Thomasville Times Enterprise

Local Sports

April 30, 2014

Night Hawks head to Sun Conference Tournament


The Sun Conference Baseball Tournament Presented by Martz Transportation returns to Fort Myers, Fla. and the City of Palms Park for the sixth consecutive year in 2014 with the six-team, double-elimination event taking place May 2-5. Following the disbanding of the NAIA Regional and Super Regional tournament play in 2008, The Sun Conference Tournament was revived and its home has been the former spring training park of the Boston Red Sox ever since. Embry-Riddle, Southeastern, St. Thomas, Thomas, Warner and Webber International will make the trek to Fort Myers for the tournament with the champion receiving an automatic berth to the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.

The 2013 tournament saw the Eagles of Embry-Riddle battle back from the loser's bracket to win three games on the final day of the tournament to claim their fifth tournament title, and fourth since conference tournament play returned in 2009. St. Thomas is the only other program to win the tournament over the last five seasons, winning the 2012 crown as the No. 3 seed.

No. 1 Embry-Riddle (34-17, 22-5)

The Eagles, ranked No. 16 in the NAIA Coaches' Poll, captured the program's 15th Sun Conference regular season title in 2014, winning all but one league series with five sweeps. ERAU has been the tournament's top seed in all five of the previous TSC Tournaments since 2009, but have lost their last two opening games. Embry-Riddle has already received one automatic berth to the Opening Round due to winning the regular season crown and will be one of nine hosts of the Opening Round (May 12-15) in Daytona Beach.

The Eagles have relied on pitching and defense to go along with timely hitting in 2014, posting a 2.62 team ERA, .960 fielding percentage and .285 batting average. ERAU outscored opponents 258-169 and is 12-9 away from home this season with an 0-2 mark in neutral site contests.

Darryl Knight headlines an Eagle offense that has 475 hits, including 67 doubles, 13 triples and 14 home runs with 226 RBIs. Knight's .347 average, nine homers and 45 RBIs all lead the team, while his .608 slugging percentage and .444 on-base percentage is also tops on the squad. Fellow junior Liam Goodall has a .337 average with 64 hits, five triples, 28 RBIs and 35 runs scored while 2013 first team All-TSC performer Kevin Lindheim has a .323 average with a team-high 65 hits with 40 RBIs and 34 runs scored. The Eagles are 90-for-122 on the bases, led by Kyle Chastain's 19 stolen bases.

The pitching staff for the Blue and Gold is led by the weekend starters of Daniel Poncedeleon (7-2, 1.95 ERA), Stetson Nelson (8-3, 1.74 ERA) and Corey Tufts (8-2, 2.28 ERA). Poncedeleon has tossed 78.2 innings of work, striking out 85 opponents with two complete games. Nelson, a first team All-Conference performer a year ago, leads the squad with 82.2 innings on the bump with 55 Ks and a .194 batting average against. Tufts has posted very impressive stats in conference play with a 5-1 mark and 1.89 ERA with 43 Ks in 42.2 innings while teams are hitting just .163 against him. David Lidyard is 8-1 with a 1.77 ERA in a team-high 24 appearances, including two starts. Eagle closer Ronnie Lozada has six saves and a 0.76 ERA for the Blue and Gold.

Embry-Riddle is 20-4 in The Sun Conference Tournament since 2009 with four tournament titles.

No. 2 Southeastern (40-14, 20-7)

The Fire are making their third appearance in the tournament, and first back-to-back trips since joining the league in 2009. Southeastern is ranked No. 19 in the NAIA Coaches' Poll and has become the first league school to reach 40 wins. SEU, coached by 500-game winner Jason Beck, lost just two TSC series all season (ERAU and Thomas), sweeping four series.

Southeastern boasts a .316 batting average as a team, outscoring opponents 365-219 with a slugging percentage of .414 and on-base percentage of .401. Bryan Muniz, a first team All-TSC infielder from 2013, is hitting .390 with 73 hits, 23 doubles and four home runs with 39 RBIs and 42 runs scored. Ricky Dearmes is close behind with a .386 average on 49 hits, nine doubles, 28 runs scored and 18 RBIs. Aldo Ferrante paces the squad with 45 RBIs on 16 extra-base hits. The Fire have 150 stolen bases in 181 tries, led by Ryne Knuth's 29 and Stetson McCollin's 25. SEU has 12 contributors hitting over .300 and four hitting above .340.

The Fire pitching staff has a 3.44 ERA in 453.0 innings, striking out 390 opponents, allowing only a .241 average against. Andres Cancio is 9-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 73.1 innings. Cancio has two complete games while fellow starter Nick Beavers has two more to go along with a 3.15 ERA in 74.1 innings of work. Patrick Kinney is a perfect 6-0 with 2.85 ERA in 11 starts with 66 Ks and a .205 batting average against. Tyler Murphy ranks second in the country with 15 saves. He is 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 32.2 innings on the mound.

Southeastern is 2-4 in The Sun Conference Tournament, finishing third in 2013.

No. 3 Thomas (28-17, 19-8)

In their second season in The Sun Conference, the Night Hawks are the tournament's No. 3 seed after a series win over St. Thomas last weekend. Thomas barely missed the conference tournament a season ago and will bring a balanced team to Fort Myers.

TU won all but two series in 2014 (ERAU and Northwood) with series wins over Southeastern, St. Thomas, Webber International and Warner amongst tournament participants.

The Night Hawks average .301 from the dish with a 256-190 advantage in runs on the year. A .423 slugging percentage is the best in the league as TU has recorded 98 doubles, 11 triples and 19 long balls on the year. Tyler Palmer leads the team with a .429 average, but has played in just 19 total games for the Night Hawks. Andrew Crane has a .350 average with 48 hits and 22 RBIs while Trey Griffin leads the squad with 37 RBIs on 52 hits, including 16 doubles and five homers. Josh Bruijn leads the Night Hawks with 53 hits and has four home runs with 30 RBIs and 27 runs.

The Thomas pitching staff has a 3.33 ERA with nine complete games and a .239 BAA. John Gainey is 6-3 with a 1.77 ERA in 45.2 innings, including a pair of starts. His 66 strikeouts are the most on the team while Kurtis Gens ranks second with 65. Ben Overman is 6-4 with a 2.28 ERA and Justin Hicks has a 3.23 ERA and 5-2 record.

Thomas is making its first-ever appearance in The Sun Conference Tournament.

No. 4 St. Thomas (30-19, 18-9)

The Bobcats are one of just two teams to qualify for every Sun Conference Tournament since 2009, claiming the top prize in 2012 after back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011. STU was the only conference team to beat Embry-Riddle in a series and won all but two series in 2014 (Southeastern and Thomas). The Bobcats are the only other program in the 2014 tournament to have qualified for an Opening Round previously.

St. Thomas is outscoring its opponents 323-210 this season with a .294 batting average and 3.87 ERA with a league-high .961 fielding percentage. Edwin Medina has been the spark at the top of the STU lineup with a .392 average on 73 hits, 13 doubles, two triples and three home runs with 40 RBIs and 48 runs scored. He is second on the team with 24 walks and leads the league with 32 stolen bases. Jerry Downs has been a big source of power for the Bobcats with five home runs and 11 doubles to go along with 46 RBIs on the year. Downs also had 17 stolen bases in 18 tries. Adam Duarte brings a .320 average with 55 hits and 34 runs to the tournament.

A 1-2 punch of Eddie Cody and Emilio Ogando has proven to be big for St. Thomas. Cody is 8-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 86.0 innings for the Bobcats with an impressive seven complete games. Ogando boasts a 7-1 mark and 1.95 ERA in 83.0 innings of work with a league-high 103 Ks. The STU pitching staff has 13 shutouts while the Bobcats have not been shutout offensively all season long. Eric Santamaria is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in eight appearances out of the bullpen.

St. Thomas is 11-8 in The Sun Conference Tournament since 2009 with a tournament crown in 2012 and two runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011.

No. 5 Webber International (29-26, 13-14)

The Warriors are making their fourth straight appearance in The Sun Conference Tournament, fifth overall since 2009. Brad Niethammer, who is also among the 500-win club, and his team were never swept in any TSC series in 2014.

The Warriors have a .273 team average on 485 hits, including 74 extra-base knocks with 182 walks and 101 stolen bases. Shae Cothran is hitting .360 with 64 hits, 34 RBIs and 39 runs scored, while Austin Aubuchon has posted a .332 average on 66 hits, 14 doubles and 38 RBIs with 32 runs scored. Chris Suto has swiped 15 bags while Ramon Sanchez had 28 RBIs and 25 runs scored with 30 walks on the year.

Josh Ganus is WIU's ace with a 7-5 mark and 3.09 ERA in 93.1 innings with 76 strikeouts. John David has been the go to Warrior out of the pen with 19 appearances and a 0.83 ERA and 2-0 mark and a .157 BAA. Sean Stanislawski leads the starters with a 1.85 ERA in 43.2 innings.

Webber International is 1-8 in The Sun Conference Tournament since 2009.

No. 6 Warner (24-27-2, 11-16)

The Royals, under the direction of 900-game winner Jeff Sikes, are back in the conference tournament after a year absence in 2013. Warner earned a berth to the six-team event thanks to a series win over Northwood as both teams finished 11-16 in league action.

Justin Burgess had a banner year for Warner, hitting .347 with 67 hits, 12 doubles and 22 RBIs with 37 runs scored and 18 stolen bases. Burgess paces a team that is hitting .264 with 439 hits and 225 RBIs. Anthony Dovale broke out as a two-way player in 2014, hitting .322 with 57 hits and 42 RBIs while posting a 5-1 record in 40 innings on the bump. Sergio Perez has recorded 31 RBIs and 38 runs while Chris Mejia has 18 stolen bases for the Royals.

Aaron Kehres' 6-5 record and 3.54 ERA in 13 starts and 86.1 innings highlights a team pitching staff that has a 5.32 ERA and 270 strikeouts. Dalton Kelley has started nine games with four wins and 35 Ks while Jordan Pike has four saves in 37.1 innings.

Warner is 2-4 in two appearances in The Sun Conference Tournament.

The tournament will be unofficially kicked off at the conference awards banquet on Thursday night (May 1) and the games begin in earnest on Friday, May 2 as the top-seeded Eagles take on the sixth-seeded Royals at 11 a.m., followed by No. 2 Southeastern and No. 5 Webber International at 3 p.m. and the nightcap will feature the third-seeded Night Hawks versus the fourth-seeded Bobcats with first pitch slated for 7 p.m.

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