Baseball Recap: Young Lions emerging
Freshman-laden squad building new core
Denton, Thomas, Pisors, Threadgill among top players
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- The 2013 baseball season for the Southwestern Assemblies of God University Lions was like the ingredients of most novels; they had a beginning, a muddle and an end.
Starting with a 29-man roster that included 17 freshmen and eight sophomores and no seniors, a rebuilding plot was clearly in the making.
The team held its own for the first half of the season, posting a 9-6 mark by mid-February. Under second year Head Coach Jon Shockley the Lions were still 13-16 after a rare three-game sweep of a Red River Athletic Conference opponent.
Things got 'muddied' down the stretch, where a number of injuries and team roster issues took their toll, resulting in a 1-18 finish and a 14-34 mark.
A year after finishing last in the Red River with a 1-22 league mark, this year’s squad went 4-22, rising to ninth place.
SAGU hit .272 (8th), though their 8.11 earned run average was last. That is understandable, considering that 38 of the team’s 48 games were started by freshmen pitchers.
A noteworthy 5.61 strike outs per game ranked the young arms the sixth best average in the league. Texas Wesleyan University averaged 7.18. The Lions’ K's per game was better than SAGU’s last seven teams.
Overall, the experience gained this spring could provide a foundation for next year.
SAGU's stellar performers
The green squad did produce a few promising players to hang their hat on in 2014.
Start with the play of the team’s two junior co-captains, Jared Denton (Mission, Tx / Sharyland HS) and Nick Sheffield (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS). Their production summed up the season; one was outstanding, the other was put on hold.
Both are quality character guys, each having vastly different results.
The red-haired Chef, a steady third baseman, missed two-thirds of the season due to an ankle injury. He collected only 51 at bats.
After a sizzling fall camp and pre-season, he appeared ready for a breakout year. His stay on the DL (disabled list) left a void. In short, he was sorely missed.
Denton, a skilled catcher, spent his spring playing leftfield due to an early, season-ending injury to left-hander Robert Elles (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS).
Elles (pronounced like Ellis) was expected to be the workhorse of the pitching staff. When not on the mound, he was the starting leftfielder.
He was hurt in his first start and forced to sit out the entire 2013 campaign.
Denton glowed like sunshine in honey, generating a big year in the field and at the plate.
He batted a robust .365 (8th in RRAC), rapping 16 extra-base hits. A valiant leader, he was tied for the RRAC lead in runs batted in for much of the season before finishing with 33.
The Lions record for RBI's in a season is 37, set in 2005 by Tommy Benningfield, who is now an Assistant Coach on the team.
Dating back through the 2006 season, only Patrick Wherland (35 in 2011) and Gabe Hensley (34 in 2009) had more RBI’s than Denton.
While the team struggled down the stretch at the dish, they did manage to be more competitive in the first inning than all but one Lions team over the past eight years.
SAGU was sharper out of the gate while being outscored by opponents in the first frame by a 49-36 margin. In 2012 the margin was 40-19.
The only time the team outscored the enemy in the first, 61-48, was in 2009, a squad that went 14-30.
Even the 2006 team, which had Southwestern’s best record since joining the NAIA (20-22-1), were outscored in the pivotal, pace-setting first stanza, 58-27.
Perhaps the most present surprise was the play of shortstop Garett Thomas (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS). Once he moved into the starting line-up after nearly 15 games, he shined like a bald man’s head.
The left-handed batter spoke softly and carried a Teddy Roosevelt .407 stick. The contact hitter was one of the most difficult to strike out, fanning just five times in 91 at bats. His on-base percentage was a solid .476.
His decision-making in the pivot was rocklike and his overall glovework was very dependable.
Another starry frosh was first-bagger Billy Mee (Fayetteville, NC / Copperas Cove HS). He stood out defensively and swung at a .298 clip, driving in 20 runs.
Micah Thompson (Waco, Tx / Gatesville HS) was as tough as a Cape Cod fisherman. Versatile, he played three positions in the infield, as well as the outfield and appeared on the mound in eight games (1-1 record).
As likeable as he was competitive, he was injured late in the season when he missed on an inside pitch at bat. Swinging with such force, he twisted his knee before landing on the plate.
He jokingly described his strike out; “I went down swinging, literally.”
A player who showed flashes of promise was Bryant Threadgill (Whiteright, TX / Dallas Christian College, Whiteright HS). The 6’3 sophomore transfer worked his way into twenty games and hit .278.
Praised also for his character by Coach Shockley, Threadgill led the team in homers with two and made the most of his 15 hits. He drove in 14 runs and had a .463 slugging percentage.
Long Arms and a Short List of Award winners
Two local pitchers, both freshmen, were pressed into battle due to injuries as well as to cover for other hurlers who couldn’t finish the season.
The tandem of Red Hawks; Jarrod Pisors (Dallas, Tx / Red Oak HS), at 6’7, and Hayden Killebrew (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS), a good control pitcher, finished 1-2 in starts with 13 and seven respectively.
Pisors’ (pahy-zers) record (1-10) was not indicative of the body of his work. He generally faced the opposition’s ace in the first game of series.
In 69 innings he whiffed 48 and walked just 20.
Killebrew, who missed almost two months of action late in the season (injury), tied for the team lead in wins with two, despite of tossing just 28 innings.
Another freshman, 6’5 Nick Turley (Ovilla, Tx / Ovilla Christian) progressed as well.
The righthander started once but completed the year with 32 innings pitched; he sat down 24 batters on strikes – both stats were fourth best on the team.
A green bullpen didn’t churn out any numbers to brag about, combining for just three saves. A 6.35 individual ERA was the best of the bunch.
At the annual SAGU Athletic Awards, Denton was named Offensive Player of the Year while Thomas took home the Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Naphtali “Tali” Fletcher (Monohans, Tx / Monohans HS), who fought his way into the line-up by season’s end, was the recipient of the Lion’s Pride trophy. The 5’7 junior’s exemplary attitude and commitment to the team is widely acknowledged.
View all player statistics at the NAIA website or paste the following into your web browser: http://www.dakstats.com/WebSync/Pages/Team/IndividualStats.aspx?association=10&sg=MBA&team=1778&sea=NAIMBA_2013
A rise in ranks
SAGU moves to the Sooner Athletic Conference next season. It is considered the premier league in the NAIA.
The Sooner's 2013 national tournament qualifiers include No. 2 Oklahoma City University (47-11), No. 4 Lubbock Christian University (42-15), No. 14 Oklahoma Baptist University (41-17), the No. 23 ranked University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma (40-17) and Rogers State University (31-22).
Five of the SAC’s eight teams received an invitation.
The Red River Athletic Conference, where the Purple Pride currently compete, sent three teams to the NAIA national championship tournament; No. 24 LSU-Shreveport (40-16) - who won the RRAC tourney, No. 16 Texas Wesleyan University (40-16), the tourney runner-up and No. 6 Northwood University (40-11) – the regular season champions.
Bacone College missed out thanks to a late slide. At 34-11, they dropped a three-series at home to LSU-Shreveport; two of the setbacks were by one-run.
In the RRAC tourney the Warriors, once ranked No. 23, went 0-2 to miss an NAIA bid at 36-16.