published Friday, January 31st, 2014

Virtually all-new Chattanooga State Tigers start baseball season

On a Chattanooga State roster of 28 players this year, only three were on the team last spring. Continual turnover is a characteristic of junior college sports, but this is extreme by any measure.

When the Tigers open the 2014 season today at home against nationally ranked Georgia Perimeter, they will have four transfers among their seven sophomores. The rest are freshmen, including all the starting pitchers except left-handed ace Tyler Troutt from Alcoa, who already has signed with Middle Tennessee State for next year.

But they've had a fall practice season ahead of a chilly preseason of workouts, and coach Greg Dennis has them pointing again to standard goals of 40 wins and TCCAA championship contention.

"We know we have some good things here," Dennis said going into his 11th season with the Tigers. "We're going to have a decent amount of sophomores on the field, and we have freshmen who are really talented, but obviously we've got to go out and get it done in games."

The coaches will be focusing in the early part of the schedule on finding consistent combinations defensively and in the lineup.

One thing for sure is that the Tigers will have an entirely new infield, including the catcher position. Stalwarts Aaron Wright at first base and Jordan McDonald at shortstop are now at UNC Greensboro, and their replacements are transfers Michael Goss and Tyler Hendley.

Goss, who's from Cartersville, Ga., redshirted at Samford University last year and is still a freshman in eligibility, but he "has shown real ability to hit the ball for average and power," Dennis said.

Hendley, an Oklahoman who came from Temple Junior College in Texas, is a left-handed batter "who swings it pretty well and I think defensively can be pretty steady," Dennis said.

Starting at second base is La Salle transfer Brandon Day, who connected with the Tigers through one of last year's catchers, a good friend from Murfreesboro, where Day lived until his family moved to Florida when he reached high school.

"He should be a gritty, tough, competitive kid out there and at the plate," Dennis said of Day. "He has been a leader every day for us thus far."

Andy Clay from Loganville, Ga., is the projected everyday third baseman and a right-handed pitcher "who should be a top-of-the-rotation guy for us," Dennis said. "He is super competitive and has made a difference in the field, at the plate and on the mound so far."

Troutt is the rotation leader "in the mold of [former Tigers lefties] Patrick Merkling and Tyler McClure," the coach assessed. "He has electric stuff and a great competitive mindset."

Two other freshmen expected to provide mound strength are lefty Brennan Swindoll, Tennessee's Class A pitcher of the year last year at Friendship Christian, and right-hander Zach Thompson from Ooltewah.

"Swindoll has been very good for us this fall and early spring [semester]. He has very good stuff and should be the next lefty in the line we have started to establish," Dennis said. "Thompson was a star pitcher for Ooltewah and has continued to develop and show plus stuff at times."

The other two returners besides Troutt are outfielders Jared Wilson from Texas and Ryan Whitt from Franklin, Tenn. They each played in 44 games in 2013 and batted .322 and .303 with three home runs and a triple apiece, 10 and 15 doubles, 27 and 36 RBIs and 33 and 26 runs scored.

• Cleveland State also planned to start its season today but has moved back the opening home doubleheader against Roane State to Saturday. Bryan College moved up its opener at home against Toccoa Falls an hour to 4 p.m. today, preceding a doubleheader Saturday afternoon, when Lee at home and Tennessee Temple and Tennessee Wesleyan on the road are scheduled to begin their seasons.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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