Cougars set to open baseball season on Friday - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Cougars set to open baseball season on Friday

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Columbus – Most collegiate baseball programs would declare a 30-23 record and a trip to its conference tournament a successful season. However, most programs aren't used to the continued success that Columbus State University and head coach Greg Appleton have had on the diamond.

The Cougars will look to improve on last season and return to the NCAA Tournament for the 24th time in 43 years as CSU opens the season on Friday against Nova Southeastern.

"I am really excited about this season," says Appleton. "Our players have worked hard to prepare for the tough task we have put in front of them. I am confident this team will find ways to get it done."

CSU will enter the season ranked 36th by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper after finishing the season unranked by the publication.

It will be a new look for the Cougars this season as only 12 players and four position starters return from last season's squad. Twenty new student-athletes will dawn the CSU uniform this season.

The corner infield spots will be manned mostly by senior Cameron Griffin and junior college transfer Martin Castro. Griffin is a three-year player for the Cougars and will get the majority of the playing time at third base. Last season, he hit .272 with two home runs and knocked in 20 runs. Freshman Dalton Pritchett, a native of Opelika, AL, will back up Griffin at third base.

Castro played two seasons at Chattahoochee Valley Community College leading the Pirates to 73 victories. In two years, Castro hit .346 while driving in 77 runs. He also collected 22 doubles. The junior will get most of his starts at first base this season.

Up the middle, the Cougars will have two new starters as Jimmy Obermark and Blake Edwards will get the opening day starts at shortstop and second base, respectively. Obermark comes to CSU from St. Charles Community College in St. Charles, MO. Last season, the Missouri native batted .311 and was named the Defensive Player of the Year.

Edwards is a true freshman playing his high school ball at Pike County. While at Pike, Edwards led the team to three region championships and a state runner-up finish in 2011. He was also named an All-Region player three times while hitting .484 his senior season. Senior Aaron Jividen is making the move to the infield from the outfield to backup Edwards.

Behind the dish, senior Brett Teschner and junior Dustin Averett will see the majority of the innings this season for CSU. Teschner had a very solid year for the Cougars last season leading the team in average (.353), home runs (seven) and RBIs (55). He also posted a .430 on-base percentage. Averett, a powerful right-handed hitter, is a transfer from Chattahoochee Valley Community College. The Columbus native played one season for the Pirates hitting .283 and was also named an Academic All-American.

Senior Kevan Dorsey and freshman Hunter Bowling will provide depth at the catching position.

In the outfield, J.D. Pullen returns for his senior season while Ryan Lewis will be at full strength for the Cougars in 2013. Pullen had a fine junior campaign for CSU hitting .316 and scoring a team high 53 runs. He stole 28 bases, the third most in the Peach Belt Conference.

Lewis missed all but three games last season due to an injury. In 2011, Lewis hit a team best .360 and started all 51 games. He scored a team high 44 runs while hitting eight home runs, 14 doubles and collected one triple. He also drove in 37 runs.

The right-hander was also named to the PBC Preseason All-Conference team.

Pullen and Lewis will rotate time in center and leftfield. Freshman Caleb Williams of LaGrange, GA will back up these seniors in center and left.

In right, Seth Corbitt and Jackson Oliver will be fighting for playing time. Corbitt is moving to the outfield after playing at second base last season. The sophomore hit .293 in 75 at-bats with eight RBIs in 2012.

Oliver comes to CSU from Troup High School where he led the Tigers to the state playoffs in all four seasons including a final four appearance in his senior season. He was named an All-Region and All-State player in 2012.

Cameron Scott will man the designated hitter position while also spending some time at first base.  The 2012 All-PBC player hit .338 last season with six home runs and 49 runs batted in. He had 17 doubles, the fifth most in the league and tied a PBC record with 10 RBIs in a single-game. In his CSU career, Scot is a .306 hitter with 12 home runs and 80 runs batted in.

Freshman Matthew Kuhlenberg could be used as the DH as well along with his pitching duties.

It will be a totally different look for Columbus State on the mound this season as only four pitchers return from a year ago. Out of 468 innings pitched by the Cougars in 2012, the four returning pitchers bring back only 134.2 inning including 100.1 from Brodie Leibrandt. 

Leibrandt will be looked upon to be the ace of the staff after coming off an All-Conference year in which he went 7-5 with a 2.51 ERA. He tossed six complete games and two shutouts.

Returning pitchers Bronson Gagner, Hart Mizell and Stuart Shaw will all come out of the bullpen for Appleton. Mizell will be penciled into the closer role to begin the season. 

Zach Helewski and Caden Ferguson are slated to get opening weekend starts for CSU. Helewski is a junior college transfer from Chattahoochee Valley where he showed a dominate repertoire at times. In his two seasons as a Pirate, the junior recorded 12 victories striking out 143 batters in 166 innings.

Ferguson comes to Columbus State from Division I Kennesaw State after pitching two seasons for the Owls.  Last season, Ferguson appeared in 19 games tallying 15.1 innings pitched. He struck out 23 batters while allowing just six runs.

Another starting option for the Cougars is right-hander Jake Ezell. Ezell, a sophomore from Bonaire, GA, comes to CSU from junior college powerhouse Middle Georgia College.

Appleton will have plenty of arms to choose from in the bullpen including two lefty throwers in Kuhlenberg and Corbin Luther.

Other right-hander options include Sean Muller, James Hager, Jordan Villhauer, Matt Aldrich, Jacob Boccucci, Ty Inlow and Josh Ayers.

Columbus State will open its 43rd season of baseball on Friday against 19th ranked Nova Southeastern at Ragsdale Field. First pitch is set for 4:00 p.m. ET. The series will wrap up with a double-header on Saturday beginning at Noon.

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