Baseball takes on Bradley in season opener
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013 17:02
The Arkansas State Red Wolves will have a familiar look when they take the field against Bradley Friday, Feb.15 to start the 2013 season.
The Red Wolves return twenty-five players from a year ago, 19 of which are junior and seniors, and are coming off a year in which they held an overall record of 34-23 and reached the finals of the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
“I think we are definitely ready. We’ve been waiting for this day since our last performance against Monroe in the championship game so I think everyone’s hungry and ready to get this season started,” senior Logan Uxa said.
Head Coach Tommy Raffo understands the advantages of coaching his most experienced team yet since joining the Red Wolves in 2008.
The team under Raffo’s direction has increased its win total each year and was named SBC Coach of the Year last season.
“I think when you have an older squad you expect more of them but you can’t take them for granted either because you still have to teach and go after it with a system and they have to know how important details are,” Raffo said.
Arkansas State senior left fielder Logan Uxa and junior shortstop Dustin Jones were named Preseason All Sun Belt Conference by a league-wide vote of head coaches.
“It means a lot that coaches around the Sun Belt have enough respect for me to vote me that but I came here 3 years ago to win a Sun Belt title and it’s my last year to do it so I’m more focused on winning the sun belt,” Uxa said.
Included in the Sun Belt Conference preseason vote, the Red Wolves are picked to finish fourth in a league of 10 teams.
““I’ve got very high expectations, I think that everybody on this team has very high expectations and we know what we can accomplish and we are shooting for a Sun Belt Championship,” Uxa said.
The Bradley Braves out of the Missouri Valley Conference come into Tomlinson Stadium for their first action of the 2013 season.
The Braves finished last season with an overall record of 27-27-1 and ranked seventh in the MVC with an 8-13 conference record.
Bradley enters the season having two players selected Preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference and is picked to finish sixth by coaches around the MVC.
“Bradley’s going to present a line up that’s very similar to ours and they have a lot of veteran players that can really swing the bat,” Raffo continued. “They’re very aggressive and it’s a great challenge for us first weekend because the lineup is going to be like what we are going to see in the Sun Belt,”
One of the focal points entering the weekend and throughout the season for ASU will be determining the pitcher’s roles on the staff.
“We have to figure out the back end of the bullpen,” Raffo said. “We have to get quality innings with some guys either in the mid week or in Sunbelt play but then establish middle innings to get to the back end and who’s going to close the game.”
The Red Wolves lose two weekend starters from a year ago and look for senior pitcher John Koch and freshman pitcher Adam Grantham to step in and fill the void. Koch, who was the closer last year, will get the nod to start opening night against the Braves.
Koch holds the ASU record for career saves with 15 and set the single season record last year closing out 11 games.
Senior pitcher Daniel Wright will continue his role from last season as a Saturday starter, making 14 starts and striking out 53 hitters in 75.1 innings, and Grantham will be making his first collegiate start as the anchor of the rotation for Sunday’s game.
“There’s a lot of strengths and a lot of upside to this staff. We are young in some areas, we have a lot of young talent, and a really deep staff and that’s what is going to make us good,” Wright said.
Game 1 of a three-game set is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, Feb.15 and games two and three follow Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.