2019 @ASUNBSB Season Preview: North Alabama Lions

2019 @ASUNBSB Season Preview: North Alabama Lions

ATLANTA, Ga. - Opening day is now two weeks away, and with the 2019 season quickly approaching it's time to take a team-by-team look at all nine ASUN Baseball squads starting play this spring. North Alabama continues our preview countdown, after placing eighth in the ASUN Preseason Coaches Poll.

The Lions enter their first season of membership in the ASUN after successful runs in the Gulf South Conference as part of NCAA's Division II. Posting back-to-back 30-win seasons, UNA transitions to D-I with a veteran roster of 18 junior or seniors. The schedule for the Lions this season features seven non-conference home contests including the home opener on Feb. 22 vs. UT Martin. The road slate for non-conference play includes stops at SEC powers Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss. The Lions' first ASUN contest comes on the road at Kennesaw State on March 22, followed by the first-ever home ASUN game vs. Stetson the following weekend.

The offense was the driving force behind North Alabama's 31 victories in 2018, slugging 34 homers as a team with a .275 batting average. Tate Mathis returns as the team's leading home run hitter, sending four over the fence a year ago. The Lions return some players from the bullpen but lose all three full-time starters from 2018. Preseason Fan-Voted Pitcher of the Year Josh Stillman looks to elevate to the role of ace after posting a 1.94 ERA in 14 appearances, earning one save and victory each.

Head Coach Mike Keehn enters his 11th season at the helm of North Alabama with over 300 wins in his career, looking to advance that number as the Lions take on a new challenge in stepping up to the plate of Division-I competition.

North Alabama Team Quick Facts
2018 Record:
 31-20 (19-11)
Best Single-Season Record All-Time in Division I: N/A
ASUN Championships: None
ASUN Regular Season Titles: None 
NCAA Division I Tournament Appearances: None
2019 Season Notes: North Alabama enters its first season as a Division I member off a 30-win season and an appearance in the Gulf South Tournament. A veteran squad built off 18 juniors or seniors, the Lions aim for a third-straight 30-win season as they enter a brand new setting for collegiate baseball.
Season Opener: at Jacksonville State; 2/15/19 - 3 PM CT
Home Opener: vs. UT Martin; 2/22/19 - 5 PM CT
ASUN Opener: at Kennesaw State; 3/22/19 - 5 PM CT

Coaching Staff
Head Coach:
 Mike Keehn
Career Record (Years): 308-201-1 (11th Year)
North Alabama Record (Years): Same
Staff: Anthony DeCicco, Nick McGregor

Key Returners
- Davis Elliott, R-Sr., IF: A three-year started who has started 139 games out of 145 played, Elliott manned second base for the Lions last season and hit at a .252 clip. Slugged three homers on the year while driving in 25 runs and stealing 16 bases.
- Tate Mathis, R-Jr., OF: The junior outfielder/designated hitter returns as the leader in home runs for UNA, hitting four out of the park last season. Hit .268 while posting a .401 slugging percentage and built an on-base streak of 15 games.
- Peyton Sockwell, Sr., SS: A three-year starter at shortstop, Sockwell leads the Lions into 2019 with 137 starts in the middle of the infield. Posted 25 RBIs last season while tying his career-high with eight doubles. 

Top Returning Pitchers 
- Josh Stillman, Sr., RHP: Stillman enters his second season with North Alabama after being a key cog in the bullpen, appearing in 14 games and posting a 1.94 ERA. Striking out 35 batters in 41.2 innings pitched, the senior looks to continue his ability to keep runners from scoring in his final season with the Lions.
- Bryant Claunch, Jr., LHP: Another key piece to the Lions' 'pen, Claunch appeared in 14 games in 2018 with a 3.25 ERA while posting three victories. The lefty punched out 37 hitters in 27.2 innings pitched and has struck out 47 hitters in his first two seasons with UNA.  
Austin Nichols, So., RHP: Nichols returns with the most starts from a year ago on the roster, beginning the game on the mound four times in nine total appearances. Posted a 1-1 mark with 22 strikeouts in 25.1 innings pitched during his freshman campaign. 

Impact Newcomer
- Chase Best, Jr., LHP:
 Best transfers in to North Alabama following a run at Lawson State Community College. A 6-4 lefty, Best was named to the All-Valley League Team for his performance with Lawson State. A three sport athlete in high school, the Alabama native led Corner High School to an area championship while breaking the all-time wins record in the process.