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UWA team dreams of the conference tournament

The ping sound of an aluminum bat has returned to Tartt Field in Livingston as the UWA baseball team began spring practices this week.

The Tigers are back in full form and have plenty to be excited about this season. After going 31-24 last season and coming to within a half-game of making an long awaited appearance at the Gulf South Conference, the UWA Tigers baseball team have only one thought on their minds coming into the 2004 season.

In his fourth year as the Tigers head coach, skipper Gary Rundles knows his team is prepared to go farther this year than have been able to since he arrived in Livingston.

“We expect to make the tournament this year. It has become our main focus and I think that this year we have the team that can do it,” Rundles said.

This season the Tigers have as many as nine freshmen on their roster. But many, like outfielders Clint Moody and sophomore Reed Nixon will have to be red-shirted.

Moody is a 2003 graduate of Demopolis High School and recent JUCO transfer from Faulkner State Community College. In his years at DHS, Moody hit .341 with seven doubles, two home runs and 16 RBI’s as a senior. He also stole 13 bases and scored 30 runs and finished his prep career with a .418 average to go along with 18 doubles and 46 RBI’s.

Nixon is also a DHS graduate and recent transfer from Concordia College in Selma. During his years at DHS he helped lead the Tigers to a 70-37 record over his four-year prep career, including three Area Championships.

And though the life of a red-shirt freshman can be a hard one, both Moody and Nixon are loving every experience.

“Things are a lot harder physically. At this level you have to love it,” Moody said. “But I really like all the hands on training that I get from coach Rundles,” He didn’t even mind it when he got his shaved last week for his rookie welcoming.

While Moody and Nixon will spend their time this season learning all they can, there are a few young players that will be looked upon from coach Rundles for aid from time to time.

Freshmen pitcher and Demopolis High School graduate Matt Chambless should become a part of the starting rotation at some time this season. Rundles likes what he has seen thus far from the competitive spirited youngster and expects to use him a great deal this season.

“Matt is a real competitor who doesn’t play like a freshmen at all. He looks real natural on the mound and has great confidence. I think he will play an important part of this coming season,” Rundles said.

The right-hander has a nice fastball that tops out around 88 mph along with a curve ball with excellent movement, but coach Rundles believes it is his presence on the mound that is his biggest weapon.

“You know, Matt has got about three great pitches that we believe he can throw for strikes at any time. I am confident that his speed and technique will improve over the years but I really like this kid for his overall presence on the mound,” Rundles said. “He is an attacker who’s not going to beat himself. It’s really his demeanor that makes him stand out.”

Speaking of commanding pitchers, all eyes will definitely be on the 6’3″ dominating right-handed pitcher, Jason Herman this season who coach Rundles believes is a possible draft pick come next year.

“Jason has got what it takes to make it to the next level. He tops out around 94 or 95 mph and could have easily played at any Division I school. I have already received many inquires about him and I know come this season the scouts will be out in full force,” Rundles said.

Herman compiled a record of 6-5 last season with a 3.14 ERA and led the team with 86 strikeouts. And though the added attention that he should receive this season might be enough to frighten many, Herman believes it will make him better.

“I thrive on the spot light. I seem to do better when the pressure is on,” Herman said.

With such a talented and deep bullpen this season, the Tigers might finally have all the right ingredients for a winning team.