ASHEVILLE, N.C. - The UNC Asheville baseball team opens the 2013 season on Friday when the Bulldogs face #8 Kentucky in the first round of the Wofford/USC Upstate Invitational starting at Noon. The Bulldogs will take on the Wildcats at Wofford.
On Saturday, Asheville faces Big East foe Georgetown at USC Upstate starting at Noon. The tournament concludes with the Bulldogs playing at Wofford against the Terriers on Sunday starting at 4 p.m.
Fourth-year coach Tom Smith is anxious to build on last year's 25-30 campaign. The 25 wins marked the most wins for the Bulldog program since the 2006 season. Asheville finished in fourth place in the Big South Conference with a 12-12 mark. The Bulldogs were a preseason pick to finish in last place in 2012.
Asheville returns a solid nucleus from 2012. The Dogs have 17 lettermen back from a year ago and also welcome back red-shirt junior infielder Robert McIntosh to the mix. McIntosh is a .337 career hitter for the Bulldogs.
The Blue & White plan to start junior right-hander Dean Roland on the mound Friday afternoon. Roland was a solid weekend starter for Asheville in 2012 with a 5-6 record and 3.92 ERA. Sophomore right-hander Elliot Criss (2-4, 6.43 ERA) is scheduled to start against the Hoyas on Saturday, followed by red-shirt sophomore Tommy Houmard (2-4, 6.93 ERA in 2011) on Sunday.
"It's time to play baseball," exclaimed Smith recently. "We had a great fall and have had good practices in January and February. We've had a lot of competition for playing time both in the fall and spring and that only makes you a better ballclub.
"We have a little more depth on the mound than we've had the past few years and just have more experience all the way around," added Smith. "I'm anxious to see us play."
The Bulldogs will be tested right away against the Wildcats. Kentucky won 45 games last year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will send left-hander A.J. Reed on the mound. Reed is a preseason All-American who went 5-3 last season.
"We're going to see some great pitching right off the bat," commented Smith. "Kentucky has built a great program and it starts with its pitching. This will be big test for our guys."
Asheville returns the core of its infield in 2013. Sophomore first baseball Hunter Bryant hit .303 last season and did a great job defensively. Junior college transfer Kyle Towles has earned the starting job at second base. Junior Eli Miller (.233, 12 RBI) will move from second base to shortstop. McIntosh will get the start at third base.
"I really like our infield," stated Smith."We'll see how the season goes but in the fall and spring, we were very good defensively. And we're really happy to have Robert McIntosh back this year. We missed him last year and it will nice to have his bat in the middle of our line-up."
Behind the plate will be junior Ian Graham (.279, 22 RBI). He's been a starter for two seasons for the Bulldogs.
"Ian is a good receiver and a solid hitter," commented Smith. "We've got some depth behind him."
Asheville's outfield will start with senior outfielder Todd Joyner (.253, 2 HR, 18 RBI) starting in right field. Junior college transfer Phillip Treadway is scheduled to start in center field. In left-field, the Bulldogs have some options in Tommy Houmard, Andy Kirkland (.204, 3 RBI) and freshman Lucas Owens.
Senior Billy Creighton could see time at first base, DH or on the mound. He's Asheville's top hitter returning. The left-handed power hitter hit .306 in 2012 with six home runs and a team-leading 32 RBI's.
"We have some nice options in the outfield," explained Smith. "We've got some righty-lefty options that we can use. I like the speed we have out there, as well."
Asheville has some options on the mound at the end of games. Senior right-hander Dillon Tabar was lights out last season with a 1-1 record and 1.72 ERA. Junior right-hander Ethan Steible led Asheville in saves last year with four. He had 23 strikeouts in 23.1 innings of work.
This is Asheville's first meeting with both Kentucky and Georgetown. The Bulldogs own six wins over SEC foes, including five victories against Tennessee and one against Florida. Asheville has a win over Big East foe St. John's.
Head Coach Tom Smith is 3-0 in opening-games as Asheville's head coach.
The Bulldogs were 7-5 in one-run games last year and 5-3 in two-run contests.
Asheville was 3-7 against left-handed starters a year ago.
Dean Roland had 61 strikeouts and just 29 walks last year in 96.1 innings of work. He led the Bulldogs in innings pitched a year ago.