Coming off of the first conference championship title in the Covenant baseball program’s history, there is no question that the Scots have a lot of momentum going into this season. The momentum has been building for several years now with the program coming off its fourth consecutive winning season. This year, Covenant was picked to finish second overall in the coaches’ preseason poll, behind Ferrum College. Covenant’s baseball team also recieved votes in the D3Baseball.com Top 25 Rankings—no small feat, either. The Scots finished 26-15 last year with a 19-8 conference record and they return six players who earned all-conference awards last season. That list of players includes: first team members Will Cleland (second base), Perry Rigby (third base), Will Carlton (outfield), and Garret Kriston (pitcher); second team member Scott Gillespie (first base); and third team member K.C. Simons (shortstop). When asked about this year’s team, ninth-year Head Coach Doug Simons mentioned that “this is the most talented group of baseball players Covenant College has had,” in addition to the fact that the Scots’ “defense should also be the strongest in [his] tenure here at Covenant.”
Despite all of this, there is still something to prove for Covenant baseball. Ferrum was picked to finish first in the USA South in spite of the fact that the Scots beat them head-to-head last season and took home the conference regular season championship trophy. Beyond the USA South, there are other goals out there for the Scots. Last season, Covenant’s season ended when the team dropped its first two games to Rhodes and Shenandoah in regional play. Sophomore catcher Alex Kerr said that this is something that is important to the team as they head into the season; “our goal every year is to play for Him and have fun doing it, that's the reason we're out there grinding so hard. But winning the USA South Championship and seeing how far we can go in the postseason is always on our minds.”
The Scots have a good chance of doing just that as they continue to build on their success by bringing in fresh talent to replace what they have lost to graduation. Simons anticipates several new players making an impact this year including transfer Ryan Reilly. When talking about the infusion of new players into the system, Simons said that “Reilly is a speedy outfielder who has a chance of being one of the top players in our conference. He will start for us in Center field. Caleb Bloye has been swinging the bat well since he got here and will contribute some at 1B. Joel Johnson should see some playing time behind the dish. We have some young outfielders that are ready to play but might have to wait because of the talent ahead of them.” Simons also has a great deal of confidence in his pitching staff, saying that, “we have two pitchers (Micah Mabe and Garrett Kriston) who are as good as any pitchers in our conference. When they are on the mound, we will be hard to beat.”
The hidden strength of this team, however, may be something that is not apparent when looking at stats, top twenty-five polls, or win-loss records. Team chemistry is a crucial piece for any good team, but it is something that can be difficult to create and easy to lose. Talking with the Scots baseball team this year, it would appear they have it. Coach Simons mentioned that the team’s “biggest strengths are character, leadership and brotherhood. These guys love one another, pray for one another and help one another.” Kerr spoke to this as well, saying that the team chemistry on this team is “amazing, “I've never been a part of a group as tightly knit as this.” He attributes this closeness to the leadership of the seniors on the squad. One of those seniors, Will Cleland, chalks a lot of that chemistry up to guys on the team enjoying one another and having fun together. The bonding on team road trips is a factor in the team’s success that is echoed by both Cleland and Kerr. Cleland summed up his approach to his final season as a Scot by saying that Covenant plays “in a great conference with a lot of good teams, but our team is blessed with a lot of talent and has the ability to repeat our title if we continue to work hard.”
The Scots opened this past weekend with three wins against Emory & Henry. Next weekend they will host conference foe Methodist at home on Friday at 2 p.m. and then they will finish the series against Methodist on Saturday with games at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m..