January 30, 2014

North Georgia Baseball Opens 2014 Season With Increased Expectations

DAHLONEGA, Georgia - (UNGAthletics.com) - Following a lackluster 2013 season, the University of North Georgia baseball team is looking to bounce back with the addition of quite a few new faces. UNG finished last season 18-29 (9-19 PBC) to make for one of the more disappointing seasons in head coach Tom Cantrell's tenure, which includes over 500 wins while at the helm of the Nighthawks.

Cantrell has taken the UNG baseball program to an elite level over his fifteen year tenure and with that brings stellar expectations year in and year out. This year is no different.

"Our expectation every year is to win a national championship. It starts with being successful both on and off the field, in class and being a good person, being the best possible baseball player you can be. The expectation for the baseball program is to win championships; not win a certain number of games but to win every game we play. We haven't won a championship here in five years. In my fifteen years here, we have set a winning standard," said Cantrell. "We have got to get back to that mentality and mental toughness that we've lacked the last few years. But the expectation is to win championships."

The Nighthawks will be replacing four position starters including both corner infielders. However, UNG will be looking towards several key returners to take over more of a leadership role moving forward. Cantrell will return his top three position players from last season; juniors Travis Naraine, Tremayne Toorie and Eason Spivey in addition to the top five pitchers, most notably sophomore Brandon Agar.

The overall feeling surrounding the team is noticeably different and as a result, Cantrell is encouraged with how well they are buying into his system.

"I enjoy working with the guys, they buy into what we want to do, and they work hard. The teams the last couple of years weren't very mature or doing the right things on and off the field. That's our fault, we had the wrong people. We brought them into a situation they couldn't handle. We're excited, they're excited about competing," said Cantrell. "We're not ready to compete but we're going to have to compete. With the weather, we're behind a week or so. With all the newcomers and guys coming back, we feel pretty good about the group we have."

Among the newcomers is incoming transfer, Joey Cecere, an infielder coming off two years of Division II experience at Lipscomb University. Cecere played two seasons for the Bisons starting just over twenty games over that span. The North Cobb native will be part of a group of both transfers and freshmen that will hopefully help establish the mindset needed to be successful.

"We got some newcomers that'll play in some key spots; the corners will have two new guys, shortstop as well, a transfer from Lipscomb University. We're looking for the same thing from everyone and we hope that just overall attitude, work ethic and mentality with everyone we have coming in, along with who we have coming back we feel good," said Cantrell. "It's been a good gel so far, I'll be honest, this is the happiest I've been in two years."

In addition to the new faces that will soon make their debut for the Nighthawks, this off-season has also been an exciting one for reasons off the field. UNG unveiled the Coleman Field House which is home to the baseball and softball locker rooms plus coaches' offices, meeting rooms and training rooms. Cantrell is optimistic that the new field house can help bring together his team with hopes of paying dividends down the line.

"The new building, clubhouse, all that has made a big different in camaraderie and chemistry of the guys a place to hang out and get dressed. It also helps with recruiting because the conference were in is highly competitive," said Cantrell. "Usually, we're competing for some of the same players. The off-season is always a challenge because recruiting never ends, trying to find the right fit for this university and us, baseball-wise. It's very doable, but very challenging to find the right fit."

Ultimately, recruiting is a stepping stone to the results on the field. With the new additions, a brand new facility, only time will tell what will separate this team from last year's group.

"Looking back at last season, one thing, half the team isn't here from last season. A lot of guys were let go mainly for disciplinary issues, not doing what it takes to be a University of North Georgia baseball player. We got a good group this year and the outlook for this year is definitely an improvement over last year's team."

North Georgia will open the new campaign on Saturday February 1st at Bob Stein Field as the Nighthawks will face Saint Leo University in a doubleheader. The first game is slated to begin at 1:00 PM.

Written By: Chris Natsch, UNG Athletic Communications Student Assistant