Red Wolves Baseball host Pilots in weekend series - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Red Wolves Baseball host Pilots in weekend series

ARKANSAS STATE RED WOLVES

vs. Portland Pilots

March 5-7, 2010 6:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m. & 1:00 p.m.

Tomlinson Stadium & Kell Field (1,200) Jonesboro, Arkansas

Radio: KBTM 1230 AM & AStateRedWolves.com

LiveStats at AStateRedWolves.com

LEADING OFF: The Arkansas State Red Wolves continue their eight-game home stand this weekend when they host the Pilots of Portland University in a three-game series at Tomlinson Stadium and Kell Field. Friday's game is scheduled to get underway at 6:00 p.m., while Saturday's first pitch is set for 4:00 p.m. Sunday's finale is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. All ASU games may be heard on KBTM 1230 AM and through the StateZone portion of AStateRedWolves.com. LiveStats may also be accessed by logging on t0 AStateRedWolves.com

THE TEAMS: Both teams enter this weekend's series at 6-1 on the season. The Red Wolves have won four straight, sweeping Wisconsin-Milwaukee in a four-game weekend series last week in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves' only setback on the season was a 3-2 loss at 17th-ranked Ole Miss Feb. 23. Portland jumped out to a 5-0 start before suffering its first loss of the season Feb. 28 in the Pilots' series finale against Seattle. The Pilots bounced back from the loss to Seattle with an 8-0 victory over George Fox March 2.

THE PORTLAND SERIES: Arkansas State and Portland will meet for the first time when the two teams square off Friday night at Tomlinson Stadium and Kell Field.

ON THE MOUND FOR ASU: Junior right-hander Andy Ferguson will make his third Friday night start of the season when the series opens Friday night. Ferguson (1-0, 4.35 ERA) has made two appearances on the year, giving up seven runs (5 earned) in 10.1 innings of work. He has walked three batters, while striking out six. Senior southpaw Ross Humes (1-0, 0.84) will also be making his third appearance on the season. In 10.2 innings on the mound, Humes has given up just one earned run, while striking out 10 opposing batters and walking two. Sophomore Jacob Lee will get the call in the Sunday finale. Lee has logged seven innings of work in two appearances this year, giving up three runs on six hits with six strikeouts and four walks.

ON DECK: Following this weekend's series with Portland, the Red Wolves have a pair of midweek games next week before heading to Lafayette, La. for next weekend's Sun Belt Conference opening series against the Ragin' Cajuns of ULL. Arkansas State will host the Mastadons of Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne Monday at 3:00 p.m. before traveling to Murray State Tuesday for a 2:00 p.m. matchup with the Racers.

HOT START: With their 6-1 start on the season, the Red Wolves are off to their best start since the 2006 season, when ASU also began the year at 6-1. Prior to that, the 2005 ASU squad began the season at 8-2, on its way to a 33-23 finish.

EARLY STREAK: Junior Todd Baumgartner, a preseason All-Sun Belt Conference selection, has hit successfully in all seven of ASU's games this season. Through seven games, Baumgartner is hitting .407 on the season with a team-best 11 hits and nine RBIs.

ASU IN SEASON OPENERS: With its opening-day 14-5 victory over Southern Illinois, Arkansas State is now 32-30 all-time in season openers. The Red Wolves are now 2-0 in season-openers under second-year head coach Tommy Raffo after picking up a 4-3, 10-inning victory over Texas State in the season-opener a year ago. Raffo joins former head coach Bill Bethea (1992-2002) as the only ASU coach to win the season openers in their first two seasons as head coach at Arkansas State.

RARE FOUR-GAME SWEEP - With their sweep of the four-game series against Wisconsin-Milwaukee Feb. 26-28, the Red Wolves completed their first four-game sweep of an opponent since the Red Wolves swept four games from Eastern Illinois during the 1997 season.

GIO IN THE CLUTCH: Senior second baseman Giovanni Garcia came up with two clutch hits in ASU's 6-5 victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Garcia went to the plate in the eighth inning with the Red Wolves trailing 5-4 and hit a solo home run to tie the game. In the ninth, he delivered a two-out walk-off base hit to send home the winning run.

KOCH-ING WITH HEAT: True freshman John Koch (pronounced Cook) was outstanding for Arkansas State this week out of the pen. In the Red Wolves' 6-5 series-opening victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Koch went to the mound in the sixth inning with ASU trailing 5-4 and shut down the Panthers. Working the final 3.2 innings, Koch struck out eight of the 12 batters he faced - including the final six. He gave up just two hits and no runs to earn his first career victory. In his only other appearance on the week, Koch worked one inning against 17th-ranked Ole Miss and did not give up a run or a hit, while striking out one batter. For the week, he struck out nine in 4.2 innings of work, while giving up just two hits and no runs, without walking an opposing batter.

RED WOLVES vs. NON-CONFERENCE FOES: With Arkansas State's 4-1 record this past week, the Red Wolves saw their record improve to 17-14 against non-conference opponents under head coach Tommy Raffo. Arkansas State has been impressive at home against foes from outside the Sun Belt, going 15-3 under Raffo.

HUMES SHINES IN DEBUT: A former two-time Pac-10 Player of the Week and the Washington State single-season saves record-holder with 12, senior Ross Humes made his Arkansas State debut Saturday against Southern Illinois. In his first start in over two years, Humes threw five scoreless innings to get the win against the Salukis. Humes gave up just two hits – both infield singles – and struck out five batters without issuing a walk. Both of the infield singles came in the third inning and in the remaining four frames, Humes did not allow a baserunner. In five innings on the mound, only one of the 17 batters Humes faced was able to put the ball in play into the outfield.

BAUMGARTNER, WATTS NAMED ALL-SBC: Arkansas State juniors Todd Baumgartner and Murray Watts have been named to the preseason All-Sun Belt Conference baseball team, the league office announced Feb. 12.

Watts (Jonesboro, Ark.) was named to the team as a designated hitter, while Baumgartner (Edwardsville, Ill.) was named as an outfielder. Middle Tennessee's Bryce Brentz was named Preseason Player of the Year, while MTSU's Kenneth Roberts was named as the Preseason Pitcher of the Year.

"We are extremely happy that Murray and Todd have been named to the preseason All-Sun-Belt team," said ASU head coach Tommy Raffo. "It is an honor not only for Murray and Todd but for our entire program. This honor certainly reinforces the expectations we have for both during the upcoming season. We expect both to be in the middle of our line-up, and they have worked very hard and continue to show a passion to improve every day."

Watts, a 6-7, 250-pound left-hander, earned his second All-SBC honor after earning All-Sun Belt second-team honors as a utility player following the 2009 season in which he led Red Wolves with 44 RBIs, 16 doubles and 10 home runs. His 16 doubles ranked 12th in the league at the end of the regular season and his on-base percentage of .440 led ASU and was 14th in the Sun Belt. Watts started 50 of the 51 games he appeared in a year ago and hit .305 on the season – a jump of over 50 points from the previous year. He led the SBC at the end of the regular season with 44 walks and was the ASU team leader with a .572 slugging percentage. He notched 14 multiple-hit games on the season, including one four-hit performance and two three-hit games. Watts was also the team leader in multiple RBI games with 12 and drove in four runs on two occasions.

Baumgartner, a 6-1, 180-pound right-hander, started all 53 games for ASU in 2009, leading the Red Wolves with a .350 batting average, an increase of over 100 points from his sophomore season. He delivered a team-high 84 hits, which also ranked fifth in the SBC at the end of the regular season and posted a team-high 26 multiple-hit games, including 10 with three or more hits. Baumgartner scored a team-high 54 runs including 33 in SBC action. He drove in multiple runs in 10 games, including one five-RBI game and two four-RBI performances. Baumgartner struck out just 24 times in 240 at-bats and led ASU with 129 total bases, three triples and 13 stolen bases to rank 10th in the SBC. He delivered 15 doubles, eight home runs and 43 RBIs with a slugging percentage of .538 to rank second on the ASU team in all three categories.

The Red Wolves were picked 10th in the SBC preseason poll, while Middle Tennessee was picked as the conference favorite heading into the season. The poll and All-SBC team were voted on by the league's 11 head coaches.

2009 HIGHLIGHTS: Although the Red Wolves finished 23-30 a year ago, the 2009 season did provide some notable performances, both on a team and individual level. As a team, the Red Wolves hit .296, which ranked third all-time in ASU history. Arkansas State belted out 557 hits during the year which was the fifth-most ever for an ASU team. The Red Wolves' 242 walks was the sixth-most in team history, and ASU's 337 runs and 291 RBIs were both the seventh-most ever at ASU. A-State's 786 total bases ranked as the ninth-most in school history. On an individual level, current junior Todd Baumgartner ranked among the best in five statistical categories. Baumgartner's 84 hits and 240 at-bats were both the third-most in ASU history, and his 54 runs and 129 total bases both ranked as the fourth-most in school history. Baumgartner drove in 44 runs a year ago, which was the 16th-most in ASU history, while current ASU junior Murray Watts was one behind with 43 RBIs. Watts drew 44 walks a year ago to rank second on the ASU all-time charts and slugged 10 home runs and 16 doubles to rank 11th and 16th, respectively, in those categories. Watts' 107 total bases was the 18th-most in ASU history. ASU senior Cody Pace put together a string of 20 consecutive hits - all singles - which was the second-longest hit streak ever at Arkansas State.

MORE HONORS FOR WATTS & BAUMGARTNER: Arkansas State juniors Todd Baumgartner and Murray Watts have been named to the preseason SEBaseball.com All-Sun Belt Conference first team, the website announced Feb. 16.

Watts (Jonesboro, Ark.) was named to the team as a first baseman, while Baumgartner (Edwardsville, Ill.) was named as an outfielder. Monday's announcement by SEBaseball.com follows last week's announcement by the Sun Belt Conference that both players had earned preseason all-conference honors as voted on by the league's 11 head coaches.

Baumgartner, a 6-1, 180-pound right-hander, started all 53 games for ASU in 2009, leading the Red Wolves with a .350 batting average, an increase of over 100 points from his sophomore season. He delivered a team-high 84 hits, which also ranked fifth in the SBC at the end of the regular season and posted a team-high 26 multiple-hit games, including 10 with three or more hits. Baumgartner scored a team-high 54 runs including 33 in SBC action. He struck out just 24 times in 240 at-bats and led ASU with 129 total bases, three triples and 13 stolen bases. He delivered 15 doubles, eight home runs and 43 RBIs with a slugging percentage of .538 to rank second on the ASU team in all three categories.

Watts, a 6-7, 250-pound left-hander, earned his second All-SBC honor after earning All-Sun Belt second-team honors as a utility player following the 2009 season in which he led Red Wolves with 44 RBIs, 16 doubles and 10 home runs. Watts started 50 of the 51 games he appeared in a year ago and hit .305 on the season – a jump of over 50 points from the previous year. He led the SBC at the end of the regular season with 44 walks and was the ASU team leader with a .572 slugging percentage. He notched 14 multiple-hit games on the season, including one four-hit performance and two three-hit games. Watts was also the team leader in multiple RBI games with 12 and drove in four runs on two occasions.

The Red Wolves were picked to finish 10th in the conference by SEBaseball.com, while FIU was picked to edge defending conference champion Middle Tennessee as the league favorite.

BAUMGARTNER, HUMES & FAULKNER HONORED BY BASEBALL AMERICA:  Arkansas State junior Todd Baumgartner (Edwardsville, Ill.) has been selected to Baseball America's preseason All-Sun Belt Conference team as an outfielder, while freshman Michael Faulkner (Memphis, Tenn.) and senior Ross Humes (Federal Way, Wash.) were named two of the top-ten newcomers in the league.

Baumgartner, a 6-1, 180-pound centerfielder, has already garnered a 2010 preseason All-SBC honor and a preseason SEBaseball.com All-SBC first team selection. He started all 53 games for ASU in 2009, leading the Red Wolves with a .350 batting average, an increase of over 100 points from his sophomore season. He delivered a team-high 84 hits, which also ranked fifth in the SBC at the end of the regular season and posted a team-high 26 multiple-hit games, including 10 with three or more hits. Baumgartner scored a team-high 54 runs including 33 in SBC action. He struck out just 24 times in 240 at-bats and led ASU with 129 total bases, three triples and 13 stolen bases.

Faulkner, a 5-10, 155-pound outfielder, comes to ASU from Germantown High School ranked as the fourth-best high school prospect in the state of Tennessee by Perfect Game and ranked as a three-star prospect by Baseball America, while Humes, a 5-11, 170-pound left-handed pitcher, transferred to Arkansas State from Washington State where he was a two-time Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week and ranked second at WSU with 19 career saves.

The Red Wolves were picked to finish ninth in the conference by Baseball America, while defending conference champion Middle Tennessee was chosen as the league favorite.

SEASON OUTLOOK: As the 2010 season approaches, big things appear to be in store for second-year head coach Tommy Raffo and the Arkansas State baseball team. Experienced veterans, 31 home games and a talented group of newcomers are all factors that should pave the way to success for the Red Wolves this season.

Experience returns all over the field as five position players and two weekend starters on the mound return from the 2009 team that missed the Sun Belt Conference tournament by just one-half game. Leading the way for ASU's returning position players are juniors Murray Watts and Todd Baumgartner. Watts, a second-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection a year ago as a utility player, is expected to see significant playing time at first base. He hit .305 on the year in 2009, raising his batting average over 50 points from his freshman season. He led the Red Wolves with 44 RBIs, 16 doubles and 10 home runs, was the team leader with a slugging percentage of .572 and was the Sun Belt Conference leader with 44 walks. Baumgartner led Arkansas State with a batting average of .350 a year ago, raising his average over 100 points over his freshman season. He delivered a team-high 84 hits to rank 10th in the Sun Belt while striking out just 24 times in 240 at-bats. He posted a team-high 26 multiple-hit games, including 10 games with three or more hits and notched multiple RBIs in 10 games, including one five-RBI game and two four-RBI outings. Seniors Josh DeMoney (.292, 27 starts) and Cody Pace (.282, 32 starts) return as experienced outfielders, while seniors Jordan Kimball and Giovanni Garcia return at the middle infield positions. Kimball started all 53 games at shortstop a year ago, while Garcia drew 43 starts. The Red Wolves must replace departed seniors Guy Brown and Brandon Eller at the corner positions. Brown started 194 consecutive games at third base, while Eller started in 134 consecutive games. Senior Kyle DeGrace split time with departed senior Lawson Hipps behind the plate in 2009, starting in 24 games and playing in five other contests.

On the mound, Arkansas State returns weekend starters Andy Ferguson and Jacob Lee. Ferguson appeared in 18 games, starting six last year as a sophomore and earning Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Week accolades in early May for his performance on the mound against SBC rival Florida Atlantic. Ferguson (4.65 ERA) was third on the team behind departed seniors Chase Ware and Chris Bullington in both innings pitched (50.1) and strikeouts (49). Lee (5.32 ERA) was just behind Ferguson with 42 strikeouts in 47.1 innings of work. He made 13 appearances on the season, drawing nine starts. Junior Drew Benes is expected to be the Red Wolves' top reliever in 2010. Benes appeared in 11 games a year ago, starting 10 and finishing 4-4 on the season. Sophomore Cody Powell will also bring experience to the mound in 2010 after making nine appearances during the 2009 season. The Red Wolves must replace departed seniors Ware, Bullington, Jett Jones and Nick Lambert on the hill. Ware was an All-SBC performer who finished 5-2 a year ago, Bullington led the team with a 3.95 ERA, Jones made 18 appearances with seven starts and Lambert finished his career as the Sun Belt Conference appearance leader with 101 trips to the mound.

Watts, Baumgartner and Ferguson were selected by the team to serve as co-captains for the 2010 season.

Although the Red Wolves return a wealth of experience across the field, very few starting positions are locked up after Raffo and his staff stocked the roster in the off-season with 21 newcomers.

"I think this season brings a lot of excitement because the fact that we have a lot of new players involved with this program," said Raffo. "Twenty-one of the 33 young men on this roster are new or first time players here at ASU, so that tends to add a little bit of excitement. The 12 returning players obviously are a great core group returning. I think when you combine both that adds to a lot for us looking forward to the future of ASU baseball."

Freshman outfielders Michael Faulkner and Logan Uxa are expected to push for early playing time, as are freshman infielder Ryan Emery and junior catcher Tyler Smith. Faulkner was a 21st round pick for the Oakland A's in last year's MLB draft, while Uxa hit .508 as a senior at LaDue High School in St. Louis. Emery was a two-time All-State performer at David Lipscomb High School in Franklin, Tenn. who earned District MVP honors his senior year, and Smith hit .415 a year ago at Three Rivers Community College. On the mound, junior transfers Brad Allen, Andres Caceres and Sam Jew are expected to vie for early playing time as will senior transfer Ross Humes. Allen led Elgin (Ill.) Community College with 64 strikeouts in 62 innings, Caceres registered 80 strikeouts with a 3.00 ERA at Connors State and Jew earned first-team All-Pacific Coast Conference honors at Palomar (Calif.) Community College after finishing the season at 10-1 with a league-best 1.94 ERA. Humes recorded 19 saves during his three-year career at Washington State, setting a single-season record with 12 saves his sophomore year.

Thirty one home games, including 15 Sun Belt Conference matchups and a home clash with perennial national power Ole Miss highlight the schedule for the 2010 Arkansas State baseball season, which gets underway Feb. 19 when the Red Wolves host Southern Illinois in a three-game series at Tomlinson Stadium and Kell Field.

Three of the top four teams in last year's Sun Belt Conference regular season standings will visit Tomlinson Stadium, including defending regular season co-champions Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky. Florida International, which finished fourth in the regular season a year ago, and sixth-place South Alabama will also travel to Jonesboro. The Red Wolves will close out the regular season by hosting in-state and conference rival Arkansas-Little Rock.

Regional rivals Memphis, Southeast Missouri State, Murray State and UT Martin will all visit Jonesboro during the regular season as well, and the 2010 schedule marks the first time since the 2004 season that ASU's schedule consists entirely of Division I opponents.

"It's a very good schedule," added Raffo. "All 56 games are Division I baseball games, and we have 31 home games. We have Ole Miss and Memphis at home, which are two very good teams that I think our fans would like to see. At home, we have pretty good Sun Belt teams coming to us this year as well. What we think are the top three teams of the Sun Belt will travel to Jonesboro--Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and FIU. They should be some great battles for us."

Arkansas State will play 11 of its first 12 games at home, hosting SIU, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Portland in the season's first three weekends. The Red Wolves open SBC play March 12-14 at Louisiana-Lafayette before returning to Jonesboro to face MTSU in the March 19-21 SBC home opener.

In addition to the excitement surrounding the upcoming season, the Red Wolves' home field is getting a makeover to include a new student section on the right field fence line beneath the scoreboard at Tomlinson Stadium. The right field wall has been chain linked so that ASU students can enjoy watching the Red Wolves in a whole new way.

"We have been talking to the Student Government Association and with the SGA President Ryan Beaird," Raffo explained. "They were gracious enough to look at the idea and wanted to be totally involved from a student's standpoint, which I embrace. I think it is great for the program to have that involvement, so they have really taken a forefront in the leadership role in that student area. When you go to the right field fence, you will see four sections that will be chain linked off for students to come watch a ballgame but also at the same time enjoy a social atmosphere."

Raffo added, "I think you are going to see effort and that's the biggest thing this year, day in and day out. We can't dictate the outcomes of ever ballgame, but I know the effort will be there, as far as what they are giving on the field. The neat thing about this game is that you do fail and learn to overcome adversity as quick as possible in baseball. We want to allow our fans to watch quality baseball in the Sun Belt Conference, which is ranked seventh in the country. That's what we're looking for this year."

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