Saluqi Baseball rebuilds under new coach
by Kevin Gentry, Sports Information Director
Coming off a 15-44 (8-19 in conference) 2017 season, returning just 51 percent of the at bats and just 21 percent of innings pitched on the mound, and losing heavy hitting catchers in Tampa Bay Rays draft pick Andrew Miller and Faulkner University signee Rusber Estrada, the Saluqis will look to rebuild in a big way headed into the future with new leadership. Erik Schoenrock was named head coach of Southwest Tennessee baseball team last July. He comes to the Saluqis from Nicholls State University where he was an assistant coach for the 2016-2017 season.
In addition to Schoenrock, the 2018 Saluqis will showcase a number of new faces on the field. The roster of 32 players includes 13 sophomores (11 returners) and 19 freshmen with a strong local makeup of 15 players from the Memphis area. Schoenrock says he is excited about where the program is headed. “On paper we look very young and inexperienced,” Schoenrock said. “I believe through my staff’s effort in recruiting and the development of our returners, we have a chance to be competitive immediately.”
The Saluqis will look to a very athletic outfield to provide momentum-shifting plays both offensively and defensively this spring. Sophomore Christian Busby looks to be an offensive leader following a breakout 2017 fall, and projects to be in the middle of the order as the starting left fielder or designated hitter. Three freshmen look to be big factors in the outfield. Switch-hitting freshman Barrone Porter (Houston High School) projects as the leadoff hitter and right fielder, possessing a special skillset of speed, power and arm strength. Freshman R.J. Dell (Collierville High School) projects as the starting center fielder due to his high motor and will help as a relief pitcher on the mound. Freshman Blake Donels (Collierville High School) will add some punch to the lineup and will compete to play in a corner outfield spot and as a designated hitter option.
The infield looks to be a much improved unit this season with four players with college experience looking to lead the unit. Sophomore Jacob Nobles (.333 batting average, 4 home runs, 18 doubles, 29 runs batted in) is the most experienced hitter returning and will provide a dynamic skill set and leadership as a left side defender. Sophomore Co-Captain Nate Sumner (.262 batting average, 1 home run, 7 doubles, 15 runs batted in) provides stability at second base and a veteran approach as a left-handed hitter. Redshirt Freshman Blake Daniels (Marked Tree, AR and Crowder Community College transfer) will project as a power left-handed bat in the middle of the order and will play a number of positions on defense. Sophomore Joaquin Estrada will provide a power threat offensively, versatility, and depth with the ability to play all positions on the infield.
Freshman Cameron Pleasant (Christian Brothers High School) looks to be the starting catcher, utilizing a pure left-handed swing and a high level of receiving behind the plate.
The Saluqi pitching staff showed flashes of excellence in the fall and the starting rotation projects to be a combination of a group of guys with three-pitch mixes. Sophomore left-hander Benton Garrison (Memphis, TN - Mississippi College transfer) projects as the Friday starter. Finishing the fall with 15 scoreless innings, Garrison showed he has the capability to control all parts of the game from the mound. Freshman right-hander Brayden Green (Collierville High School) and left-hander Joel Singleton (Patterson, LA - Patterson High School) project as weekend starters, along with Garrison. Both stepped in to college baseball with authority this fall, competing at a high level due to competitiveness, strike throwing and good tempo. Sophomore right-hander and team Co-Captain Grayson Hall (1-2, 8.64 earned run average, 16-2/3 innings, 14 strikeouts) will serve as a starting pitcher, as well. He will have opportunities to pitch against many quality midweek opponents. Sophomore Tyrek White (Nashville, TN - Dyersburg State transfer) also will have opportunities to start. White possesses the most electric arsenal of pitches on the staff with a fastball that can reach the low 90s.
The 2018 schedule presents a huge challenge for the Saluqis. “We have, perhaps, the toughest non-conference schedule in the country,” Shoenrock said. “And we are playing in one of the toughest conferences around, so we will have a chance to see where we are as a program. I’m excited for our guys to compete against high level competition all season long.”
Southwest will open the TCCAA slate at home with two of the conference’s most dominant programs - Dyersburg State (March 2-3) and Walters State (March 9-10). The remaining conference schedule includes trips to Columbia State, Chattanooga State, Jackson State, and Motlow State and home series against Volunteer State, Roane State, and Cleveland State. The season will conclude May 6-10 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at the TCCAA/NJCAA Region 7 Tournament hosted by Chattanooga State.
See the Saluqis in action during home games at USA Stadium in Millington, TN.