Mayotte, Trojans hungry

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 1, 2001

for a successful season


Sports Writer

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Jan. 29, 2001

After numerous close calls which led to several heartbreaking losses, the Troy State University baseball team hopes to put aside the bad memory of last year using it as a learning experience with the start of the 2001 season just over the horizon.

Fielding one of its most inexperienced teams in years, the Trojans struggled to a 22-34 season finishing seventh place in the rugged Trans America Athletic Conference which placed Florida Atlantic, Stetson and Central Florida in the NCAA Regionals.

However, optimism is running high for the upcoming spring as five position players, two starting pitchers and several highly touted freshmen return for head coach John Mayotte’s Trojans as they set their eyes on returning to the upper division of the TAAC after losing the conference title game in 1998 and 1999.

Mayotte said he believes last year’s squad at TSU was an abberation following almost 20 years of consecutive winning seasons for the Trojans.

"We had an inexperienced team last year, plus

two juniors who signed up (with major league teams)," Mayotte said. "In the long run it can help, but in the short run it is devestating."

"The program is only as good as the players in your lineup. We have better personnel this season than we did last year. We have better personnel at every position. I feel good about our position players this year along with our starting and relief pitching compared to last year."

The top position player returning for the Trojans is senior shortstop Casey Smith, who is considered to be a preseason first team All-TAAC and All-American candidate after being named second team all-conference in ’00. Smith hit .404 last year and set a school record for the most number of hits and was the second leading hitter in the TAAC.

"Casey is a quality person who has a great work ethic," Mayotte said. "He is the total package because Casey is a good all around player. He isn’t flashy, but Casey is very consistent because he makes every routine play and throw."

Senior right fielder Jonathan Smithers returns following a solid junior season. Smithers batted .333 with 10 home runs with 51 RBIs as he led the Trojans in runs batted in.

"I thought he played well in the outfield last year," Mayotte said. "Jonathan has a very strong arm. He has a really flat bat that hits for power and average who played every day last year for us."

Both center fielders return as sophomore Al Stephens and senior Tim Ellis will platoon for most of the season. Despite each player struggling at the plate last year, Mayotte said he likes both players because of their glove work.

"Either one of those two guys could be an everyday player," Mayotte said.

Mayotte said junior left fielder Collin Holder gives the Trojans lots of versatility from the left field position.

"Collin is a switch hitter who struck out too much last year," Holder said. "But he’s a much improved hitter with exceptional power. He’s a good athlete who throws and runs well and his mechanics are improved."

Other position players who didn’t start but are expected to see lots of playing time include first baseman Drew Miller. Miller (6-foot-4 230), who is a Skipperville native, transferred from Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla. and is considered to be a double figure home run threat who can hit for average and power.

However, one of the most highly touted freshmen ever to come to TSU on a baseball scholarship is Drew’s younger brother Wade. In his senior season last year, Miller broke the national home run record for one season with 30 as he led the Rebels to their fourth consecutive state baseball championship. What made Miller’s credentials more impressive is that he drove in 88 runs while hitting .535 last year.

Despite playing on the 1A and 2A levels during his high school career, Mayotte said Miller has a chance to be something special before his college career is completed. Miller will be either be the catcher or the designated hitter this spring.

Senior Ryan Peterson, who transferred from Georgia Southern, is expected to fill the second base position in the TSU infield.

Mayotte said Peterson’s enthusiasm as the leadoff hitter is something the Trojans could use with so many young players expected to contribute.

"Ryan is a great little player and we are excited to have him in our program," Peterson said. "He played in the NCAA Valley League in Virginia last summer and led the league in stolen bases. Ryan is a high energy exciting type of player who plays with tremendous enthusiasm."

The third base position is up in the air as

sophomore Michael Padron, freshman Brian Lipman,

and fellow classmate Casey O’Quinn are expected to via for playing time at the hot corner for the Trojans.

Junior Josh Kendrick, a transfer from Monroeville’s Faulkner State Community College, is expected to see action in left field. Kendrick set a FSCC record with 13 home runs last year.

Mayotte said Kendrick (6-foot-3 225) is a good athlete who runs very well.

Among some of the other pitchers Mayotte will be counting on this season include University of Florida transfer Aaron Hunt, Shawn Andrews, Justin Maynard and Mickey Oquinn. Oquinn is currently recovering from a broken arm suffered last year against Auburn at Montgomery’s Patterson Field which put him out for the rest of the season.

To complete the backup battery, Miller will be sharing playing time with junior college transfer Lance Newman and former South Montgomery Academy

standout Heath Crowe. Troy native and former Pike Liberal Arts star Shane Moran could see playing time as a relief pitcher this season.

Going into the spring, Mayotte said there are several things that must fall into place if TSU is to avoid a second consecutive losing season.

"We don’t have a clearly defined third baseman," Mayotte said. "Someone has to step up and do the job at third base. We’ve got newcomers behind the plate and the health of Mickey Oquinn is the key along with the progress of our freshmen and sophomore pitchers."

After struggling to score runs at times last year, Mayotte said he expects the Trojans to be more aggressive at the plate by focusing on getting more big innings like TSU teams of the past.

As far as the schedule is concerned, Mayotte said it is one of the most demanding in school history as the Trojans will play 21 games against teams who were in either the NCAA Regionals or Super Regionals last June. However, Mayotte thinks the Trojans could be a darkhorse in the TAAC, which was one of the Top 10 baseball conferences in the nation last year.

The Trojans open up the 2001 regular season on Friday afternoon when they start a three-game series hosting Nicholls State. The first pitch is set for 2 p.m. at TSU’s Riddle-Pace Field.