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Coaches assess new-look Lions team

Denton, Sheffield, juniors, named co-captains

WAXAHACHIE, Texas  --  The Southwestern Assemblies of God University 2013 baseball team is nearing those sweet words, “Play ball!”

The Lions open the season this weekend with a pair of home doubleheaders that will be played on the refurbished campus ballpark.

The park has short fence in rightfield that is 295-feet from the plate. The leftfield barrier is 320-feet down the line. Both include a fence that is 24-feet tall. The power alleys are 365-feet from home, with straight-away centerfield measured at 403 feet.

Big hitters may find the porch in right as tempting as a slab of BBQ ribs. Translation: parking beyond the fence at the Regents Apartments is at your own risk.

SAGU, who went 14-28 last spring, has plenty of work to get done. With a coaching staff of hands-on, work ethic men, the team is crafting a new look that goes beyond two new jersies.

Head Coach Jon Shockley and top Assistant Coach Tommy Benningfield are entering their second year, while Derek Fortner and Andrew Rickman bring needed strengths to the crew as well.

Tuesday they sat down to discuss this year’s Lions, a team that has the ‘Catch 22’ description of young.

After graduating nine seniors last year, the Diamond Cats who will soon take the field have no seniors. They are a cast of players who are hungry to take their turn at turning the team’s fortunes.

There are 17 freshmen and nine sophomores on a 31-man active roster. Youth represents both energy and inexperience. Sometimes it a great combination!

“There are many areas this squad has shown improvement,” Coach Shockley pointed out. “Their mentality is strong, and they are not used to losing. So this group has a desire that is visible in their workouts.”

Benningfield chimed in about the bullpen. “Our pitching staff is much deeper and we’ve have some stronger arms.”

True, the Lions have 18 players listed as pitchers.

Shockley said there are seven or eight (different pitchers) they feel confident to place the ball in their hands with a starting assignment.

While the infield will have its hands full trying to duplicate a bunch that turned 22 double plays in 2012 (the previous team, 2011, made just one all season), the outfield drew much praise from the staff.

“We feel very good about the guys out there,” Rickman said, “particularly their arm strength and their baseball IQ. They are making great decisions about where to throw and they can deliver the ball.”

The staff was high on their relief staff, especially the closer.

Coach Shockley announced this year’s co-captains as two guys who are examples of the change and M.O. that others can follow.

Catcher Jared Denton (Mission, Tx / Sharyland HS) and third baseman Nick Sheffield (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS), both juniors, will serve the Lions with well-respected leadership.

As for the offense, the batting order has yet to be clarified. Fans will get their first look at that aspect of the line-up when it is announced shortly before noon on Friday.

Home Doubleheaders, Jan. 25-26

Hillsdale College, from Moore, Oklahoma, visits town for a pair of seven-inning twinbills. Two games on both Friday and Saturday are on tap, each starting with a noon first-pitch.

The Weather Channel forecast is calling for the current temps in the low 70s to move out on Thursday night. Friday will bring a sunny sky and a high of 58. Mild, northerly winds at 8mph and zero chance of precipitation should provide a great setting for baseball.

Saturday’s high will be cloudy and 55 with light winds and a 20% chance of rain.

Fans will find an article on-line today with the probable starting line-up and the expected rotation for this weekend’s doubleheaders.

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

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