For the first time in the past 17 seasons, the Union University Baseball team will open their season with a new head coach. After 17 years at the helm of the Bulldog baseball program, Andy Rushing stepped down at the end of the 2005 season. Stepping into the head coaching position is Brent Fronabarger. Fronabarger is a 1995 graduate of Union and has spent the last eight seasons as the assistant coach of the Union baseball program. He was the 1995 conference player of the year, and also holds 11 Union pitching records.
Union has a strong group of players returning along with some talented new recruits. The first season for Coach Fronabarger and new assistant coach Brian Pepper looks very promising. Union is returning three starters on defense from last season. Union’s pitching staff returns quite a few players including two of the three weekend starters and the teams’s top closer. Also, included in the list of returning players are several utility players and reserves.
Union is returning many talented pitchers from last year’s staff. Daniel Adams and Charlie Ligon are the only senior pitchers on this year’s roster. Adams led Union with four saves on the season. Both are looked at to provide leadership to this team. Clint Arthur returns as Union’s most reliable weekend starter over the past two seasons. He was an All-Conference player and led Union with six wins in 2005. Ben Ayris stepped up last season as a promising young pitcher that will get a chance to start in conference games this year. James Brasfield, Jud Powers, and Garrett Pepper each return as players that play both in the field and pitch. Pepper sat out last season due to injury, however proved in 2004 he could be one of Union’s top pitchers. Brasfield and Powers combined for six wins and three saves in 2005. John Mark Walls returns as one of Union’s most improved pitchers. Brian Lea also returns after seeing limited time last season due to injury. Lea and Walls will need to give valuable innings this spring.
New to the Bulldog pitching staff are Zane Adams, Ryan Vincent, and Evan Dyer. Adams proved in the fall he could be a top pitcher early in his career. All three of the new pitchers are freshman and will be expected to improve and provide quality innings for Union in the spring.
The infield for Union is going to be drastically different in the 2006 season. Zach Lowery is the only returning starter on this infield from last season. Lowery and freshman standout Allen Williams will split time behind the plate. Both Lowery and Williams are players that when not catching, will find themselves in the lineup in either right field or as the designated hitter. Pepper is expected to start back where he left off in 2004 after sitting out last year with and injury. He, along with Andrew Maddox and newcomer Joel Benchoff will battle for starting roles at first base and as the designated hitter. James Brasfield spent time at second base during the season and will most likely move to third base for 2006. Up the middle this year are two junior college players from Johnson County (Kansas). Jason Cooper (2B) and Josiah Enyart (SS) were teammates last year at JCCC and will provide a much needed improvement defensively up the middle. Freshman, Ryan Szczepanowski and Evan Dyer will help add depth to the middle infield positions.
In the outfield, Union returns sophomore standout Jud Powers in left field. Powers led Union with a .358 average as a freshman last year and also went 2-0 with one save on the mound. Junior transfer Kyle Yates will fill the very spacious center field at Union’s Fesmire Field. Junior Tyler Porter has proved to be a great defensive outfielder that can play any of the three positions. Porter has also proved to be the teams top baserunner as he was second on the team last season with 11 stolen bases as a pinch runner. In right field, Jeffery Jackson returns as a senior who filled the right field spot last season after an injury ending the season of the starter. Jackson, along with Lowery and Williams will make right field a very deep position for the Bulldogs. Freshmen, Jacob Martinez and Adam West will add depth to the outfield positions.
The 2006 Union Bulldogs have a lot of new faces from the coaching staff down through the players. However, plenty players and coaches return from the team that last season missed the NAIA Region XI Tournament by just one game. After an up and down season a year ago, the team closed out 2005 by winning nine of their last 12 games. With the success to end the season and the run in the TranSouth Conference Tournament last year, that taste just might be enough to help this team make that next step in 2006.