now, second-year head coach Greg Goff, the Fighting Camels are eager for more in 2009. The season begins for the Camels on Friday, Feb. 20, in doubleheader action versus the Aggies of NC A&T. First pitch is slated for 2 p.m. at Taylor Field.

Last year’s squad finished with an overall record of 21-37, while posting a 13-20 mark in Atlantic Sun play. With some key players departing, and a plethora of new players emerging, the Camels look to surpass their previous win total yet again, and compete for the Atlantic Sun Championship and an NCAA postseason berth.

Catchers

The 2009 Camels return two strong leaders, and highly talented catchers in senior Stephen Parsons and junior Bryan Braswell. Both will be counted on to spend a significant amount of time behind the plate this season. Two transfers, junior Chris Bangi and sophomore Chaz Sessoms, are also expected to compete for playing time at the catcher position, as well as being used in a variety of different roles.

Parsons, a native of Chesapeake, Va., saw action in 45 games last season, all behind the plate for the Camels. His experience should allow him to again be an asset for CU. Parsons finished with a .282 batting average while driving in 15 runs and going a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen bases. The senior posted a .966 fielding percentage last season, committing only nine errors while gunning down 29 percent of would be base-stealers.

Braswell, a junior from Rocky Mount, N.C., will also be a significant contributor behind the dish for Coach Goff this year. Braswell made 23 appearances at catcher last year for the Camels, while also toeing the rubber on 13 occasions. This year he will be concentrating solely on catching and is expected to continue his 2008 defensive excellence, when he fielded at a .972 clip and gunned down 48 percent of would be base-stealers. Braswell’s gains in the weight room should allow him to improve on his .231 batting average and eight RBI that he posted in ‘08.

Bangi, a junior college transfer from Jacksonville, Fla., should also contribute behind the plate along with a number of other positions on the field. While at Marion Military Institute, Bangi finished both his freshman and sophomore campaigns batting over .400 while totaling 65 RBI, and 57 stolen bases over two seasons. The junior utility player will also be counted on to anchor the top of the order and spend time in the outfield as well.

Sessoms, a transfer from junior college national runner-up Lenoir Community College, will be another option to catch for the Camels. The sophomore from Rockingham, N.C., finished his freshman season at LCC with a batting average of .308 while driving in five runs. He will have a chance to also spend time as a designated hitter throughout the season.

Infield

The 2009 Camels infield will feature some familiar faces from last year’s squad, but will also have some added depth and talent due to the influx of newcomers into the program. Last years third basemen John Watlington is the only starter that will not be returning for the 2009 season, but the key additions of transfers and freshmen to the infield, as well as the development of the returners, will help the Camels to improve on last season’s infield defense.

Last season’s anchor, Ryan Hamme, is returning to the middle of the lineup while also splitting time between first base, right field, and logging some innings on the mound. The versatile senior from Wilmington, N.C., will be counted on to be a work horse again this year after leading the team in batting average (.349), runs scored (51) and hits (75). He was second on the team in RBI (42) and home runs (5), as well as posting 31.1 innings on the mound. Hamme also fielded at an amazing .991 clip and committed only four errors in 470 chances.

Also back from last season’s record setting team is Ellis Lowe. After starting 57 games for the Camels last season, the sophomore will be looking to improve on his .324 batting average and 22 RBI. The 2008 Atlantic Sun All-Freshman team selection from San Diego, Calif., is expected to play both second and third base this season while being a major factor in the CU lineup once again.

In addition to Hamme and Lowe, the right side of the infield will be strengthened by returning players; senior Brian Gana, and junior Blake Lowry, as well as newcomers; freshman Bryce Grady, freshman Josh Holskey, and junior transfer Kevin Nelson.

Gana, a senior from Richland, Wash., saw action in 47 games last season, starting in 33 of those contests. He made only six errors while knocking nine extra base hits, including four home runs in 2008. Gana looks to garner time at first base and designated hitter.

Junior Blake Lowry is another option at first base for the Camels. The Garner, N.C. native appeared in eight games as a sophomore with twelve at-bats. He has a chance to contribute as both a solid option at first base and as a powerful addition at designated hitter.

Two highly decorated freshmen, in Josh Holskey and Bryce Grady, bolster the right side of the Camel infield. Holskey, a first baseman from Roanoke, Va., comes to CU after setting school records at Lord Botetourt High school for home runs (15), batting average (.415), and RBI (72). Grady, a Kinston, N.C. native, is another option at second base for the Camels after a great career at North Lenoir High School, winning a state championship in 2006 while batting .486 with seven home runs and 40 RBI, in 2007

Junior college transfer Kevin Nelson joins the Camels after two seasons at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee. The Sunrise, Fla. native batted .313 with 16 RBI a year ago, and will see time at both second and third base for CU. He will also be counted on to contribute near the top of the lineup and be productive on the base paths for the Camels.

The left side of the infield will have numerous options with the combination of talented newcomers and experienced returning players. Zach Johnson, the starting shortstop in 2008, will move over to third base this year, and be joined with a talented crop of transfers that include juniors Alex Aycoth, DJ Johnson, and Zac Kennedy.

Johnson, started all 58 games for the Camels last season at shortstop, but will move over one position to compete for time at third base this year. The junior from Smithfield, N.C. batted .231 with four home runs and 30 RBI in 2008, and is looking to continue his improvement offensively to be a mainstay in the middle of the Camels’ order.

The trio of Aycoth, Johnson, and Kennedy drastically increase CU’s talent in the infield. Aycoth, a junior from Sanford, Fla., joins the Camels after two seasons at Redlands Community College. As a sophomore, he batted .451 with 12 home runs, 18 doubles, and 72 RBI, and he will have an immediate impact in the middle of the order, as well as at one of the corner positions in the infield. Johnson, a transfer from Louisburg College, will solidify the middle of the infield after a stellar two-year career at the junior college level. As a sophomore he hit .327 with 30 RBI and 18 stolen bases. Also competing for time in the middle of the diamond will be Gastonia, N.C. native, Zac Kennedy. After transferring from Northwest Shoals Community College, where he hit .390 with 30 RBI, Kennedy will be competing for playing time at shortstop.

Outfield

The Camels will miss the services of departed right fielder Mike Causey, but will have familiar faces at each position in the outfield. Carlton Floyd and Graham Fronk return to lend experience to left and center field, respectively, while Ryan Hamme, Matt Keen and a host of others will round out the increased depth in the outfield. Floyd and Fronk combined for 95 starts in the outfield last year.

Floyd, a senior from Riegelwood, N.C., finished the ‘08 campaign with a .240 average and 18 RBI, but will be looking to return to his sophomore year form in which he batted .339 with 13 doubles and 27 RBI. He only committed two errors in the field last year, and will also be counted on to log a number of innings on the mound for the Camels as a left-handed pitcher.

Fronk returns for his sophomore season and competes for a role in center field. The Charlotte, N.C. native batted .265 last season in 155 at-bats and only committed two errors in 143 chances. Fronk will also be counted on to be a force on the base paths, and looks to improve on his 11 stolen bases.

Matt Keen, a senior from Four Oaks, N.C., also competes for time in the outfield. This year, after an outstanding career at Florence Darlington-Tech, Keen is looking to be a mainstay in the outfield, as well as at the top of the order for the Camels in 2009.

Other options for Coach Goff in the outfield will be talented freshman Thomas Valenza, from Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is another speedster that increases depth and talent in the outfield. Sophomore Colin Parker, will be valuable as another left-handed option for the Camels. Juniors Chris Bangi and Zach Johnson should also see playing time in the outfield.

Pitchers

The Fighting Camels return nine pitchers from last seasons’ squad and welcome five newcomers. Campbell will have numerous opportunities for pitchers to see action after the departure of Justin Lilly and Brandon Scott. The pair combined to pitch 140.2 innings, which accounted for just under one-third of the total innings pitched in 2008.

Hunter Ford is back after hurling 70 innings last season. The left-handed junior from Wilmington, N.C., led the team last season in appearances (27) and was second on the team in strikeouts (40) and saves (2). Ford should see plenty of action on the mound again this season.

Josh Fish returns after posting a team-best 3.95 ERA over 43.1 innings last season. The Bellingham, Wash. native was second on the team with 19 appearances. Fish, who allowed a team-best opponent batting average of just .257, should see plenty of time on the hill in 2009.

Colin Parker, Jeff Hoffman, Daniel Gardo, Ryan Hamme, and Carlton Floyd return after previous stints as hurlers for the Camels. Hamme and Hoffman are experienced right-handers, while Parker, Gardo and Floyd are effective southpaws.

Daniel Gardo, a redshirt sophomore from West Chester, Pa., will likely be counted on to make numerous trips to the hill in 2009. Gardo was the only left-handed Camel pitcher to compile a winning record last season, 4-3, in 17 appearances. His 55 innings over 17 appearances were both third best on the team and he had the fourth most strikeouts (31).

Jeff Hoffman could emerge as a possible closer for the Camels. The right-hander from Ramsey, N.J. saw action in 17 games while posting a record of 1-0, an ERA of 5.00, while allowing just seven extra base hits.

Two transfers and five freshmen round out the pitching staff for the Fighting Camels. Logan Davis and Jeff Rydman are junior college transfers, while Parker Fleming, Richard Gaito, Ethan Meiggs, Luke Pritchett, and Bryan Stephenson are freshman hurlers.

Logan Davis, a junior right-hander from Ft. Cobb, Okla., transferred from Redlands Community College. During Davis’ sophomore campaign, he posted a perfect 10-0 record, with a 3.76 ERA and 51 strikeouts. Jeff Rydman, a junior southpaw from Gladstone, Mo., transferred to Campbell from Fort Scott Community College. During Rydman’s freshman season he posted an 11-1 record, with a 3.92 ERA and 76 strikeouts. Goff expects to see both competing for time in the Camels starting rotation.

Redshirt freshman Ethan Meiggs has a chance to make the biggest impact among new pitchers. The Camden, N.C. product posted a career record of 27-8, with a 2.59 ERA and 278 strikeouts in four seasons for the Camden County Bruins.