Vol State has surged in the past few weeks to win 8 straight after starting the season at 0-3. The Pioneers looked to be on their way to opening the season 2-0 in Millington, TN. However, Mississippi Delta had a few comebacks in them that prevented that. Vol State led in game 1 6-4 headed into the top of the 6th and the wheels came off the bus ending in a 13-8 defeat. Game 2 vs Mississippi Delta turned into a similar result as the Pioneers gave up yet another chance to secure their first win of the young season. The Neers tied the game headed into the 5th inning at 4-4 but were unable to sustain that result giving up 2 runs in the bottom half of the 5th. Unfortunately for Vol State the game was called in the 6th down 6-4 due to darkness.
Licking their wounds after blowing leads in the first two games did not set up the Pioneers well for a matchup against #8 ranked Wabash Valley in game 3. Wabash Valley who placed 3rd in the NJCAA Division I World Series in 2017 came in with a lot of confidence and some very good pitching. Vol State was able to hang tight with the nationally ranked Warriors until a few sacrifice bunts that the defense couldn't handle in the 6th inning turned a 3-0 tight ballgame into an 8-0 uphill battle that the Neers couldn't overcome falling 9-1 in their home opener.
Needless to say the locker room was a bit tense after opening the season 0-3 but the Neers were able to get going offensively and the pitching has seemed to settle down a bit. Vol State has rattled off 8 straight wins outscoring their opponents 77-20 during that span. ETSU commit Jake Lyle has continued to be a factor offensively starting the first 11 games with a .427 batting average, 2 HRs and 18 RBIs. Lyle hasn't been the only Pioneer to get hot at the plate; sophomore Baylor Steelman is hitting .360 with 9 walks which leads to an impressive .514 on base percentage. Sophomore catcher Collin Hopkins has also been a force at the plate to open the season hitting .320 as he tries to expand on his already impressive defensive resume. A few freshman have also helped the Neers tremendously thru the 8 game win streak, most notably Ryan Horne. Horne is hitting .391 with 2 HRs and a walk off hit in the comeback win over Schoolcraft capping a 4 run 7th inning. The Pioneers have 9 guys hitting over .300 to open the season and is a strong indication that the program has become deeper at each position which is something Coach Hunt has been working on building in his 3rd season. The quality of depth should help the Pioneers as the spring season becomes a bit of a grind towards May.
After an ugly start to the season, pitching wise, the Pioneers staff has seemed to settle in a bit. Sophomore Jacob Cole sits at 2-0 with an impressive 19 strikeouts in 14 innings of work. A great story unfolding as well is sophomore James Hatcher back on the bump as a starter. Hatcher who had to shut down his season last year, during his 3rd start of the season, opted to have Tommy John surgery. The lefty really took his rehab seriously as he has been able to come back and start for the Pioneers not even a full year from his surgery date. Hatcher has 2 starts under his belt so far this season totaling 8 innings, striking out 10 hitters. Strike out totals for the pitching staff have been very impressive so far as the Neers have struck out 96 batters in 76 Innings. Several sophomores have contributed to these totals. Danny Lara has totaled 15 k's in 8.2 innings, Chase Douglas has added 14 k's in 12 innings and Dalton Heath with 12 strike outs in 9.1 innings. Sophomore Antonio Costas has also rebounded well after receiving a blown save to open the season. Costas, tabbed as the closer to open the season for the Neers, has been impressive in limited chances since the opener by picking up a win and a save. A few freshman have stepped up to help the Pioneers staff including Preston Burnett who has yet to give up a run in 5.1 innings work striking out 7 while only giving up 1 hit and allowing only 1 walk. Freshman Jack Sensing has also contributed some solid innings posting 7 strikeouts in only 3.1 innings of work.
All that shows potential but still untested in conference play. The Pioneers start the daunting task of opening the conference portion of the season with Columbia State, Dyersburg State and Walters State which are 3 of the top teams in the country. Columbia State battled for a conference title in 2017 and was very close to upsetting Dyersburg in the Regional to get to the World Series in Grand Junction. They should contend again this year for a conference title as they have already had a win over the defending National Champion Chipola Community College out of Florida. Columbia State is a well-coached program with Coach Corn at the helm. The matchup should give the Neers a test, most notably defending the little things that the Chargers do so well. It certainly should be a great early season measuring stick to see where the Pioneers stand early in the season. Vol State opened 2017's conference season taking 2 of 3 from the Chargers in Gallatin. Pioneers hope to have similar results as they head to Columbia for their first conference road trip. The schedule has been adjusted because of rain; the 9 inning game 1 will now start at 2 pm on Saturday and the 7 inning games 2 and 3 of the series will start at 12 pm on Sunday.
This weekend's series vs Columbia State will be live streamed thru www.tennesseesportsnet.com; the YouTube link for Game 1 on Saturday appears to be: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHEoJ5aO_zI#action=share