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Waiting his turn

Waiting his turn

Jakob Nixon worked to get back in the starting lineup over the last two seasons.  He has provided a spark for the Trojans over the last three weeks. (Photo/Troy Athletics)
Jakob Nixon worked to get back in the starting lineup over the last two seasons. He has provided a spark for the Trojans over the last three weeks. (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Troy’s Jakob Nixon making the most of second chance

While some players see sitting on the bench as a rough patch of their career, Troy’s Jakob Nixon looks back on his stint on the bench as one of most important times of his career.

Nixon came to Troy in 2012, following a highly successful season at Middle Georgia College, and found his way in to a starting role in the first third of the season. During the 2012 season Nixon spent time in left field, second base and the designated hitter. Nixon started the season on a tear, but towards the end of the season, things didn’t go as well.

Nixon struck out more than he should, and was moved from the leadoff spot late in the year.

“It was really nice coming in to a program and getting to play every day,” Nixon said. “But stuff happens. That’s life. Guys came in that filled holes, and I had to wait for my chance to get back.”

He made only 11 starts in 2013, and watched most of Troy’s Sun Belt title season from the dugout. The 2014 season started out the same way for Nixon. But everything changed about a month ago on a road trip to Arkansas-Little Rock. Looking to shuffle things around, Troy coach Bobby Pierce moved Nixon back in to the starting lineup.

“I worked by rear end off to get back,” Nixon said. “I finally got the chance to do it again this year. I just wanted to help the team out any way I could. I am happy to be able to do that again.”

Nixon has made 10 starts at second base this season, five in left field and one as the designated hitter.

Pierce said Nixon’s production in the lineup has helped the Trojans quite a bit over the last several weeks.

“He has been a real energetic plug in our lineup recently,” Pierce said. “That may be from fresh legs, but he has really helped us out down the stretch.”

Nixon has seen his average climb from 0.091 to .328 over the last month. He has recorded a hit in all-but-two games since becoming an everyday player in mid-April.

“I have just tried to shorten everything up, and put the ball in play more,” Nixon said. “I haven’t tried to do too much. I just try to stay confident and take that confidence in to every at-bat. I need to do whatever I can to get on base and help score runs. You can’t square everything up, and you have to pick your pitches and make sure to swing at good ones. That has been the biggest thing for me. I just love being able to help this team again.”

Troy opens the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Wednesday. The Trojans will meet Arkansas State at 4 P.m. at Stanky Field on the campus of the University of South Alabama in Mobile.

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Davis resigns after 21 seasons as Troy softball coach

For the first time in over 21 years, Troy University is beginning a search for a new head softball coach.

Melanie Davis, the only head coach in Troy history, resigned Monday morning. Her resignation is effective immediately.

Davis was 780-509-4 in her 21 seasons at the helm. She led the Trojans to two conference titles, the Mid-Continent Conference in 1996 and the Atlantic Sun in 2005. The Trojans also advanced to the NCAA West Regional in 1996.

“I am also grateful for the countless loyal and dedicated staff and student-athletes who battled in the trenches to build the program that has been dear to my heart for the past 21 years,” Davis said in a released statement Monday. “Our time together has resulted in friendships that will continue to span the years and forge additional opportunities for good times and special memories.”

Troy limped to a 43-62-2 record in the last two seasons combined, and has not posted a winning record in conference play since 2009.

John Hartwell, Troy Director of Athletics, thanked Davis for her services to the university over the last two decades.

“On behalf of Troy University, I would like to thank Melanie Davis for her two decades of service and dedication to the University and the countless student-athletes she mentored,” Hartwell said. “We wish Melanie nothing but the best in her future endeavors.”

The search for a new Troy coach will begin immediately.

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Troy women headed to Tallahassee for NCAA Regionals

The Troy women’s golf team had to wait until the final page of the groupings to hear its name called, but when it did the cheers echoed off every part of The Brick.

Troy found out that Tallahassee, Florida is its destination for the NCAA Regionals at a viewing party Monday afternoon.

Bart Barnes, Troy women’s golf head coach, feels the team will play well for a variety of different reasons.

“It couldn’t have worked out any better as far as I am concerned,” Barnes said. “We get to stay close home in Tallahasse where a lot of friends and family can come watch and cheer us on. It is also nice to stay in the South where we know what the weather and grass is like.”

Troy captured the Sun Belt’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tournament two weeks ago.

The night got even better for the Troy golfers as the live selection show on the Golf Channel put the Trojans watch party on the world-wide broadcast.

Junior Brooke Spinks feels the Trojans have a lot of momentum heading in to the 54-hole stroke play tournament.

“I feel like we have done all our homework, and are ready to compete for the chance to be champions.”

The women of Troy will travel to SouthWood Golf Club in Tallahassee for NCAA East Regional May 8-10.

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Troy adds home-and-home series with NC State

John Hartwell has done it again.

The Troy athletic director announced Monday the Trojans have reached a home-and-home football agreement with North Carolina State beginning in 2015.

Troy will travel to Raleigh for the first leg of the agreement, while the Wolfpack will venture to Troy in 2017.

“We are very excited about the series with NC State,” said Hartwell. “Anytime you can get a BCS opponent to come to Troy, we get very excited about it. In this case, we feel that we can line up with and play with from a physical standpoint, and it continues our recent history of bringing in these big-name programs.”

Since arriving at Troy in 2012, Hartwell has secured home-and-home series with Duke and Boise State and now NC State. Troy will also meet AQ powers Wisconsin, LSU, Georgia, Clemson and Nebraska on the gridiron the future seasons.

Hartwell feels bringing the power conference schools to Troy helps the program in a multitude of ways.

“It helps in recruiting, and also builds the stature of our program,” Hartwell said. “Anytime you can get one of those schools to come to Troy, it makes it easier to get the next one to come. We used than in our negotiations with NC State, and will continue to use it going forward.”

Hartwell said Troy is currently in talks with another program for a series in 2016 and 2018.

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Troy’s Bart Barnes will remember April 16 for rest of life

Troy’s Bart Barnes will remember April 16 for rest of life

Bart Barnes and the Troy Women’s golf team won the Sun Belt title last week. (Photo/Troy Athletics)
Bart Barnes and the Troy Women’s golf team won the Sun Belt title last week. (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Bart Barnes went to sleep last Tuesday night with a lot on his mind. He had guided his team to the brink of a conference title, but yet his heart was back at home.

Barnes, head coach of the Troy women’s golf team, awoke Wednesday morning and prepared for the tournament. His thoughts were at home, but he had business to finish.

Instead of packing his bags and making the trip back to his parent’s home between Opp and Elba, Barnes strapped on his golf shoes and went to the course.

Over the next few hours, Barnes’ team would make shot after shot en route to the Sun Belt Conference Championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament field. After the round, Barnes was given the news his grandfather, who he loved dearly, had passed away.

While he didn’t know why at the time, Barnes couldn’t help but get a little emotional at certain points during the final round last week.

“I will always look back on that day and smile,” said Barnes. “At one point during the day, I just got a sense of calm over me, knowing someone was there with me. I will always think about the good times we had together, and then I will think about that day in Loxley. My grandfather was with me that day step for step, and he was with us in spirit the entire way.”

Troy entered the final day of competition with a six shot lead over Texas State, and hit big shots down the stretch to take home the title.

“We were about halfway done on the final day, and I saw a look in each one of their eyes,” said Barnes. “It was a look of relaxed confidence. We played 15, 16 and 17 very well, so that allowed me to take that walk to 18 and be happy. It was a short walk where I thought about a lot of things, but enjoyed every step of it.”

The overall title was not the only championship Troy brought home.

Fatima Fernandez Cano took the individual win by defeating Texas State’s Marie Puisite on the first playoff hole. On the playoff hole, Puisite’s tee shot found the water, while Cano sent hers perfectly down the fairway.

Cano made par on the hole to take the title.

“She was so amped up that she drove the ball a good 20 yards farther than she did in regulation,” said Barnes. “She was ready for the moment. She has been so close on a few occasions this spring, and was prepared to make it count. It was an awesome way to end the day.”

The 2014 Sun Belt Conference title puts a stamp on what has been a memorable season for Barnes. Barnes was promoted to head coach in August of last year after serving for three seasons as an assistant. The Troy women fired the best team round in over a decade in September en route to a third place finish at the Fred Marx Invitational. Troy also downed Georgia, which at the time was ranked 50th in the nation, in a match-play tournament earlier this month.

Barnes saw the talent the team possessed, but admits he didn’t think it would all be put together this season.

“To be honest, I’d be lying to you if I told you that I knew we would win the conference this year,” said Barnes. “I knew we had a lot of great talent. I figured we would have a chance, but I just love how this team never quit and always got better. I will remember this season for a long time, and we aren’t done yet.”

The Trojans earn the Sun Belt Conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, which takes place May 8-10 at one of three regional locations.

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Troy heads north for pair of tough midweek games

Troy’s weekend series at Arkansas-Little Rock was long in more ways than one.

The Trojans played a total of 35 innings over three days, including a 16-inning marathon loss on Friday night, en route to losing the Sun Belt series to UALR.

“It certainly was a long one,” said Troy head coach Bobby Pierce. “The number of innings we played made it pretty doggone long. Friday we had plenty of opportunities to push a run across and just didn’t. If we score in any of those 14 scoreless innings on Friday, we get to come home with a series win. But we just didn’t get the job done.”

After Sunday’s 10-4 loss, Troy boarded the bus and made the 527 mile, eight hour rid from Little Rock, Arkansas. The Trojans returned home after midnight Monday, and face a short turnaround for a pair of midweek games against in-state opponents.

Troy will travel to Birmingham on Tuesday to face Samford before making the 80 mile trip to Jacksonville on Wednesday to take on long-time Trojan rival Jacksonville State.

Pierce said the tough week of games isn’t ideal now, but that wasn’t the case when the scheduled was made.

“You do what you can to put together a good schedule,” said Pierce. “We got to looking at it, and decided that it was an awfully long trip to just play one game and turn around and go home. We have the chance to get two for one on this trip, but it isn’t coming at a great time.”

The overnight trip is sandwiched between two Sun Belt series, coming on the heels of the UALR trip and right before Troy welcomes in Texas-Arlington this weekend.

Troy lost to the Bulldogs and Gamecocks earlier this season at home. Jacksonville State eased to a 7-3 win over Troy, while Samford clawed itself out of an early seven-run hole to claim an 11-9 win.

“I don’t know if the players remember the games earlier this season, but neither went the way we would have liked,” said Pierce. “Samford is one that we would certainly like to even the series with. We jumped out to a big lead on them, and then they chipped away at it and took it. Two wins over really good teams with really good coaches would be big for us as we head for home.”

Troy is in the home stretch of the season, and enters the week with just 15 games left before a possible trip to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

Pierce said his team has a simple plan for the rest of the year.

“It’s our time to play now,” Pierce said. “No more excuses. It is time for us to suck it up and go win the games can win.”

Tuesday’s tilt in Birmingham is set for a 6 p.m. first pitch.

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Troy’s Levi Tate set a new career high for strikeouts in Wednesday’s win over Alabama A&M. (Photo/Troy Athletics)
Troy’s Levi Tate set a new career high for strikeouts in Wednesday’s win over Alabama A&M. (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Troy breaks ugly four-game losing streak with comeback win over Alabama A&M

Troy clawed its way out of an early four-run hole, and claimed a 9-6 win over Alabama A&M Wednesday night at Riddle-Pace Field in Troy.

Alabama A&M scored three runs, on three hits, in the first inning and picked up one more in the second against Troy starter Jesse Nelson prompting a pitching change in the third inning.

Troy turned to Levi Tate, and the left-handed reliever delivered. Tate threw five innings of two-hit baseball and struck out eight of the 15 batters he faced.

“The first thing you have to do is throw strikes and take command of the zone,” said Tate. “Good things happen when you throw a lot of strikes. My changeup was really working for me tonight, and being able to throw it off the fastball was big for me.”

Tate’s outing set a career-high for strikeouts, and drew praise from Troy head coach Bobby Pierce.

“I am really pleased with how Levi Tate pitched today,” Pierce said. “He did exactly what we wanted him to do, and that was to come in and put some zeros on the board and give our offense a chance to get back in it. He held them there for four innings.”

Troy pitching coach Brad Phillips made the change at the start of the third inning, and Tate took Phillips’ pitching motto to the hill with him.

“He always tells us that our best stuff can beat their best stuff,” said Tate. “I went out there with that in my mind and was able to give our offense a chance to come back.

Troy chipped away the four-run Bulldog lead, picking up one run in the second, two in the fourth and one in the fifth before exploding for five big runs in the sixth inning.

Justin Hancock walked to lead off the inning, and later scored to give Troy the lead on a line-drive single off the bat of Garrett Pitts. Later in the inning, Troy strung together three consecutive RBI at-bats, including a bases-loaded bunt single from Matthew Howard.

Pierce said the bunt is one of Howard’s better weapons, and was happy to see him use it in that situation.

“They don’t ever need a signal to use one of their best weapons,” said Pierce. “Muggsy laid it down perfectly. It was a beautiful bunt, and it opened the door for us to score some more. He is great at that, and it was the perfect time and place to lay one down.”

Alabama A&M picked up two more runs late in the game on a line-drive home run over the scoreboard in right field, but Ben Tidwell shut down the Bulldogs in the ninth inning to seal the win.

After four ugly losses in a row, Pierce feels the win over a “much improved A&M ball team,” is a positive for his team.

“It is a step in the right direction,” said Pierce. “We still have work to do, but tonight is a good win for us. We had lost four in a row, so it’s a step in the right direction, but we have to take more than a step.”

Troy hosts Western Kentucky this weekend.

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Troy looking to regroup with trip to rival Auburn

While most people in the work force dread Monday’s, Troy head coach Bobby Pierce couldn’t wait for the new week to get here.

Pierce’s Trojans were swept by Sun Belt leader, and No. 2 nationally ranked Louisiana-Lafayette in a three-game set at Riddle-Pace Field.

The three-game series marked the first time in nearly a decade the Trojans were swept at home. The last time Troy lost every game of a home series was May 7-8 of 2004, a three-game sweep at the hands of Florida Atlantic.

The Trojans gave up 37 runs in the series against ULL, and notched only one hit in the finale on Saturday evening.

The new week gives Pierce new hope as the season nears the home stretch.

“After a weekend like we just had, the biggest thing we need to do is just regroup,” said Pierce. “We have to find a way to be more competitive for longer periods of time. We didn’t compete well this weekend, and have to clear our heads and get ready for a busy week of baseball.”

Troy opens the busy week on the road at Plainsman Park in Auburn. Auburn was also swept over the weekend by Ole Miss. The Tigers lost the first game of the series on a three-run home run in the 13th inning on what was an attempted intentional walk. Jordan Ebert heads the Tigers’ offensive attack with a .385 average. Blake Austin leads the squad with 22 RBIs while Damek Tomscha has turned in 21 RBIs with a team-high seven doubles.

Auburn is led by new head coach Sunny Galloway.

Galloway came to Auburn after nine highly successful seasons at Oklahoma. Galloway led the Sooners to NCAA Regionals in eight of his nine seasons, and guided the 2010 team to 50 wins and a trip to the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Pierce said he has not spoken about baseball with Galloway, but does respect him.

“I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Sunny, but everyone knows about his career,” said Pierce. “He has been a winner his whole time, at Oral Roberts and at Oklahoma. Looking at Auburn’s stats, you know that they are pretty dogone good.”

Later in the week, Troy plays host to Alabama A&M in a single game on Wednesday and Western Kentucky in a three-game Sun Belt Conference series over the weekend.

Pierce feels a successful week will do wonders for his team, and it all starts Tuesday night on the plains.

“We need a win for a lot of different reasons right now,” Pierce said. “We need to boost the confidence of these guys and get back to competing every day. A good week this week, and the season may start to turnaround for us.”


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Errors doom Troy in blowout loss to Sun Belt leader Louisiana-Lafayette

While the run column on the scoreboard is the ultimate indication of who won or lost a baseball game, the error slot can tell the story on most days.

ULL committed two errors, while the bright red number next to Troy’s name gleamed a big bold “5.” The errors told the story of the 15-4 ULL win Friday night.

The errors came early for Troy, as what seemed a routine fly ball out in the top of the first turned in to a run for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Left fielder Ali Knowles misplayed the ball and allowed ULL’s Seth Harrison to scoot all the way around for the game’s first run.

In the second inning, the Cajuns took advantage of two more Troy errors, and strung together three straight two-out hits to plate six runs and pull away for good.

“We got started off the wrong way with the first mistake in the outfield,” said Troy head coach Bobby Pierce. “When you playing a team that is as good as Lafayette, you can’t afford to give them anything. Tonight we gave them everything.”

ULL pushed two runs across in the sixth and two more in the seventh, the latter coming on a massive two-run homer to right center from Caleb Adams.

Troy picked up its first runs of the game in the bottom of the fourth on back-to-back hits from Jo-El Bennett and Ali Knowles.

Clay Holcomb picked up an RBI in the seventh with sac fly, and David Hall brought home Troy’s final run with a double.

Despite the late scratch of ULL pitcher Austin Robichaux, Troy was left baffled at the plate most of the night.

Ragin’ Cajun pitchers Carson Baranik and Ben Carter combined to strike out 11 Trojan batters.

Pierce said all the team can do is get some sleep and come to the ballpark ready to play on Saturday.

“You just got to flush days like today,” Pierce said. “Saturday is a huge day for us. When you lose Friday, Saturday games become that much more important and tomorrow is no exception.”


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Brantley’s Person commits to Troy

Wesley Person, Jr., one of the most sought-after players in the state of Alabama, plans to further his basketball career at Troy.

Late Thursday night Person tweeted from his personal Twitter account (@tattperson) that he “Just committed to Troy.” Person, a star at Brantley High School in Crenshaw County, averaged over 32 points, eight rebounds and two steals per game during his senior year with the Bulldogs. Person netted a career-high 55 points in a season-ending loss to Sunshine in the Regional Final in 2014.

In 2013, he led Brantley to the 1A state championship game. Along the way, he collected 21 and five boards per game.

Person had offers from Troy, UAB, Western Carolina and Mercer, and many thought he was waiting to see if an offer came from new Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. Person’s father, Wesley Sr., was a star for the Tigers in the early 1990s.

A guard by trade, Person could be in the mix for playing time early in his Troy career. Troy head coach Phil Cunningham and staff will have to fill a large void left by the graduation of seniors Hunter Williams, Jeff Mullahey and Antoine “Fresh” Myers.

Minutes after announcing his decision via social media, Person’s Twitter feed was covered in well wishes from fans around the state.