SCOOBA – The Brett Kimbrel era of East Mississippi Community College baseball is scheduled to get underway Friday and Saturday (Feb. 15-16) in Marianna, Florida when the Lions play a pair of games each day on the Chipola College campus.
On Friday, the EMCC Lions will meet Georgia-based Gordon State College at 11 a.m. CT before taking on the two-time reigning NJCAA Division I national champion and preseason No. 1-ranked Chipola College Indians at 2 p.m. CT on their home field. The following day, East Mississippi is slated for a 10 a.m. CT Saturday rematch with Gordon State followed by a 1 p.m. CT contest against Columbia State Community College out of Tennessee.
Kimbrel has taken over EMCC's baseball coaching duties after serving as an assistant coach for the Lions the past two seasons. The native Floridian previously spent 12 successful seasons as an assistant coach on Bobby Sprowl's Shelton State Community College baseball staff. Kimbrel is assisted by Trent Waddell, who played at Mississippi State following his EMCC playing days, as well as Faulkner University product Tucker Willard.
The 2019 EMCC Lions return 10 players who saw game action for last year's 13-29 ball club. The team's leading returning hitters from a season ago include outfielder Gage Nyman (Pascagoula) and infielder Philip Martin (Fairhope, Ala.), who hit .344 and .306, respectively, for EMCC as freshmen. Martin ranked second on the team with six home runs and nine doubles last year along with standing third with 24 runs batted in. Martin and Nyman started 36 and 30 games, respectively, for the 2018 Lions.
Also looking to retain starting positions for EMCC will be catcher S.T. McMurrian (Oak Grove HS) and outfielder Dillon Brown (Gulfport). McMurrian batted .296 with 27 starts behind the plate last season, while Brown was EMCC's second-leading run producer with 26 RBIs to go along with his .271 batting average in 38 starting assignments. Brown was tabbed MACJC All-State Second Team a year ago as was former EMCC standout and current Mississippi State infielder Anthony Hickman.
The Lions bring back four pitchers with significant mound action from last year's squad. Right-hander Jaxen Forrester struck out a team-high 70 batters in 58.1 innings pitched with a 3-6 record a year ago. Left-hander Wesley Grantham (Central Hinds Academy) limited the opposition to a .225 collective batting average with a 2-1 mark in a dozen pitching appearances. Fellow sophomore southpaws Garrett Brown (Pillow Academy) and Chris Maurin (Pascagoula) combined for 19 mound showings in 2018.
A total of 20 players will be looking to make their respective EMCC spring debuts on the field for the Lions. Expected to make an immediate impact in the MACJC this season will be freshman infielder Tyler Miller, who was a 23rd-round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates in last year's Major League Baseball Draft. Miller joins former Spanish Fort (Ala.) High School teammates Jackson Rogers and Forrester on this year's EMCC squad.
On the mound, East Mississippi will look to right-hander Chance Denson to make a significant contribution to the Lions' pitching staff. Rated by Perfect Game as the No. 4 freshman player among the NJCAA Division II baseball ranks, Denson reunites at EMCC with former prep teammates John Ross Briggs and Jeremy Davis out of West Lauderdale High School.
Following this weekend's action in Florida, the EMCC Lions will return to the Sunshine State the following weekend (Feb. 22-23) to once again play four games in two days. On the campus of Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, EMCC will play Motlow State out of Tennessee in a Friday doubleheader before taking on the Bucks again in a single contest Saturday afternoon. The Lions will then conclude the weekend later that day by meeting the host NWF State Raiders in a solo game.
East Mississippi's scheduled home season opener is slated for Thursday, Feb. 28 with a doubleheader against Wallace State-Hanceville set for a 2 p.m. start at Gerald Poole Field on the Scooba campus.