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Tigers hope duo can carry burden in 2002

By By Jeff Byrd/staff writer
Jan. 29, 2002
LIVINGSTON, Ala. With a strong anchor in the middle of its lineup, the West Alabama baseball team is looking for bigger things this spring.
Tiger head coach Gary Rundles is back for his second season and he is hoping that 11 seniors will help give his team a big boost against another challenging schedule.
Two of the big senior cogs for the Tigers are catcher Walt Simmons and third baseman Scott Merkich. Simmons, a West Point product, could smash several offensive career records for the Tigers.
Simmons batted .348 and knocked in 47 runs off 64 hits last season. Eight of those hits went for home runs.
Catching his back is Merkich who slugged a team high 12 home runs in 2001. Merkich, who played at Meridian Community College, also led the team with a .425 average and drove in 54 runs off 78 hits.
The pair comprises two of the six returning starters for the Tigers. Senior Chad Case is back in right field while Martin Jackson returns in center. Case batted .331 with 26 runs scored and 27 RBIs. Jackson hit .317 with 34 runs and 45 hits.
The lone losses out of the field were outfielder Ryan Gernard (a former Meridian CC players) and shortstop Michael Freidlien.
At shortstop newcomer Freddie Vazquez, a transfer from Chattahoochie Valley CC, will anchor the Tiger middle infield.
The two remaining returnees from last year's 25-25 team are first baseman Carlin Holman and second baseman Brodie Meadows.
The Tiger pitching staff will be a work in progress. The Tigers are counting on junior college transfers and an injured hurler from last year to help steady the staff.
Jim Goble, a senior from Blountsville, Ala., Clay Armstrong and Chad Champion will be counted on to anchor the staff. Armstrong prepped at Sumter Academy while Champion comes over from East Central Community College.
Josh McLaren is the one Tiger hurler who does bring back innings from last year. He logged 48 innings in compiling a 3-2 mark with a 5.06 earned run average. He struck out 39 and walked 12.
Robbie Lacoste is also back to head up the bullpen. He tossed 32.2 innings and had an ERA of 5.23.
Gulledge played at Wallace-Selma last year while Edmiston comes from Mississippi Delta CC.
The Tigers face a challenging pre-conference schedule. They open up with a three-game set this weekend at Southern Arkansas. On Feb. 23-24 they head to defending South Central Regional Champ Delta State in Cleveland.
Top in-state foes include Auburn-Montgomery and Jacksonville State.
Conference action begins on March 16-17 when the Tigers visit West Georgia.