First pitch is slated for 6:30 at Brown-Stroud Field. Saturday’s game will begin at 7 p.m. while Sunday will have a 1 o’clock start time. Free live audio streaming will be available for the Friday and Sunday games at www.nsudemons.com.
Jacksonville State, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, returns eight position starters and five starting pitchers off of last year’s team that finished 36-23 and is predicted to finish second this season.
“We’re excited to get the season going,” said fifth year head coach Jon Paul Davis. “We have a very challenging schedule, beginning with Jacksonville State, but a very good home schedule.”
The Demons, who have been picked near the bottom in the league’s coaches and SID polls, are heading into the new season with high-expectations. NSU returns the bulk of last year’s offense and pitching – six position starters and five starting pitchers.
“We should have as good of depth as we’ve had in a while,” said Davis of the pitching staff. “We have a number of guys that can be used in several different roles. All of these guys have the ability to get you out in different way.”
One of those starters is the dual threat possessed by Colin Bear, last year’s team Triple Crown winner.
Bear led the team with a .340 batting average, five home runs and 41 runs batted in. He also finished with a 3.54 ERA on the mound and a 3-4 record. He earned All-Conference and All-Louisiana honors for his bat and enters the season as a member on the league’s preseason team.
Also on the mound, the Demons return righty Joe Scanio who posted a perfect 6-0 record last year and 1.65 ERA out of the pen. He’ll be moved into a starter role this year and is looking to make a huge impact as the Friday night starter.
“Joe Scanio had a strong season last year out of the pen and we look forward to him moving to the weekend rotation this year,” said Davis. “He has a good fastball and has improved greatly on his secondary pitches.”
Scanio and Bear make up the Friday and Sunday rotation this weekend while Saturday’s nod will go to sophomore righty Jacob Roark (1-3 in 15 appearances last season).
“Jacob is a guy that we are looking at to really come into his own this year. Last season he threw out of the pen and served as a midweek starter. We are looking for him to serve that role once again this season but we’re giving a shot as a weekend guy on Saturday,” said Davis.
Junior closer and left-handed flamer thrower Mason Melotakis (1-3, 3.98, 5 saves) has drawn more attention than anyone else on the Demon squad and will be looking forward to a banner year.
“He (Melotakis) developed into one of the top relievers in the conference last season,” said Davis. “He has great stuff and likes to compete. We look for him to continue where he left off last season and be a go-to guy out of the pen once again.”
Melotakis garnered attention last year when he helped lead NSU to a win over LSU in Baton Rouge after he struckout 10 Tiger batters in four innings while holding them all hitless. He played summer ball in the prestigious Cape Cod League and has recently been named Baseball America’s choice as the top Major League Baseball Draft prospect in the Southland Conference.
The Infield will consist of returning starters Will Watson at first base (.305-0-17), Ray Frias at second base (.267-0-9, 7 SB) and Nick Hinojos at third base (.309-3-29). Hinojos was the Demons’ starting shortstop for most of last season but has been moved to third while newcomer Matt Burns, a junior college transfer from Pratt Junior College, is expected to get the starting nod at shortstop.
“Will (Watson) will return as one of the top first basemen in the league this year,” said Davis. “He has continued to develop offensively and defensively. Ray Frias had a good fall offseason and can handle the bat well. Defensively, he has very good hands and range.
“Nick (Hinojos) looks to factor in as a middle of the order hitter for us and has the ability to be a strong RBI producer for us.
“Matt Burns is athletic and has good range and an accurate throwing arm. Offensively, he should be our catalyst at the top of the order. He has the ability to handle the bat, split a gap and steal bases.”
In the outfield, the Demons return centerfielder Drew Helenihi (.293-0-17, 11 SB) and letterman Jordan Buckley in rightfield (.176-0-2, 4 SB in 26 games). Newcomer and junior college transfer Matt Baca is expected to get the start in left field.
“Drew (Helenihi) is our lone returning starter in the outfield and also one of the top defensive outfielders in the league,” said Davis. “He gets very good reads on balls and has a very accurate and strong throwing arm. He’s also very solid at the plate.
“Jordan (Buckley) is one of the most athletic players in the league and has big league tools. He had a very good fall season and we look for him to continue that into the spring.
“Matt Baca will give us a strong presence in the middle of the lineup. He has very good power and should be an RBI producer for us.”
NSU will get a new look behind the plate after the departure of All-SLC catcher Aaron Munoz. Matt Farmer returns but the opening day nod will go to junior college transfer Nick Purdy out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
“Nick came in here and made some very good strides defensively,” said Davis. “He has improved in all phases, especially his throwing. Offensively, he’s a very balanced hitter that is a tough out. He can also hit for power.”
Bear will hold down the reigns of the designated hitter when he’s not on the mound.
“Colin established himself as one of the top hitters in the league last year and we look for him to continue that trend,” said Davis. “He is a true middle of the order hitter and RBI producer.”
“This team has the ability and makeup to be very successful,” said Davis. “We should have much improved play both offensively and defensively. We have good team speed and athletic ability and have great depth at each position. Especially on the mound where we’ll look for that area to be a strong factor in our success.”
This weekend’s series is the first of four straight for the Demons at Brown-Stroud Field. Next weekend, the Demons will host Missouri State, a former College World Series participant, followed by a March 2-4 setting against Southern.