The Buccaneers headed into this season with high expectations from the five returning starters, five returning pitchers and 11 new players. Opening weekend for the Bucs was played at Thomas Stadium against the Central Michigan Chippewas, who were 24-37 in the 2015-16 season.
Three key returning players for the Bucs are Aaron Maher (Brentwood, Tennessee), Hagen Owenby (Knoxville, Tennessee), and Chris Cook (Kingsport, Tennessee). Each of these players was selected in the 2016 MLB First-Year Draft.
After suffering from a season ending injury last year, Cook was more than excited to get back out there.
“It felt good just to compete with the guys again,” Cook said. “I was a little jittery before the game, but I just told myself to let things play out you know, let the game come to you.”
The Bucs were successful in their game play on Friday, defeating the Chippewas 18-6. Each batter that stepped up to the plate had at least one hit that afternoon, six of them scoring two runs each. Junior lead off pitcher Ryan Simpler (Lewes, Delaware) was on a hot streak, only allowing one earned run and striking out five Central Michigan Chippewas in five innings.
“Once they made a little run at us we were able to offensively get it going and separate, and that’s something we put a lot emphasis on,” said Head Coach Tony Skole.
Skole praised the team’s offensive capabilities and the team itself saying, “When we get that lineup going, we’ll be hard to beat.”
The game on Saturday, Feb. 18 proved to be tougher for the Bucs, losing 8-7 in a hard fought second series game. The Chippewas came out and set the tone for that game by plating a run in each inning. David Cole of Central Michigan nailed a ball up the middle to send a runner home and take the early lead.
Cook had three hits on Saturday and hit home runs on both days. Hunter Parker (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and Blake Rowlett (Clarksville, Tenn.) also had a great weekend of baseball. Rowlett hit two runners in with his home run at bat. Another key offensive player of this game was Christian Bailey (Kingsport, Tenn.) with his leadoff double in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Jamin McCann (Kingsport, Tenn.) had his first start of the year on Saturday and struck out players in four of the six innings he pitched. Last season McCann struck out 14 batters.
Winning the last game of the series was the Buccaneers, with a final score of 7-6. With a majority of the runs coming in the middle of the game the Bucs were able to hold off the Chippewas and win the season opener, becoming 2-1. The Bucs will face The Oakland Golden Grizzlies on Feb. 21 at 3 p.m. at Thomas Stadium, the Grizzlies went 23-27 last season.