Baseball season almost here for Bucs

Joe Avento • Feb 12, 2019 at 4:40 PM

College baseball season is just about here, whether the calendar is prepared for it or not, and East Tennessee State coach Joe Pennucci says his team is ready to go with the season opener just a few days away.

“It’s great to get back,” Pennucci said. “When you’re a baseball fan and the season is about to start, there’s definitely a different feeling in the air. It’s exciting.

“Our guys are ready to play somebody different. We’re excited to see the development of these guys. We’re ready to roll.”

The Bucs open the season Friday at 4 p.m. at Thomas Stadium with a game against Iona. It’s the start of a three-game series that includes games Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

Twenty-one of ETSU’s first 29 games are at home.

In Pennucci’s second season at ETSU, the team has 25 newcomers on a 35-man roster.

One of the top recruits is former Science Hill and Walters State standout Landon Knack, and Pennucci is excited to see what he can do on the Division I level. The junior right-handed pitcher helped Walters State to a runner-up finish in the Junior College World Series last season.

All Knack did was go 13-0 with a 3.01 ERA in his first year as a college pitcher. He showed incredible control, as well, walking just 13 batters in 92 2/3 innings while striking out out 112.

Knack also hit .343 with 11 home runs while playing first base.

“It’s great to get him back home in Johnson City,” Pennucci said. “Being part of that run at Walters State, it’s good to have him aboard.”

Pennucci said Knack will start on the mound, but the multi-talented athlete might help out other places too.

“We’ll kind of see how it goes,” Pennucci said. “He’s worked in at first and gotten some at-bats as well, but his main focus is on the mound trying to get people out.”

Micah Kaczor earned the opening day start for the Bucs. The senior righty went 5-4 with a 5.01 ERA last season.

“He pitched on Fridays for us throughout the season,” Pennucci said. “We’re keeping him in that same role. Micah’s a competitive kid. We’re excited for him to have a good year.”

Senior closer James Giambalvo saved six games last year while going 3-3 with a 3.38 ERA. He is on the watch list for the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association’s stopper of the year award.

Among the key returning players, second baseman Cullen Smith and outfielder David Beam were on the preseason All-Southern Conference team. Smith, a junior. is coming off a season in which he hit .295 and drove in 28 runs. Beam, a sophomore, was on the SoCon’s all-freshman team last season when he hit .283 and scored 24 runs.

Junior catcher Jackson Greer is back and is one of the SoCon’s top defensive backstops. He hit .235 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs last season.

Cade Gilbert, who batted .262 last year while playing third base, is moving to shortstop this season.

Several of the new players bring some pretty gaudy statistics with them.

Outfielder Tyler Cox hit .386 with 34 home runs and 119 RBIs in two years of junior college baseball at Maple Woods in Kansas City, Missouri. Infielder Jake Lyle hit .331 with 18 home runs and 88 RBIs at Volunteer State. Infielder Noah Hill hit .331 at Cleveland State.

Hooper Mills was 15-10 with a 3.80 ERA on the mound at Cleveland State.

In Pennucci’s first season, the Bucs went 28-25, 11-13 in the SoCon. They were picked to finish fourth by the conference’s coaches this season after tying for fifth last year.

“I like the direction that the program is going,” Pennucci said. “We’re really about trying to get one percent better every day. If we continue to develop like that, our program will go in the right direction.”

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