As always, UT Tyler's expectations high

Some of UT Tyler's key returning starters include (from left) catcher Hayden Chick, left fielder David Ring and shortstop Aaron McCain. (Clay Ihlo | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

The more things change, the more they seem to remain the same for the UT Tyler baseball program.

For the first time in school history, a new coach took over the program prior to last season, but the Patriots won their fifth straight American Southwest Conference East Division title and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year. And despite losing last season’s top three starting pitchers and two top hitters in the lineup, UT Tyler enters today’s season opener against Freed-Hardeman with the same high expectations.

“It’s always nice to be recognized by other people, and that’s really what the preseason poll is, an indication of past success,” said second-year coach Paul Wyczawski, whose team is ranked No. 23 by d3baseball.com and picked to win the East for a sixth straight year.

“It really doesn’t guarantee you any wins into this season, but I think they recognize that we’ve got some really good players coming back from last year. We’re not disappointed about being ranked, but we also know that we’ve got our work cut out for us because teams will be gunning for us all season.”

A repeat performance figures to hinge on a retooled starting rotation following the graduation of Chad Sherman, Matt Schimpf and Kory Cleveland, who started 32 of the Patriots’ 41 games and accounted for 21 of their 33 wins last year.

“This is the second year in a row that I’ve walked into this situation where we will have to replace our so-called top three starters,” Wyczawski said. “That’s probably the big question mark coming into the first portion of the season; not just with the starters, but developing roles for all our pitchers.”

Returning pitchers Jack Barkley, Parker Sheets, Brian Shore and Chance Williams all saw extensive time on the mound in 2011, and Wyczawski said several newcomers will be in the mix.

“Certainly, we lost three good ones last year,” he said. “I’d like to have them on the mound, but we’ve got a 19-man pitching staff and we feel like we have some good arms in there with some guys that are going to have to step up and develop into starters and relief-type guys.”

On the offensive side, the Patriots will attempt to replace the production of first baseman Nick Clifton and right fielder Justin Juneau, UT Tyler’s top two hitters from a season ago who teamed up for 13 of the team’s 22 home runs. 

“The two key spots are first base and right field offensively,” Wyczawski said. “Juneau and Clifton had tremendous years and I don’t know that you’re ever going to replace guys like that. Collectively as a group, if everybody improves 15 or 20 percent or more, we can try and make up the difference.”

UT Tyler does bring a solid corps of starters from 2011, including catcher Hayden Chick, third baseman T.J. Martin, shortstop Aaron McCain, left fielder David Ring and both Jake Ashley and Josh Bates, who split time in center field.

“When you take over a new program, the second and third years and numerous years after that make it fun because you’ve got experienced guys that understand what we’re trying to do on the field at practice,” Wyczawski said. “We’ve got some tremendous leaders, guys that have been around.”

Wyczawski said newcomers Will Allen, an Arp native and transfer from Tyler Junior College, and Steven Paramore could make an immediate impact.

“It’s a nice mix of new guys and returners, and I know we’ve been really pleased with the practice, work and getting along together on the field,” Wyczawski said.

The Patriots players seem eager to get the new season under way.

“I’m ready to see what we’ve got,” McCain said. “I know we’re definitely there offensively. I’m excited about our pitching and I’m excited about everything we’ve got working right now.”

NOTES: UT Tyler meets Freed-Hardeman in the opener of this weekend’s Clements Fluids Classic at Irwin Field. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m., and it will be followed by Hendrix College vs. Texas Lutheran at 6:30 p.m. The classic continues with two games each on Saturday and Sunday. The Patriots face Hendrix at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by Texas Lutheran vs. Freed-Hardeman at 4 p.m. On Sunday, Hendrix and Freed-Hardeman play at 11 a.m. before UT Tyler and Texas Lutheran close out the classic at 2 p.m.

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2012 UT Tyler Baseball Schedule

Date                 Opponent                                                       Time

Feb. 10         Freed-Hardeman                                3 p.m.

Feb. 11         Hendrix                                             1 p.m.

Feb. 12         Texas Lutheran                                  2 p.m.

Feb. 17         Arlington Baptist                                 4 p.m.

Feb. 18         Arlington Baptist (DH)                          1 p.m.

Feb. 20         Castleton State                                  4 p.m.

Feb. 21         Castleton State                                  4 p.m.

Feb. 24         Concordia                                          6 p.m.

Feb. 25         Concordia (DH)                                   1 p.m.

Feb. 28         at Austin College                                6 p.m.

March 2         at Schreiner                                       2 p.m.

March 3         at Schreiner (DH)                                noon

March 9        *at Mississippi College                         6 p.m.

March 10      *at Mississippi College (DH)                  1 p.m.

March 13      at Mary Hardin-Baylor                           6 p.m.

March 16      *UT Dallas                                          6 p.m.

March 17      *UT Dallas (DH)                                   1 p.m.

March 23      *at East Texas Baptist                          6 p.m.

March 24      *at East Texas Baptist (DH)                   1 p.m.

March 30      *Ozarks                                              6 p.m.

March 31      *Ozarks (DH)                                       1 p.m.

April 3          Austin College                                     6 p.m.

April 6          #at Centenary                                     6 p.m.

April 7          #at Centenary (DH)                              1 p.m.

April 10         University of Dallas                              7 p.m.

April 13        *at LeTourneau                                    2 p.m.

April 14        *at LeTourneau (DH)                             noon

April 17         Mary Hardin-Baylor                               6 p.m.

April 20        *Louisiana College                                6 p.m.

April 21        *Louisiana College (DH)                        1 p.m.

April 27-28    ASC tournament, first round                   TBD

May 4-6        ASC tournament, championship round     TBD

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* — ASC game. 

# — Will not count in conference standings.

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