To say Trevecca Nazarene’s series victory at Cumberland in March was a confidence boost would be a huge understatement.
Cumberland entered the season as the NAIA’s No. 1 team after going 58-9 in 2010 and winning the national baseball championship. The Bulldogs had also never lost a home series to Trevecca.
That changed on March 12 when the Trojans bounced back from a series-opening loss. They opened the doubleheader with a stunning 10-0 victory in five innings and closed it out with a 3-1 win in the nightcap.
Trevecca entered that day with a 12-11 record. Since then it has won 12 of 16, including three straight, going into Wednesday’s split doubleheader against St. Catherine and Indiana Southeast in New Albany, Ind.
“[Cumberland was] a team last year that nobody could hardly even touch. All around it was big,” Trevecca coach Jonathan Burton said. “I told them, ‘From this day forward we need to prepare like we are conference champions.’ And so far we have and hopefully we’ll continue to do that.”
After finishing 7-13 in TranSouth Athletic Conference action a year ago, the Trojans (24-15, 12-3) find themselves tied for first place with six league games remaining. They have also rattled off 11 straight conference victories, including a three-game sweep at Blue Mountain (Miss.) over the weekend.
Trevecca’s success stems from solid pitching with two Division I transfers leading the way. Right-hander Craig Stem (Western Kentucky) is 8-1 with a 2.34 ERA. The Donelson Christian Academy grad has also recorded a team-high 53 strikeouts. Former Ravenwood standout PJ Francescon (Middle Tennessee State) has posted a 4-0 mark with a 2.15 ERA. BJ Boston, a Mount Juliet grad and junior college transfer, is 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA.
“I think [the pitching] has taken a lot of pressure off the hitters,” Burton said. “It has allowed our bullpen depth to be a lot better than it was in the past two seasons. We are very deep with junior and senior arms but it has given us a better opportunity to win some of the closer games just because of our pitching depth.”
At the plate, four everyday starters are batting over .331. Junior outfielder Matt Tidwell leads the team with a .403 average, 56 hits, 14 doubles, five triples, 38 RBIs and a .619 slugging percentage.
The Dickson native (Creekwood High) has settled in nicely at Trevecca after transferring from Division I Jacksonville State (Ala.) prior to the 2009 season. The last two years he has been named to the All-TranSouth Second Team. In 2010, he was in the top in the nation in three offensive categories — he finished fifth in batting average (.477), eighth in doubles per game (21 overall) and ninth in hits per game (74 overall).
“I had a fantastic year last year,” Tidwell said. “At the end of last year, I was thinking how in the world am I going to play to the expectations from last year? Which is hard to do, you know? So coming into this year, I didn’t set my expectations real high. ... I just go out every day and just try to take care of business really for the team to win. As long as we get a win, I’m happy.
" ... We are trying to get a conference title first off and to me, that would be huge.”
• Cumberland sweeps conference’s baseball honors: Cumberland’s Tommy Winegardner and Aaron Wilkerson were named TranSouth Conference player and pitcher of the week, respectively.
Winegardner was 10-of-16 last in five games last week. He scored five runs, knocked in four runs and posted a .813 slugging percentage. The infielder leads the team with a .366 batting average and 53 hits. The junior college transfer from St. Leonard, Md., has also hit five home runs and driven in 23 RBIs.
Wilkerson, a native of Waco, Texas, tossed a three-hit shutout against seventh-ranked Union on Friday and extended his scoreless innings streak to 48.1 innings. The senior right-hander is 7-0 with a 0.35 ERA for the No. 17 Bulldogs (27-12, 8-4).
• Tennessee State hosting Spring Game on Saturday: The Tennessee State football team will hold its Spring Game at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Hale Stadium.
The game will cap off a 14-practice spring for the Tigers, which began activities on March 14. Tennessee State went 3-8 last fall, including an 0-7 mark in Ohio Valley Conference play. Just 10 seniors return for second-year head coach Rod Reed, who will rely heavily on redshirt freshman when the Tigers’ 11-game schedule rolls around in the fall.
Prior to the Spring Game, Tennessee State will host a Legends Game at 1 p.m. in which former Tigers will participate in a touch football game.
• Cumberland junior earns conference’s weekly tennis honors: The TranSouth Athletic Conference named Cumberland’s Na’im Azhar the league’s men’s tennis player of the week.
The junior from Bermuda won three of his four matches last week. He won his singles and doubles matches against No. 24 Martin Methodist on Saturday. He split his two matches against Lindsey Wilson on Friday, winning in singles. Azhar, a transfer from the University of Miami, is 4-3 this year, playing at No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles.
• Vandy bowling team headed back to NCAA Tournament: The Vanderbilt women’s bowling team will be making its sixth straight trip to the NCAA Bowling Championship.
The Commodores, who won the national championship in 2007 and reached the semifinals in 2008, will be one of eight teams at the national tournament on April 14-16 in Taylor, Mich. Vanderbilt went 81-39 overall after a slow start, winning 79 percent of its matches since January. The Commodores also have the nation’s strongest strength of schedule.
Joining them at the tournament will be Kutztown, Fairleigh Dickinson, Nebraska, Central Missouri, Sam Houston State, Maryland Eastern Shore and Arkansas State.