By John Gatto
For the Mountain Advocate
2015 edition of the Union College baseball team will hit the diamond for the first time on the regular season on Friday afternoon, and head coach Bart Osborne, entering his 12th season as head coach, returns a group full of experienced letter winners.
In all, 23 players return from last year’s team, including 11 seniors. Add to it an talented incoming class of both freshman and junior college transfers, and the Bulldogs could be well on their way to competing once again near the top of the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
Starting off with the Union pitching staff, the starting rotation will be anchored by Matt Hasenbeck (JR/Eureka, Mo.), who is expected to be the Bulldogs’ number one starter. Hassenbeck comes to Union from St. Louis Community College, and will be a presence physically on the mound, as the right-hander comes in at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds.
Rounding out the starting pitching staff for the Bulldogs will be newcomer Wonder Castillo (SO/Bronx, N.Y.) (a right-hander), and returnees Erik Tarbell (SR/Mecosta, Mich.) and Trey Alexander (SR/Glasgow, Ky.), both of whom are right-handers, as well. It is expected that both Casey Whittle (SO/Danville, Ky.) and Alex Fuller (JR/Franklin, Ky.) – both returnees – will also compete for starting pitching spots, as well.
Coming out of the Bulldog bullpen will be a myriad of returning players, along with one newcomer. Brady Smiley (SO/Hebron, Ky.) and Justin King (JR/Flat Lick, Ky.) will once again anchor the middle relief for the Bulldogs, along with Vance Sullivan (SR/Verona, Ky.).
The back-end of the bullpen will be shared by newcomer (and left-hander) Matt Hamons (JR/Willard, Ohio) and Nelson Price (SR/Burkesville, Ky.), who will both be called upon to close out games for the Bulldogs. Another name to watch out for coming out the bullpen is Tyler Sisson (SO/Lancaster, Ohio), a left-hander.
Rounding out the battery for the Bulldogs are the teams two catchers, returnees John Wilson (SR/Manchester, Ky.) and Jackson Arnett (SR/Tompkinsville, Ky.). Expect Wilson to the primary catcher after playing in 47 games last year, with Arnett as the back-up. Arnett will also be the Bulldogs’ designated hitter at times throughout the season, as well.
The Bulldogs infield will be paced by first baseman Price, who is lone returnee on the Union roster to be named to the All-AAC Team a season ago.
A student-athlete who could push to become an NAIA All-American, Price led the Bulldogs in virtually every major offensive category a season ago and will aim to do the same in 2015, and then some. Price is also a strong fielder for Union, finishing last year with 384 total putouts, the seventh highest mark in a season in program history.
To the left of Price at second base will be Zach Gross (JR/Bowling Green, Ky.), who looks to take on an increased role this season after playing in just 17 games last season. Backing up Gross at second will be newcomers Cameron Brookwell (JR/Cary, N.C.) and Matt Shannon (FR/Amanda, Ohio), who will both see playing time at the position when Gross moves into the outfield.
At shortstop, J.D. Burrell (SR/Amanda, Ohio) returns after starting 42 games in the Bulldog infield a season ago. Rounding it out at third base is yet another experienced returnee in Ryan Horvath (SR/Detroit, Mich.), who logged 51 starts in the infield in 2014. Horvath was also a force on offense last season, batting .320 with 29 RBI.
Backing up Horvath will be freshman Ryan Ziels (FR/Hamilton, Ohio), who who will come in as a defensive replacement when needed.
In the outfield, center fielder Justin Elder (SR/Seven Mile, Ohio) will lead the way after logging 36 starts last season. The Bulldogs will look for Elder to be a catalyst at the plate, as well, as he will open the season as the teams leadoff batter in the line-up.
In left, Zach Dillman (SR/Cincinnati, Ohio) will play left field, but will primarily be the team’s designated hitter and will start the season batting clean-up in the starting line-up. Elsewhere in the outfield, Tyler Young (JR/Manchester, Ky.) and Sullivan will also look for playing time in various positions across the board. Young played in 35 games a season ago, while Sullivan made 30 starts in the outfield in 2014.
Things get underway for the Bulldogs on Friday, as they begin a three-game set with Davenport (Mich.) at Jerry Carey Stadium that will extend into Sunday. Overall in the first month of the season, Union will play 15 of their first 18 games at home.
Throughout the first month of the 2015 campaign, Union will play primarily out-of-conference games, only going to Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) on Feb. 18 and Asbury (Ky.) for a doubleheader on Feb. 24. The Bulldogs will host games against Asbury (Feb. 10), Concordia (Mich.) (Feb. 13-15), Spring Arbor (Mich.) (Feb. 20-21), and Shawnee State (Ohio) (Feb. 21-22) throughout the month.
Union ends the first month of the season with their Appalachian Athletic Conference season opener against St. Andrews (N.C.), as the Bulldogs host a doubleheader on Feb. 28, then a single nine inning contest on Mar. 1.
In March, Union plays 12 games at Jerry Carey Stadium, as the Bulldogs host Milligan (Tenn.) and Truett-McConnell (Ga.) in AAC weekend series’ at home. Union will go on the road in AAC play to Bluefield (Va.) and Montreat (N.C.) throughout the month, as well.
The regular season ends in April for Union, as the Bulldogs host nine games at home. The 2015 schedule concludes with a three-game series against AAC-rival No. 23 Tennessee Wesleyan on Apr. 25-26, then an out-of-conference tilt versus Cumberlands (Ky.) on Apr. 29. All four games will be played in Barbourville.
The 2015 AAC Tournament will once again be played at Hunter Wright Stadium in Kingsport, Tennessee from May 5 to May 9.
To view the full 2015 Union College baseball schedule, click here.
For more on Union College baseball, follow the team all season long at GoUnionBulldogs.com or follow the program on Twitter @UnionKYBaseball.