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Owls ranked third

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The baseball team finished last season with a school record 45-9-1 record and finished ranked fourth in the nation.

ANDREW ANASTASIOSpecial to Southern News

The crack of the wooden bat along with the pop of the catcher’s mitt echoed in the bitter, cold winter air Wednesday afternoon as the Southern baseball team practiced in preparation for the 2012 season.

Last season, the Owls finished with a record of 45-9-1, which granted them a trip to the Division II College World Series. There, the Owls made it through three rounds before being eliminated by Winona State University 7-5.

The sign of gloves and bats scattered all over the field could mean only one thing–the Owls were preparing. In the midst of preseason practices and workouts, head coach Tim Shea said all that what happened last season has to be put in the past. But, he said he believes his team is ready to accomplish what it did a year ago.

“Two different seasons. Obviously all that is forgotten now,” said Shea. “We are ready. We are excited. We just need to continue to work hard and hopefully good things will happen for us.”

Despite losing seven players from last season, the Owls face a key departure of their closer Mike Johnston, who led the team and all of Division II with 16 saves a season ago. Johnston is leaving the closing role to sophomore relief pitcher, A.J Turnier.

Shea said filling the position will not be easy, but he believes that Turnier can get the job done.

“They are big shoes to fill,” said Shea. “[Johnston] did a great job for us and you need somebody reliable on the back end closing out games. He was a big reason why we did what we did. But, we have A.J Turnier, a sophomore this year who was in the mix last season.

It is his job. He has the composure and definitely has the ability and stuff. I think he is the right man for the job.”

The Owls scored 337 runs last season, first in the Northeast-10 conference. The team also finished third in overall batting average at .277. Despite those statistics, senior infielder Kyle Cummings said, scoring runs will be the team’s main focus this upcoming season.

“Our toughest challenge going into this season is definitely going to be our offense,” said Cummings. “Coach [Shea] always emphasizes how we have to put more runs up for our pitchers.”

For the upcoming 2012 season, senior pitchers Chris Zbin and Ryan Yerina have been named captains. In 2011, Zbin and Yerina combined for a 13-3 record, while each posting an ERA below 2.0. Shea said he is confident that his two pitchers are worthy of their roles.

“Both of those guys have to have big time years for us,” said Shea. “They are going to be a big key to our success. They know that, and they are ready for that.”

Regardless of making a run in last years Division II College World Series, senior infielder Sam Greenberg said that he is looking for the team to reach the postseason again and return victorious.

“I am looking forward to having a successful season by getting to the World Series,” said Greenberg. “We would not only like to get there but to win it this year.”

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