McMurry ready to start baseball season

February 8, 2018 - ABILENE, Texas – The McMurry University baseball team will take the wraps off of its 2018 incarnation on Friday (Feb. 9), when the team travels to Kerrville for a three-game non-conference series at Schreiner University.  The War Hawks (0-0) and Mountaineers (1-5) will square off in a single game on Friday (2 p.m.) and a doubleheader on Saturday (12 p.m.).

McM head coach John Byington is in his 10th season at the McMurry helm, compiling an overall record of 204-207 in his previous nine campaigns. His 2018 squad welcomes back a total 24 veteran roster players, to go along with12 true freshmen. And, after playing with a youthful lineup the past couple of seasons, Byington is blessed with 10 returning position players who were either everyday or part-time starters in 2017. Additionally, McMurry returns three of its four full-time starters from last season.

Heading the cast is senior Tyler Jenkins (Abilene, Texas/Cooper H.S.), a two-time All-American Southwest Conference honoree and 2018 ASC “watch list” selection. Jenkins has been one of the War Hawks premier batters in each of the past two campaigns, after becoming a regular in the lineup as a sophomore.

In 2018, Jenkins – a thirdbaseman who started all 40 contests last year - topped the McM charts in batting average (.317), at-bats (139), hits (44), home runs (7), slugging percentage (.547), RBI (27) and on-base average (.395). Jenkins collected the War Hawks' top numbers in multiple hit games (12) and multi-RBI games (5).  He also shared the longest hitting streak in 2017, with eight consecutive games.  Jenkins also had a skein of 15-straight games reaching base safely during 2017.

Jenkins was also among the club's top defensive players with a .977 fielding average in 44 chances.  He also had a team-best two saves from the mound, tossing 36.0 innings (6.25 ERA).

Senior firstbaseman Chris Baker (San Angelo, Texas/Central H.S.) , who was the only other player to start all 40 games last year, returns, as well. Baker hit a healthy .274 (37-135) as a junior and smacked a team-best 14 doubles.  He also collect two triples and two homers, on his way to a .452 slugging percentage.

Baker drew a team-high 20 walks, as well. He led the War Hawks with 29 runs scored. He had a stellar .981 fielding percentage in 314 total chances.

The middle infield is buoyed by the return of senior shortstop Noah Clarkson (Austin, Texas/McNeil H.S) and sophomore secondbaseman Payton Stokes (Abilene, Texas/Wylie H.S.). Clarkson started all but one game last year, hitting.248 (31-125) with 18 runs and 17 RBI. Clarkson had eight extra-base hits (6 double, 1 triple, 1 home run) and had 14 walks.

Stokes was McM’s second to Jenkins in batting, posting a .276 average (35-127) and scoring 23 runs. Stokes stroked four doubles and two home runs, drawing 15 bases on balls.

Junior Jordan Speck (Burleson, Texas/Burleson H.S.), who made 30 appearances and 23 starts in 2017, adds depth to Byington’s infield.

The outfield of senior Kevin Garza (Weslaco, Texas/Weslaco H.S.), junior Matthew Chalk (Katy, Texas/Katy H.S.) and junior Robert White (Huntsville, Texas/Huntsville H.S.) returns intact. Garza brings back a .252 batting average, as well as a reputation as the War Hawks’ human-highlight reel with the glove.

White had a team-best six outfield assists from rightfield, while also batting.246. White slammed three homeruns and scored 20 runs, reaching base 16 times via the base on balls. Chalk drove in 21 runs and hit for a .248 average.

Behind the plate, both catchers from 2017 – junior Blaine McRay (Burleson, Texas/Burleson H.S.) and senior Taylor Ward (Leander, Texas/Rouse H.S.) – are back to handle the War Hawks’ pitching staff. McCray hit .259 in 81 at-bats and drove in 16 runs. McRay made 28 starts and, in addition to being the favorite target of his own pitchers, also had the “bullseye” from the opposing hurlers after being hit-by-pitch a team-leading eight times in ’17.

Ward made 11 starts and 16 appearances, overall. He drew four walks and was hit twice.

Starting righthanders junior Juan Valadez (Bryan, Texas/Bryan H.S.) and sophomore Jack Poe (Sweetwater, Texas/Sweetwater H.S.) head the War Hawks returning pitchers. Valadez, the team’s top reliever as a freshman, moved into a starting role in 2017. Valadez had 15 appearances and a team-leading 12 starts from the hill. He had a record of 4-6 with a 5.91 ERA for his 64.0 innings pitched (also tops for McM). He had 54 strikeouts to 47 walks.

Poe sported a 5.33 ERA for 50.2 IP, amassing a record of3-6. Poe struck out 45 and walked 33, to go along with a .263 opponent batting average.  Poe is expected to get the ball as the opening day starter on Friday versus Schreiner.

Sophomore Mike Gonzales (Kyle, Texas/Hays H.S.) and Jenkins each made five starts and 11 appearances from the mound.

Senior left-handed reliever Rody Johnson (Iowa Park, Texas/Iowa Park H.S.) bolsters McM’s bullpen after making 11 appearances in 2017. Johnson had a 1-0 record, striking out 10 and walking four


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