by Doug Page
WILSON, N.C. – Coming off its third Conference Carolinas Tournament appearance in the last four seasons, the Barton College baseball team will open its 2018 campaign with three games in Florence, S.C. as part of the Carolinas Hospital System Classic. Barton will be guided by first-year head coach Jim Chester along with assistant coaches Dillon Rudio, Matt Olive, and Michael Bonifay.
The Bulldogs were 28-23 overall last season and had a 13-14 mark in Conference Carolinas play, which led to a berth for BC in the postseason tournament. In the tournament, the No. 4 seed Bulldogs dropped back-to-back games to Belmont Abbey College and former conference foe, Pfeiffer University.
"Our program is very excited about the upcoming season," said Chester. "We are playing a very challenging schedule in 2018, we believe we will be tested by the time conference play comes around."
Barton's 49-game schedule features 27 home dates with the Bulldogs hosting Glenville State College on Sat. Feb 10 and Sun. Feb. 11 at Nixon Field. BC will also host Mercy College (Feb. 17-18) and Winston-Salem State University (Feb. 20) before opening Conference Carolinas play on the road against King University (Feb. 23-24). Barton finished last season with a 23-10 record at home, including a 12-game winning streak to start the 2017 season.
Following its trip to Bristol, Tenn. to face King, BC returns home to open an eight-game homestand beginning with Chowan University on Feb. 27. The Bulldogs then host conference rival, the University of Mount Olive, for a three-game weekend series (Mar. 2-3). Barton wraps up its homestand with a doubleheader on Mar. 10 against Clarion University.
Barton will finish the regular season at home with a three-game series against conference foe North Greenville University (Apr. 20-21). The 2018 Conference Carolinas Tournament will begin on Thurs. April 26 and run through Sun. April 29. The top six teams at the end of the regular season will advance to tournament play. All games will be played at Burlington Athletic & Burlington Royals Park in Burlington, N.C.
The Barton offense will be guided by senior utility player Hunter Pearre, who hit .346 with 44 hits, 10 doubles, two home runs, and 30 runs batted in. The Poolesville, Md. native went 10-for-11 in stolen base attempts and struck-out just 14-times in 127 plate appearances through 36 games.
Outfielder Troy Maslowski returns for his junior season with the Bulldogs after garnering Conference Carolinas Second Team and NCCSIA College Division All-State Second Team accolades for the first time in his career. The Cary, N.C. native hit .362 with 58 hits, 10 doubles, and six home runs. He also was responsible for 22 RBIs and 36 runs scored after appearing in all 51 games for the Bulldogs.
"Our returners gained valuable experience in 2017. They put in the time this fall, and I know they are excited about 2018 seasons," noted Chester. "We have some key contributors from the 2017 club, but I believe we have the young men to step up and fill their shoes."
BC's lineup also features returning junior infielder Ricks Dearing, who batted .364 with 24 RBIs through 30 games and junior infielder Gatlin Pate, who connected on five home runs for the Bulldogs to go along with 52 hits and 38 RBIs. Sophomore infielder Chase Riker hit .333 through 39 games for Barton, delivering 43 hits, 11 doubles, 16 RBIs, and 23 runs scored. Incoming freshman outfielder Hunter Little will look to see some time in the BC lineup as the Sanford, N.C. native was recently named as a Newcomer to Watch by Collegiate Baseball Newsletter.
Barton's pitching staff will be led by senior Trent Fennell, senior Andrew Davis, and junior Dylan Ward. Fennell is coming off a season that saw him go 7-2 with a 4.01 earned run average and First Team All-Conference accolades as a starting pitcher. The right-hander from Durham, N.C. tossed five complete games en route to fanning 98 batters through 85.1 innings of work. His 98 strikeouts are the most for a Barton pitcher since BC began NCAA Division II competition in 1995-96.
Ward started 13 games last season for the Bulldogs and compiled a 7-4 mark with three complete games. The Laurel Hill. N.C. native fanned 73 batters through 89.2 innings of work. The right-hander walked just 28 batters to go along with a 4.82 ERA.
A trio of left-handers will be back in the Barton bullpen, as senior Andrew Davis appeared in 18 games last season for the Bulldogs, going 3-7 with one save. Davis fanned 32 batters in 34.1 innings of work while also making five starts for BC. Junior Ryan Pifer, who appeared in 15 games last season for Barton, compiled a 1-1 record and recorded 17 innings of work out of the bullpen for the Bulldogs.
"Coach Rudio did an outstanding job with the 2017 recruiting class. Many of them will be thrown into the fire in 2018. It will be exciting from a coaching standpoint to watch these young men grow and develop."
"2018 is special to me because it is my first in the Bulldog dugout. We plan to play an exciting brand of baseball, one that our fans will appreciate. Our program is looking forward to seeing you at Nixon field this spring!"