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UVa-Wise baseball season preview

WISE, Va. - UVa-Wise will enter its first season in NCAA Division II’s newest conference, the Mountain East Conference in 2014. The Cavaliers are coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign that saw the team post a 10-27 record. Despite the record, UVa-Wise will have to replace one of the top catchers in program history. A year ago, Tommy Meier was named an all-conference selection as he hit .373 with 50 hits, 11 of which were extra-base hits. Meier finished his career with 198 hits and a .363 average; the 198 hits are the most by any catcher in school history.

The Cavaliers will open the 2014 slate on February 11th when the team travels to Lincoln Memorial University. In total, UVa-Wise will open the season with a five game road trip that will feature stops at Carson-Newman College and Virginia State University before the team opens its home slate against Shepherd University in the inaugural MEC series in school history. The newly formed MEC will play its conference games as doubleheaders, with each game being seven innings.

Overall, the Cavaliers have 54 regular season games scheduled with 25 of the games scheduled to be played at Burchell Stallard Field. UVa-Wise will welcome local schools Lincoln Memorial University, King University, and Bluefield State College to Wise for non-conference action. Meanwhile, the league schedule features 44 games, 22 of which are scheduled at home, against 11 league foes, with all but four league contests taking place on the weekend with doubleheaders on consecutive days.

The club’s success may hinge on the ability of its young but talented pitching staff. Steven Klaiber returns for his sophomore season after an impressive freshman campaign. A year ago, the right-hander tossed 57 innings when he compiled a 2.68 ERA with 40 strikeouts and an opponent’s batting average against of .236. Klaiber also saw some time at the plate and that is expected to continue in 2014. As a hitter, the Roanoke, Va. native hit .371 in 35 at bats with five RBI. Joining Klaiber in the dual role is senior Danny Bates. Bates has spent most of his career in the field but did see some action on the mound in 2013. A right-hander, Bates tossed 11 innings and fanned eight batters in his limited action.

The team also returns Cody Compton, a crafty lefty that has the potential to spot start or pitch in relief. A senior, Compton is healthy for the first time since arriving on campus after transferring from Milligan College and will provide the team with an experienced left-hander. The other senior on the pitching staff is Josh Massie who missed the entire 2013 season due to injury. Known as an extremely hard worker, the left-hander will have to regain command of the strike zone after his injury to contribute to this year’s squad. Newcomers to the team will also be expected to compete for weekend inning as former John I. Burton High School standout Caleb Daniels comes to UVa-Wise after spending last season at USC-Beaufort. Daniels, a sophomore, is a three-pitch pitcher with good velocity and very capable off-speed stuff. Also a sophomore, Kenny Ball comes to UVa-Wise after spending last season at NCAA Division I institution Stony Brook. Ball will also compete for innings on the weekend as the left-hander has command of three pitches.

Offensively, the club will look to rebound from a team batting average of .261 in 2013. To do so, the Cavaliers will need senior Michael McCollom to be a reliable middle of the order bat. The third baseman had a strong fall and returned to the program in better physical shape. UVa-Wise will also look to Tye Marshall to assume a bigger offensive role. A former two-sport athlete, Marshall had his first full season of fall ball and the coaching staff expects the increased field time to pay dividends this spring. The team also returns utility man Tyler Lighton who has the ability to play in the infield and at both corner outfield positions. Lighton will enter spring practice in a battle for time at shortstop.

Coach Hank Banner’s club will feature a total of 20 players who have yet to play an inning for the Red and Gray. The youthful Cavaliers were picked 11th of the 12 member schools in the MEC.

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