2011 Northeast Baseball Preview

Northeast Mississippi Community College’s head baseball coach Kent Farris’ 2011 baseball team have waited long enough to get back on the diamond where the Tigers look to build off of last year’s success.
In 2010, Northeast advanced as the third seed from the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division and had to travel to Raymond to take on theSouth runner-up Hinds Community College.
However, the trip to Raymond was not as kind to the Tigers as they had hoped for as Northeast dropped the first two games of the best-of-three series 12-2 and 7-2 to endpostseason play.
But even with the early exit from a season ago, Farris says that this year’s team has the potential to go even further into the postseason.
“We had a lot of key losses from last year’s team but I think with the sophomores we have we will fill those voids,” explained Farris.  “This is a really good bunch of kids, both on the field and in the classroom, and with their work ethic and positive attitudes they are really fun to be around.”
Farris returns 12 upperclassmen to the diamond in 2011 but does admit that this year has been unique compared to his past pre-season preparations.
“The change in the fall schedule where we couldn’t play any outside competition was a big change for us,” said Farris.  “You can only scrimmage each other so much before you are ready to move on and play someone else.  So, we still have a lot of questions with our guys, especially our younger guys that will be in some key roles for us out there.”
Some of those key roleswill be filled by several of the 14 newcomers that Farris added to the 2011roster.
However, in order to besuccessful, Farris knows that his upper classmen must lead the way.
Two of those sophomores — that will be tasked with taking on more leadership responsibility — are Drew Dodds (New Albany), a first baseman and left-handed pitcher, along with outfielder Lee Griffin (Iuka) who was selected as team captains for this season.
“Both of these kids are mature young men who are more than able to step up to the plate and be in leadership roles,” Farris said. “That is why there peers elected them to these roles.”
Griffin saw limited action during the 2010 season but still managed to boast a .278 batting average while performing well in the outfield for the Tigers.
“I look for Griffin to start in centerfield,” Farris said. “He’ll also help us in other areas in the outfield as well.”
Dodds looks to pick up playing time while also heading to the mound for the Tigers.  
“He had the opportunity on the mound last year and did a great job for us,” Farris said. “Drew is a guy that can throw a lot of strikes and keeps teams off balance.”
Aiding Dodds on the mound will be second-year performers Nathan White and Blake Powell who return fortheir sophomore seasons with the Tigers.
Jordan Gurley, an MACJCAll-State selection his freshman year, who will start at second will also see time on the mound for the Tigers.
Farris has brought in some flamethrowers to help the Tigers compete in the competitive North Division.
Christian Cale and BeauCummings are two right-handed pitchers Farris will be relying on while Daymon Eriksen returns from surgery and looks to take command when the Tennessee native is on the mound
Also, scheduled to see time on the mound for the Tigers is right-handed first baseman Craig Bullock and a duo of left-handers, Seth George and Matt Davis.
Sophomore Sawyer Wheatley will aid White, Bullock and Dodds with first-base duties while the other is on the mound.
One area that Farris isconfident about is blocking behind plate as sophomore Will Wallis returns to command the defense.
Pushing Wallis are a pair of freshmen, Corey Smith and Blake Littlejohn but Farris is looking for veteran leadership out of Wallis after the catcher led the Tigers in hitting in division games during the 2010 season.
“Will had big shoes to fill last year behind the plate,” Farris said. “He did a great job and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Tyler Pritchard returns for his sophomore season with the Tigers as well and has given up his spot in the infield to aid the team with speed in the outfield.
Pritchard, who is a two-sport athlete at Northeast starring on the basketball court as well, makes the transition deeper into the field of play and gives the Tigers added speed in chasing down fly balls. Helping Pritchard with speed in the outfield will be Jimmy Marshall as the right-hander returns for his second season with the Tigers.
“Blake and Nathan have been leading the pitchers this fall and are constantly getting better,” Farris said. “Jordan is probably the team’s most experienced fielder we have returning while Tyler logged a lot of innings with us last year after finishing up the basketball season.”
Manning the hot corner will be Jacob Long who like Pritchard transitions to a new position with the newseason. Long, who saw time at second base during the 2010 season, heads to third after freshman Kyle Stephenson was lost for the season.
While Stephenson was lost for the season, Farris is looking a myriad of freshmen to step up for the Tigers.
A trio of freshmen – Brennon Gibson, Zach Cvelbar and Stuart York – will all be looked upon to help the Tigers at the plate offensively. Trae Allison, who transferred into Northeast during the spring semester last year, will also be clocking his first year with the Tigers and has worked his way into the shortstop position.
“Trae is as good of a defensive shortstop as I have ever coached,” Farris said.
Allison brings a left-handed bat to the Tiger lineup while transfer Drew Chisholm will also see time in the middle of the Tiger defense.
Booneville native Drew Cristo has impressed Farris with his work ethic and will be counted on to give the Tigers valuable innings on the infield.
“Drew has always impressed me ever since I got here,” Farris said. “He is a hard, hard worker.”
On tap during non-division play for the Tigers includes dates with Calhoun Community College, Northwest-Shoals Community College and Wallace State-Hanceville Community College all from neighboring Alabama and a rematch with Hinds during the 2011 Wes Cliburn Memorial Classic.
 Northeast also picks updates with Panola (Texas), Ellsworth (Iowa) and Arkansas Baptist College during its non-division slate.
Farris has already tasted success in the MACJC leading the Tigers to three straight MACJC State Tournament berths but the coach knows that there are riches beyond the first round.