LEBANON, Tenn. – Cumberland baseball opens the 2018 season with a three-game series this Friday and Saturday at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Ga. Woody Hunt enters his 37th season as head coach and 39th year with the Cumberland program, compiling an overall record of 1,529-695-5.
Hunt enters the 2018 campaign as the winningest active coach in the NAIA and fourth all-time in victories among NAIA coaches behind Gordie Gillespie, Ed Cheff and Larry Hays. He stands just 50 victories behind Hays for third place on the all-time list.
The long-time skipper said the lineup for the Phoenix may shakeout a little different than in year’s past concerning who hits where in the order.
“It’s a new era in baseball where you have a different number two hitter. If you look at the big leagues, you saw Aaron Judge batting [second] and some other guys that were sluggers [in that spot]. If you turn the lineup over, this makes the number two spot very productive.
“That means your number 8-9 hole guys are going to be key. Our two-hole guy is going to be a very, very big part of our order,” Hunt said.
One unique aspect of NAIA baseball is the use of a pinch-runner for the catcher and also a pitcher if they are serving as the designated hitter, getting more players involved in more games throughout the season.
“That’s a spot where we tell the guys it’s just like being a starter; it’s that important. We don’t know who that guy will be yet. We’ll try to feel it out and see. We have some speed, but we don’t have the overall team speed I like to have. We may look at a freshman that can do that for us.”
Cumberland opens the season with three games at Reinhardt and then three contests in Montgomery, Ala., two of those versus second-ranked Faulkner University and one against LSU-Alexandria. The Phoenix begin a stretch of 13 home games in 14 outings on February 14 versus Bethel University.
“The thing that I want is to get off to a good start and give the guys some confidence. Our program needs that right now. We need a quick start for confidence and momentum. However, the schedule may indicate that we may not be able to do that because we go to Faulkner the second weekend and you better be ready to play down there because it’s like playing a [NCAA] Division I team when you play them.”
Reinhardt posted a 37-21 record last season, 16-11 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, with a 12-7 mark in one and two-run games.
“The first weekend against Reinhardt, they’re going to be a pretty good team,” Hunt said. “They’re somewhat of a new program, but they’re very, very competitive. So we have our work cut out for us the very first weekend.
“We need confidence; we need a good feel. I hope we can get that swagger back, and I don’t mean arrogance, but assurance about our play that when we walk into a ballpark, that we know we have a good chance of winning,” Hunt said.