Baseball opening weekend a hit out of the park

UNC Asheville baseball is off to a good start in pursuit of their first winning season since joining the Big South in 1986, sweeping North Carolina Central on Friday and Saturday.

The Bulldogs outscored the Eagles, 32-8, over the three game road stand in Durham.

“We wouldn’t be practicing if we weren’t planning on having a great season and winning a bunch of games,” Head Coach Tom Smith said.

Smith, who saw 20 of his  players drafted during his 28 years at Asheville’s T.C. Roberson High School, is in his third year at the helm of the baseball program.

Smith was pleased with his team’s start, citing good pitching as an important factor in the wins

Billy Creighton, a junior transfer from Schenectady County Community College in New York, echoed Smith’s praises.

“We’ve got a pretty good staff this year and that is definitely going to help us be competitive this year,” Creighton said.

The pitching highlight of the series was sophomore Dean Roland’s performance in game two of the series. Roland went five innings, allowing only one run on three hits Saturday afternoon.

Senior Ryan Dull got the win in game one and junior Drew Spear got credit for Saturday night’s victory.

“We’ve all been looking forward to getting the season started and this was obviously a great way to kick it off,” Creighton said.

Creighton, a right-handed pitcher who was a Junior College All-American last year, did his damage from the plate rather than the mound on Friday.

Creighton went 5-8 with three homeruns, seven RBI’s and six runs scored over the course of the double-header that also featured senior outfielder Patrick Koontz’s second homerun of the season.

The Bulldogs graduated five last year, four of whom were starters, but Smith has confidence that this year’s seniors will fill the void with help from a strong freshman class.

“I definitely expect our seniors to step up, and they have already done a good job in a leadership role helping out the younger guys,” Smith said.

Three freshmen started at least one game during the series, with several others seeing additional playing time.

Kyle Weston started all three games at shortstop, Cody Adkins started two games in centerfield and Thomas Bess started one game in center.

“This freshman class is strong and athletic and I think several of them will be seeing playing time over the course of the season,” Smith said.

The Bulldogs not only hit well, batting a collective .315 over the series, but also showed a propensity for power and speed.

UNCA had a .523 slugging percentage with five home runs and stole seven bases on seven attempts.

A young team boasting 21 freshmen and sophomores, the Bulldogs hope to become more experienced under Smith’s tutelage.

“We’re really going to be focusing on building the roster and growing depth. Pitching will dictate a lot,” Smith said.

The Bulldogs will get plenty of experience this year at the hands of a tough non-conference schedule featuring a game against UNC Chapel Hill at McCormick Field, the home of the Asheville Tourists, as well as a trip to face the reigning National Champion, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The preseason Big South Champions, Coastal Carolina, is a perennial Top 25 team. The Bulldogs took two of three games from the Chanticleers last year.

“It’s important that we keep up the energy level throughout the year. We need to maintain the intensity we had this weekend,” Creighton said.

The Bulldogs will host Saint Peters College for a three game series on Saturday at 1 p.m.

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