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After knocking it out of the park academically in the fall semester, the Chattanooga State baseball team begins its 2017 season with a game today and two Saturday against Georgia Highlands at Emerson, Ga.

The Tigers have a "nice blend of new and old players," Greg Dennis said of his 14th group at Chattanooga State, where he has a 483-217 record. One preseason poll has them ranked 16th in NJCAA Division I.

The pitching staff has three veterans of TCCAA starts from a year ago in second-team all-conference pick Hugo Castilla (8-3, 3.67 ERA) plus Cale Thornton (7-1, 3.22) and Andy Rivera (5-4, 4.97). Zack Wilcox (4-2) is another solid returner to go with redshirt freshman Scheldon Paulk and such newcomers as Texas all-stater Joe Dalmolin, Northwest Florida State transfer Cole Grosvenor, Ryan Margolis and Cristobal Arenas from Miami and Alex Watkins from Marietta, Ga.

Shortstop Conner Morro (.301) and first baseman Nico Lares (.348, 43 RBIs) are returning position-player starters, and Lares is being challenged by two other good hitters in Matt Carscadden from Canada and Troy Weatherly from Northwest Florida State. Logan Haga from Heritage High School is dueling with Marshall transfer Ryan Ricer at third base, and Nick Fahler from East Hamilton heads the catchers with three guys battling at second base and St. Thomas transfer Brian Frias, Motlow transfer Brody Thomasson from Marion County and Brent Richey from Knoxville leading in the outfield.

"Overall we like the group we have and certainly like the effort they have put into becoming a solid juco team," said Dennis, who is assisted again by new Hamilton County school board member Joe Wingate with Justin Parrish having come from Oregon to join the staff.

The Tigers had a team grade point average of 3.36 with four individual 4.0s in the fall semester, when 18 of the players were above 3.0.

Scots home today

The Covenant College Scots begin coach Doug Simons' 11th season today at 2 p.m. at home against Greensboro College, and a doubleheader between the teams is scheduled to start at noon Saturday.

Simons, a former major leaguer, has eight returning starting position players with a young pitching staff, led by 2016 USA South batting leader Luke Harvey (.413, 28 RBIs, 26 steals). Covenant hit .296 as a team, and the returners also include Trenton Nobles (.336, 26 RBIs), Caleb Bloye (40 RBIs) and Alex Kerr (33 RBIs).

Kerr is one of three senior catchers on a team blessed with depth, but most of the pitchers are sophomores and freshmen. The most proven is sophomore right-hander Matt Reitz, who made 11 starts as a freshman and went 3-6 in 67 innings. Sophomore Drew Bradley and 6-foot-3 freshman Zach Kyzer look to be the other weekend starters.

"How we pitch is going to be a key," Simons said in a school release, "but even more so I think it comes down to this group's ability to play together so well and have the upperclassmen step up and lead."

Covenant, 23-17 overall and 9-8 in the league last year, was picked to finish seventh in the strong USAS but got one first-place vote. Two-thirds of the Scots' 18 league games will be on the road.

Bryan hosting also

Bryan College, by contrast, has 32 of its scheduled 54 games set for Senter Field in Dayton, beginning today and Saturday with doubleheaders against the University of Rio Grande. Both teams received votes in the NAIA preseason poll, which lists Bryan's area Appalachian Athletic Conference rival Tennessee Wesleyan at No. 4.

Wesleyan, which went 50-15 last year, plays this evening at No. 2 Faulkner and faces No. 12 Saint Thomas and No. 6 Lindsey Wilson on Faulkner's field Saturday in Montgomery, Ala.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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