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Opening Day at home Thursday at noon

Pitching staff, depth to carry new-look ballclub

WAXAHACHIE, Texas  --  There is a great deal of excitement that comes with the start of athletic seasons; the first kickoff or jump-ball or the invitation to “Start your engines.” Perhaps none exceeds the air across the nation on Opening Day of a new baseball campaign.

The 'hope that springs eternal' is rampant among baseball teams across the land.

That includes the campus of Southwestern Assemblies of God University, just twenty-five miles south of Dallas.

SAGU opens the 2013 college baseball season this weekend with a pair of matinee doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday against Hillsdale College (Ok). Both twinbills will begin at high noon.

The Weather Channel says to expect temperatures around 66 on Friday with a partly cloudy sky. Saturday, January 26, the setting should be cloudy and 57.

This season the Lions will play a large number of home games on their new, refurbished ballpark on campus. Others will take place on diamond #7 at the Waxahachie Sports Complex.

Head Coach Jon Shockley and assistants Tommy Benningfield, Andrew Rickman and Derek Fortner, will lead a young squad in which 26 of the 31 players on the active roster are underclassmen.

SAGU experiences Arms Race

The biggest area of improvement on this year’s team appears to be pitching. The squad is clearly deeper and has enjoyed a solid class of recruits for the mound.

As for the rotation, Coach Shockley has listed the four who have gotten the nod for the Hillsdale series. It has an obvious local flavor, with three former Red Oak Hawks taking the hill;

FRIDAY – Game One  (12 Noon)
Jarrod Pisors (Dallas, Tx / Red Oak HS). The 6’7 freshman is a right-hander who works the zone and has a clearly improved fastball.

FRIDAY – Game Two  (Estimated 2:30-3pm)
Robert Elles (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS). The southpaw has a stronger arm, plenty of confidence and an insatiable desire to win. Shockley says he could be the staff workhorse.

SATURDAY – Game Three   (High Noon)
 Hayden Killebrew (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS). The 6’1 freshman with a solid build delivers strikes with an amped up velocity.

SATURDAY – Game Four  (Estimated 2:30-3pm)
Skyler Gilstrap (Smithville, Tx / Smithville HS). A lefty with a wide repertoire of pitches, he is a 6-foot freshman.

There are a handful of others who the staff believes could produce as a starter, including sophomore righty Jacob Spivey (Georgetown, Tx / Harker Heights HS), who has deceptive speed and moves, and Nick Cox (Lufkin, Tx / Lufkin HS), a left-handed freshman known for his power and poise.

Two others to keep an eye on are right-handers; Nick Turley (Ovilla, Tx / Ovilla Christian), a 6’5 freshman, and Ryan McBride (Sherman, Tx / Sherman HS). At 6’1, he is another from a bumper crop of frosh.

Sophomore Rockie Davis (Sante Fe, Tx / Sante Fe HS) has been named the closer. He is 6’1 and has been a two-year starting linebacker for SAGU. He pitches with a similar mindset.

Eighteen pitchers are on this year’s roster, which is available on-line at

Anchors in the Infield

The probable starting line-up in the field starts with co-captain Jared Denton (Mission, Tx / Sharyland HS), a junior, at catcher. He is good defensively with a very quick release. Denton has batted over .300 in each of his first two seasons.

The infield figures to have Rusty Hensel (Maypearl, Tx / Dallas Christian College, Maypearl HS), a brawny sophomore at first base. He swatted six round-trippers last season as a freshman at Dallas Christian College.

Hensel is a big target and is very agile for a big man.

There are several other players battling for the position and could split time at Designated Hitter. Among them is freshman Billy Mee (Fayetteville, NC / Copperas Cove HS). He can play a number of places and lugs lumber like an axeman.

Middle infielders; 5’11 Spivey at shortstop and 5’6 freshman Micah Thompson (Waco, Tx / Gatesville HS) playing second base, could develop into a very effective combination this spring.

Spivey, who hit .318 in 39 games last year, brings quickness, a good glove and an arm that is completely in shape according Shockley. The speedy Thompson has a solid glove and will also play at short as well as pitch – though not all at the same time!

The versatile Garrett Thomas (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS) will earn his early playing-time as a utility infielder. He is one of four players from one of the area’s most respected prep baseball programs.

On the hot corner is co-captain Nick Sheffield (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS). One of the most improved players on the team, the 6’2 junior had an outstanding fall at the plate, spraying the ball to all fields.

In the field he “has really stepped up,” Shockley pointed out. “He is attacking the ball at third, and is hitting liners everywhere!”

Similar to catcher and first base, the competition among backups is fierce. Winning playing time and at bats will likely make for spirited practices.

Home on the Outfield Range

The outfield looks very secure.

Scheduled to start in left is Elles (pronounced like Ellis). At 5’11, 225-lbs, the stout sophomore reads the ball well off the bat, is smart and has a laser. He swung a .274 bat in 2012.

Roaming the expanses in center is Davis. His range is propelled (6.5 in the 60) with velocity and the ability to make the spectacular catch.

When he is on the mound, the Lions can count on freshmen Colten Conner (Flower Mound, Tx / Flower Mound HS) Jeremy Cross (Americus, Ga / Harker Heights HS).

Manning the rightfield position is Tyler English (Abilene, Tx / Gatesville HS). He has a very dependable glove and unsheathes a right-handed weapon to daring baserunners.

Lions Menu now includes 50 games

The team’s 50-game schedule is posted on-line.

SAGU announced on Thursday the addition of a single game on March 12. Shreiner University (Kerrville, Tx) visits Waxahachie for a single game that afternoon.

A member of the NCAA’s Division III, the Mountaineers compete in the American Southwest Conference.

After hosting Hillsdale this weekend, SAGU welcomes Arlington Baptist College for a three-game series next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Contact: Mark “Link” Warde, SAGU Sports Information Director, at or at 469-658-2847.