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Trojans right at home in Penscola, Bayfront Stadium

By Steve Barnes

PENSACOLA, Fla. — When Troy’s baseball team walked to the top of the tunnel at Pensacola’s Bayfront Stadium, each player had the same look — his eyes were as big as baseballs.

The Trojans and Alabama met Tuesday at the home ballpark of Pensacola’s Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. It came just four days before the Reds play an exhibition game against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and the field was in pristine condition.

“This is an outstanding experience, I’ve never seen such a nice park,” Troy pitcher Tanner Hicks said. “The field and the backdrop makes me feel like we are in a major-league stadium.”

The evening was even better.

Alabama took the field against the Trojans on a perfect Gulf Coast night on the bank of Pensacola Bay. A gentle 66 degrees with soft breezes off the bay. Even better than the weather was the Troy turnout.

“We expect a great amount of fans tonight,” Steve Timberlake, president of the Pensacola Bay Area Troy Alumni and Friends, said. “Pensacola is a great market for Troy.”

The organization typically funds eight scholarships a year from Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties in the Florida panhandle each year. Along with that, the group contributes $2,000 a year to the Troy University Foundation.

Several Troy alumni and fans gathered at Nick’s Boathouse, a restaurant neighboring the Bayfront Stadium, prior to the game.

The crowd included Chancellor, Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., and athletic director John Hartwell.

As friendly as the party was, Troy expected something else on the field. After all, the Trojans eliminated Alabama from the NCAA Tallahassee Regional last year.

“With the hype of last year’s 9-8 win, it will be fun,” Hicks said. “We’d like our games with Alabama to become a rivalry.”

Judging from Tuesday, it has.


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Large Troy crowd expected to give Trojans ‘home field advantage’ in Pensacola

Special to The Messenger by Steve Barnes

PENSACOLA, Fla. – It is unsure which team will bat first when Alabama takes on Troy tonight, but there is little doubt there will be a feel of a Trojans’ home game.

Fewer than 150 mile separate Troy from Pensacola and it has always had a large contingent of Trojans.

On the diamond, Keith Bragg and Chuck Stanhope were standouts for Chase Riddle, with Stanhope spending a few seasons in the minor leagues and Bragg now a baseball coach at Pensacola High School.

In football, Steven Campbell, Demontray Carter, Lance Sasser, Antjuan Marsh and Lawrence Tynes each had success on the gridiron in Troy after finishing their prep careers in the area.

Even the Troy basketball team had pair of players on the roster last season from Pensacola State College. It is not limited to simply men either. Barbara Sherwood, Tammy Lowery, Jinni Frisbey and Tara Blackwell are all Pensacola natives. Lady Trojan basketball coach Chandra Rigby was hired from PSC.

There is even a satellite Troy campus near Pensacola Naval Air Station.

“We have always had a lot of support for Troy athletics in Pensacola,” former Trojan kicker, Greg Whibbs, said. “Pensacola is a great sports town with native Don Sutton in the baseball hall of fame, Emmitt Smith in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Derrick Brooks will be inducted into the hall this fall.”

Whibbs, who is a Pensacola native and now is an assistant in the Florida State’s Attorney’s Office, will have a special sense of pride tonight. His alma mater will be playing at the complex named for his grandfather, former mayor Vince Whibbs.

“It is going to be exciting, I am sure,” Whibbs said. “There will be a lot of people yelling “Roll Tide!” but there will be more Trojans there who have ties to the University. It will be cool to hear the fans getting after one another.”

The game seems to be an interesting match as well. Alabama comes in 15-8 (3-3 in the Southeastern Conference), while Troy is 14-10 (3-2 in the Sun Belt). The Crimson Tide dropped 2-of-3 to Arkansas over the weekend, the Trojans took 2-of-3 from Louisiana-Monroe.

“We are extremely excited to have a pair of programs at this level play here,” Jason Libbert, head event coordinator for the Pensacola Sports Association said. “The teams can get exposure that is going to help them in recruiting our area.”

Alabama already features a pair of Pensacola players, Wade Wass and Austin Smith. For the Trojans, senior Austin Sullivan is from nearby Mary Esther, Robert Price from Niceville and Peyton Fuller from just across the state line in Fairhope.

“This is the second Division I game we’ve had here at Bayfront Stadium,” Libbert said. “Three weeks ago we had Florida play Southern Miss and now we get to follow that with two more great teams.”

There is another game scheduled in the preseason at the park that rests on the bank of Pensacola Bay. Thursday, the Pensacola Blue Wahoo will host its parent team, the Cincinnati Reds at the picturesque park. In 2012, the first year of the complex, the stadium was named ballpark of the year by Baseballparks.com.

Along with a state of the art video board, the park also features a berm for fans to enjoy the game from beyond the fence in right field. Over the left-field wall, it is a different story. Much like the park in San Francisco, batters who belt a ball well enough can have it land in the bay.

According to Libbert, only about 600 standing-room tickets remain as the 5,038-seat venue has be sold out for the game.

The game can be seen on Cox Sports Television.


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Blackwell not letting accident spoil her love for the game

Blackwell not letting accident spoil her love for the game

Tara Blackwell coaches her Pike Forest High School Eagles despite being paralyzed from the waist down. (Photo/Joey Meredith)
Tara Blackwell coaches her Pike Forest High School Eagles despite being paralyzed from the waist down. (Photo/Joey Meredith)

Tara Blackwell’s softball career came full circle on Friday.

Blackwell, a former star for the Troy Trojan softball team, led the Pine Forest Eagles against the Charles Henderson Lady Trojans. While a player becoming a coach isn’t uncommon, Blackwell’s journey isn’t you average transition.

After appearing in 98 games for the Trojans, Blackwell’s career was brought to a sudden end due to a freak accident during her junior season. Blackwell suffered a broken neck and was paralyzed from the waist down.

But Blackwell didn’t let her career-ending injury bring an end for her love of the game.

“I never thought my love for the game of softball could ever be more than when I was playing,” said Blackwell. “But I think it is stronger now than it was then. I know how quickly you can lose this game. It’s not just making plays and hitting the ball, I love the camaraderie of a team and being able to do things that some people will never be able to do. Being a coach is like having 13 daughters. I love them with everything I have.”

Blackwell is in her first season as head coach of the Lady Eagles, after serving as a volunteer assistant in 2013. Blackwell had never planned on being a coach, but said her mind changed after watching the 2005 season from the inside of the Troy dugout.

“After I got hurt, Coach Davis let me be part of the team, and that is where I really felt I could coach,” said Blackwell. “I saw things from the dugout that I never saw as a player. You are concentrated on your position in the field, but from the dugout you see everything as a whole and how it all works together. Coaching was in my heart.”

Although she is a native of Pensacola, and is proud to do what she loves in her hometown, Blackwell said Troy, and the citizens of the town, will always hold a special place in her heart.

“There was never a time where I didn’t feel like this wasn’t my second home,” said Blackwell. “

Troy coaches Melanie Davis and Sharon O’Mara remain close with Blackwell, and have put together a magazine-style book to accompany Blackwell’s nomination for the National Courage Award.

Pine Forest was allowed to tour the newly renovated Troy Softball complex on Friday afternoon, and sent the Trojans off to Western Kentucky with good luck signs.

While her players mingled with the college softballers, Blackwell couldn’t help but smile. She feels the trip to Troy will be beneficial to her team.

“They were able to see just how hard other players work on the field,” Blackwell said. “I think a light came on. Some of them said ‘Oh, so that’s what you mean by hustle.’ It was exciting for them. It is a completely different level of play, but I think they all aspire to be there one day. I just want to help them reach their goals in whatever way I can.”

 


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Trojans host ULM in first home conference series

The Troy Trojans stand on the verge of turning a disappointing first month of the season around. On Wednesday, Troy picked up a pair of wins over in-state rival Alabama State and will welcome in the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks to Riddle-Pace Field this weekend for a three-game series.

ULM has limped to a 7-15 record through the season’s first month, and have lost nine straight games. The last win for the Warhawks came March 5, a 5-1 victory over Michigan State. Troy has won five of its last games.

Troy head coach Bobby Pierce feels the mid-week twin killing of Alabama State will allow his players to relax and “just play baseball.”

“We needed some positive momentum,” said Pierce. “We have been really squeezing tight trying not to make mistakes, and it has backfired on us. A night like tonight might give us a chance to relax in a good way. Hopefully the guys will continue to have a good feeling as we head in to the weekend against Monroe.”

The Trojans are 1-1 in Sun Belt play, after splitting two games in Mobile last weekend against South Alabama. A series win, or sweep, would lift the spirits of the Trojans even more.

Pierce feels the ULM series is very important for his Trojans.

“Being at home, and it being early in the season, I think it is tremendously important for our team to play well this weekend,” said Pierce. “We need to win a series at home, and keep the momentum going in the right way.”

Friday and Saturday’s games are set for a 6 p.m. first pitch, while Sunday’s matinee will get underway at 1 p.m.

 


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Twice as nice

Twice as nice

Troy’s William Shell picked up two wins on Wednesday against Alabama State. (Photo/Troy Athletics)
Troy’s William Shell picked up two wins on Wednesday against Alabama State. (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Troy, Shell pick up pair of wins over Bama State

It wasn’t supposed to be a double header, but Troy put a pair of wins over Alabama State in its back pocket Wednesday night.

The Trojans picked up a pair of 8-5 wins at Riddle-Pace Field Wednesday night in Troy. The Trojans got a W in a suspended game to start the day, before using a pair of two-run homers and a big seventh inning to power past the Hornets in the scheduled nine-inning game.

William Shell had just one win on the season before Wednesday, but picked up the winning decision in both games go boost his record to 3-1.

“I don’t that I have ever had that happen to me before,” Shell said of the double down. “It was an all team effort. I was able to pound the strike zone and get guys out.”

In the 11 innings played over two games on Wednesday, Shell worked three-and-two-thirds innings. He struck out four and allowed just three hits.

Troy offense came alive in the second game as both Matthew Howard and Jo-El Bennett hit two-run homeruns to give Troy a 4-1 lead early.

Alabama State battled back to tie the game at four in the top of the seventh, but the Troy bats would come alive once again.

The Trojans used a two-RBI single by Nick Masonia and two errors in the field by the Hornet defense to plate four runs in the stanza.

A late Alabama State rally was put down by Shell with a ground ball out to second base.

“We had overall a better effort today,” said Troy head coach Bobby Pierce. “William threw great, as did Will Starling. We got some timely hits for a change, and took advantage of some of their mistakes. They (Alabama State) are a really good baseball team, and we got a pair of wins over a really good team.”

The wins come at a good time for Troy, who was fresh off a 7-3 loss to rival Jacksonville State on Tuesday, as Sun Belt foe Louisiana-Monroe comes to town this weekend for a three-game set.

“We needed some positive momentum,” said Pierce. “We have been really squeezing tight trying not to make mistakes, and it has backfired on us. A night like tonight might give us a chance to relax in a good way. Hopefully the guys will continue to have a good feeling as we head in to the weekend against Monroe.”

The Trojans and Warhawks will meet in a three-game series this weekend at Riddle-Pace Field.

First pitch for Friday’s game is set for 6 p.m.

 


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New Orleans downs Troy 5-3 in 13 innings

The Troy Trojans had plenty of opportunities to put the game away early, but couldn’t push the winning run across in a 5-3 loss to New Orleans Friday night.

Troy left 14 men on base, including the bases loaded in the eighth and 10th innings, in the two-run loss to the Privateers.

New Orleans tied the game with solo homer in the top of the eighth inning by Reese Kanter, and scored, what turned out to be the winning runs, in the top of the 13th on a line-drive double to left center by Hezekiah Randolph.

“We didn’t get very good balls off the bat a couple of times, and when we did they made good plays to knock them down,” said Troy head coach Bobby Pierce. “When you are struggling it always seems that those things go against you. One thing I am happy with is tonight we forced the guy to get us out in the strike zone, which is something we were not doing earlier.”

Troy grabbed the first lead of the game on a two-run home run in the fifth by catcher Justin Hancock.

New Orleans tied the game in the seventh on a throwing error charged to Hancock.

David Hall gave Troy a brief lead in the bottom of the seventh with a line-drive homer to left.

With the loss, Troy falls to 7-7 on the season and is in desperate need of a win to shake the recent run of bad luck.

Friday’s loss was Troy’s third in a row.

“Times like these do come,” said Pierce. “They are not any fun. But baseball is a crazy game. We have to keep battling, and get some wins. We tell our players to keep battling and they will. We will come to the ball park tomorrow looking to turn some things around.”

 


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Put on hold

Put on hold

Antoine Myers scored 21 points in Thursday's loss to Texas-Arlington. (Photo/Troy Athletics)
Antoine Myers scored 21 points in Thursday’s loss to Texas-Arlington. (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Troy’s Sun Belt tourney clinch hopes dashed by Texas-Arlington in double overtime

Troy entered Thursday’s game against Texas-Arlington with visions of beads, Bourbon Street and post-season basketball, however the Trojans’ tourney aspirations were put on ice for at least 48 hours.

Texas-Arlington, led by Brandon Edwards 33 points and 19 rebounds, survived a double-overtime marathon to win 87-86 Thursday night at Trojan Arena.

The Mavericks and Trojans traded the lead all night, but UTA went ahead for good on a Reger Dowell three pointer with 1:19 to go in the second overtime period.

Troy pulled back within one with a free throw from Jeff Mullahey on the next possession, but Dowell would answer the call one more time.

Dowell pulled up and nailed a jump shot with 47 seconds to go to give the Mavs a three-point lead.

A Troy miss and Arlington rebound turned the game in to a free-throw contest, with Troy coming up on the short end of the stick down the stretch.

“It’s a hard one to swallow,” said Troy head coach Phil Cunningham. “I know every coach is saying it, but those guys deserve to be in New Orleans. We had our chance to get there tonight, and we didn’t finish it off.”

Troy led 49-44 with 14:13 to go in the second half, but saw Texas-Arlington rip off 19 straight points over the next eight-plus minutes to take the lead.

However, the Trojans would claw their way back in the ball game down the stretch.

Antoine Myers dropped 11 points, all on free throws or drives to the basket, over the next four minutes to tie the game at 67.

Cunningham didn’t tell Myers to take over the game. It just came naturally.

“We were just shooting too many jump shots,” said Myers. “I just figured I needed to get in there and create shot for myself and my teammates. It just came down to where I was creating shots for myself.”

Hunter Williams led Troy with 25 points. Myers scored 21 and Tevin Calhoun dropped in 17.

Josh Warren grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds.

Despite the loss, Cunningham liked the grit and toughness he saw from his team during the second-half run.

“Our guys fought back and they never gave up,” said Cunningham. “I think everyone in the arena gave up on them, and I don’t blame a fan if he or she did give up on them, but they refused to give up. That has to carry us over to Saturday night.”

Losses by both Troy and Texas State on Saturday sets up a winner-take-all game for the No. 8 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

Texas State beat Troy 73-65 earlier this season in San Marcos, Texas.

The Trojans and Bobcats are set for a 7:30 tip from Trojan Arena on Saturday.

Williams firmly believes he and his teammates are ready for Saturday’s must-win contest.

“In conference, games come pretty fast and you have to move on to the next one,” said Williams. “I know everyone in the locker room is focused for the next game. They know what we have to do. We are ready.”

 


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Troy women use pressure, hot shooting to rout Texas-Arlington

Troy women use pressure, hot shooting to rout Texas-Arlington

Brooke Bowie scored all 15 of her points from three-point land on Wednesday night. (Photo/Troy Athletics)
Brooke Bowie scored all 15 of her points from three-point land on Wednesday night. (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Troy forced  32 turnovers, and shot nearly 41 percent from behind the arc to roll past Texas-Arlington 88-72 Wednesday night at Trojan Arena.

The Trojans went on a 21-11 run early in the second half to build on the already large halftime lead.

“We knew that if they got the ball down to their post players, we wouldn’t have much of a chance,” said Troy head coach Chanda Rigby. “We put that challenge on our guards to create turnovers so they couldn’t get the ball to the post. We were trying to break the record and get as many turnovers as possible.”

Troy guard Brooke Bowie liked Rigby’s game plan.

“I love going after the basketball,” said Bowie. “We want to create chaos, and we love to do it.”

On offense, Joanna Harden turned in another solid performance. Harden led all scorers with 24 points. She also grabbed seven rebounds.

Bowie dropped in 15, with all her points coming from behind the three-point line.

“My shot was strong all week in practice,” said Bowie. “They kept leaving me open, so I just kept shooting it.”

With the win Troy pulls in to a tie for fifth in the Sun Belt and is playing for seeding against Texas State on Saturday.

Rigby wants to keep the momentum going, and is looking for her post players to make a difference.

“Texas State has the best post players in the league,” said Rigby. “It will be much more of post game on Saturday. We have to block out and not give second chances.”


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Samford rallies for 11-9 win over Troy

Samford rallies for 11-9 win over Troy

Troy’s William Shell sends a pitch to home against Samford Tuesday night. Troy led the game 7-0 after the first inning, but Samford won 11-9.
Troy’s William Shell sends a pitch to home against Samford Tuesday night. Troy led the game 7-0 after the first inning, but Samford won 11-9.

The mood in the Troy dugout went from ecstatic to utter disbelief over the span of three hours and nine innings Tuesday night.

Troy led Samford 7-0 after the first inning, but when all the dust settled, the Bulldogs carried an 11-9 win back to Birmingham.

Troy plated seven runs in the first inning, but saw Samford chip away inning after inning. Troy’s early lead got smaller and smaller until it ultimately disappeared in the top of the seventh. Samford took advantage of two Troy errors in the inning, including a fly ball that skipped off the glove left fielder Trevin Hall.

Samford picked up six two-out hits, and scored 10 of its 11 runs with two outs in an inning.

“I can’t remember one like this in my career,” said Troy head coach Bobby Pierce. “It’s tough to get out to a 7-0 lead and watch it evaporate. I just got to give this one to baseball. I don’t know what to say. I have had teams win these on the good end, but I don’t know if I have ever had a one of these slip away on the bad end.”

The Trojans sent 12 men to the plate in the first inning, pounded out 5 hits and scored seven runs to put the Bulldogs in the rearview mirror for the time being.

Tyler Vaughn led off the game with a shot to right that was kicked around by Samford’s right fielder Heath Quinn. Garrett Pitts followed Vaughn’s knock with a frozen rope single to right center to plate the game’s first run.

Nick Masonia delivered the inning’s biggest shot with a monstrous home run to left that brought home two runs. Clay Holcomb picked up two RBIs later in the inning on a single to right.

Samford chipped away at the Troy lead the rest of the day, picking up two runs in the second, one in the third, one in the fourth, two in the fifth and four in the seventh to rally back from the early deficit.

“This is baseball, and it is a cruel game at times,” said Pierce. “It is beating us up a little right now. We are going to have to be tough and respond to it and get better in practice. We have to get a little bit more offensive production right now.”

Troy welcomes in the University of New Orleans to Riddle-Pace Field this weekend for a three-game set.

 


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Central Michigan’s Foley handcuffs Troy batters in 4-1 win

All Troy head coach Bobby Pierce could do Friday night was his tip his hat to Central Michigan.

Troy mustered just two hits in a 4-1 loss Friday night at Riddle-Pace Field.

Chippewa pitcher Jordan Foley allowed just two hits over eight innings, and stuck out eight Trojans to hand Troy its second loss of the season.

The two hits on the night were the fewest for Troy since the opening day of the 2012 season, a 7-3 win over Central Michigan.

Troy’s Tanner Hicks pitched well for the first three innings, giving up just one hit. However the second time threw the order proved to be more trying.

Central Michigan’s Nick Reigner walked with two outs in the fourth, and laid the groundwork for the inning that would spell disaster for the Trojans.

Reigner’s walk was followed by a single to left from Cody Leichman, a two-RBI triple off the bat of Tyler Huntey and an RBI single from Reigner’s brother, Logan.

“Tanner had a three-run inning, but I don’t think it was a result of him making poor pitches,” said Pierce. “When you make a quality pitch, and a team gets a base hit; hey, that’s a hat-tipper. In that particular inning, he had a couple of hat-tippers. When he goes out and gives you a quality start, which I think he did, I think the big credit goes to their guy on the mound.”

Troy combined for just two hits, and left six runners on base.

The Trojans had life in the seventh and eighth inning with two on and two out, but came up dry both times.

“Foley is a good as advertised in my opinion,” Pierce said. “He was tough all night, and did a great job of handcuffing us. I give them the credit. We had a couple of opportunities, but just didn’t capitalize on them.”

Troy’s lone run came on a solo homerun from Matthew Howard in the third inning.

The only other Trojan hit came from Garrett Pitts who sent a rocket double off the monster in right.

The win is Central Michigan’s first of the year, while Troy falls to 3-2.

Despite the loss, Pierce remains upbeat and is ready to get to the weekend.

“It was a good baseball game tonight, we just came up on the short end of it,” Pierce said. “If you play and coach enough you will have nights like tonight. I think the rest of the series will be interesting to see how our guys respond, and get our game working. It is a big day tomorrow for us.”

 

Borden