Baseball team expects banner season

Armand Broady, Sports Writer

The 2011 season brings high expectations for the Francis Marion University baseball team.

Under tenth year head coach Art Inabinet, FMU brings back 13 letterwinners, including four position starters and eight members of the pitching staff from a group that made yet another appearance in the NCAA Division II National Tournament. Inabinet said that he realizes that expectations are high, but he wants to keep a level head about the upcoming season.

“We hope to put a team on the field that’s competitive and gives us an opportunity to win,” Inabinet said.

Among the key returning players for the Patriots’ squad is senior first baseman and Charlotte, N.C. product Preston Shuey, a leader in several offensive categories. Shuey, who was named to the “Players to Watch” list for 2011 by the American Baseball Coaches Association, already holds the FMU career record for defensive put outs. By the time his career is said and done, Shuey could possess FMU records for total games played, doubles, runs batted in (RBIs) and total bases.

Shuey, however, is one of many players Inabinet has recognized as a leader on this veteran team. Senior Joe Wagstaff, a 6-6 right-handed pitcher from Zebulun, N.C., is another player Inabinet said that he looks to for an experienced presence and voice in the dugout.

“Those guys are high quality, high integrity guys,” Inabinet said.

The 44-year-old head coach also sees togetherness as a major factor for his group this season, and applauded the participants of the team for the way they work together on the diamond, as well as off.

“Our players do a lot of things outside of baseball together,” Inabinet said. “Chemistry is extremely important in the success of our program.”

Junior outfielder and Virginia Tech transfer Buddy Sosnoskie, who was recognized by the American Baseball Coaches Association as a “Newcomer to Watch,” has been acknowledged as being the player on the team who is always playing a practical joke on someone.

The Patriots finished second in the Peach Belt Conference to Georgia College and State University last year, putting together 16 wins and eight losses in conference play and going 40-14 overall.

FMU begins the 2011 season ranked in the top 15 in two national preseason Division II polls, and the Patriots were predicted to finish third this season in the Peach Belt Conference behind GCSU and Columbus State University.

Although it can be somewhat difficult to not look ahead to future postseason success, Inabinet is preaching that he wants his team to stay concentrated on the assignment set before them right now.

“A lot of things have to go right in order for us to win the Peach Belt Conference,” Inabinet said. “We want to focus on one team at a time, and right now we are focusing on King College.”

The Patriots began their season at home, where they were 22-9 last season, against King College on Sunday Feb. 6 before heading out on the road to play at Pfeiffer University on Feb. 12.