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Rangers Open 2011 Season Wednesday

Former Blue Devil Shonquayle Jenkins

Jenkins Competes For Time On The Hill

The 2011 edition of Northwest Ranger baseball opens on Wednesday, Feb. 16 against Arkansas Baptist, moving the season-opener up three days earlier than originally scheduled. First pitch of the doubleheader is set for noon at Ranger Field.

Sixth-year head coach Mark Carson and the Rangers are coming off a 27-24 overall record and fourth place finish in the MACJC North Division with a 14-10 mark. The 27 wins marked a fourth consecutive season of 25 or more wins, with Carson compiling a 141-109-2 (.563) career record, including an impressive 62-33 (.653) record against north division opponents in his five seasons.

Northwest lost in the opening round of the MACJC State Playoffs a year ago, earning the No. 4 seed in the north, and will look for a fresh start in 2011 with only eight returning sophomores and 24 freshmen.

“Our number one goal right now is to win the north,” Carson said. “This year is a new season and a new start. It’s an exciting time developing our team chemistry and a new dynamic. What I really like is our speed and athleticism from what I saw in the fall. And after being inside for six weeks this spring because of the weather, we’re all just anxious to get on the field.”

After ranking in the Top 30 nationally in batting average three of the previous four seasons, Northwest hit just .294 as a team a year ago, while averaging 5.8 runs-per-game. It marked the first time since 1997 the Rangers hit under .300 as a team. And with the addition of the new bat rule, run production could be a nationwide problem in 2011.

On the mound, Northwest boasted a 4.25 ERA a year ago, its best since the World Series run in 2007, and will bring back a pair of talented arms this season and a wildcard. Tarus Hervey boasted a team-best 2.98 ERA and was 4-2 on the bump, striking out a team-high 53 batters in 42.1 innings of work. Heath Kitchens went 1-1 with a 4.45 ERA in 16 appearances, striking out 27 against 14 walks. The Rangers also welcome back Marshal Hamrick, who had Tommy John surgery after appearing in three games a year ago.

Competing for time on the hill will be freshmen left-handers Jeremy Massie (Magnolia Heights), Chris Casto (S.B.E.C.), Colt Burns (Lewisburg), Bill Higdon (Center Hill) and Spencer Pierce (Benton Academy) along with right-handers Garrett Radicioni (Lee Academy), Shanquayle Jenkins (Water Valley), Ethan Sanderlin (Collierville), Colby Key (Warren Cen-tral) and Jake Brigman (Magnolia Heights).

“Our pitching is more of a question mark than anything,” Carson said. “Because we have so many freshmen, you just never know what you’re going to get the first time they step out there. We’re pretty set however on our four-man rotation, our bullpen and closer role.”  

Northwest will hit the road from Feb. 19 through March 3 after its season-opener, travelling to play four doubleheaders against Southwest Tennessee, Jones County, East Central and Arkansas Baptist.

“We kind of planned that on purpose just knowing what February brings,” Carson said. “We’ll head south to play a couple of good ball clubs after our short trip to Cordova, and will then be back home for awhile.”

After an 8-game road swing over three states, Northwest will return to the friendly confines of Ranger Field on March 7 to entertain Jones County, opening a stretch of 14 of 16 games at home.

The regular season concludes on April 30, as the Rangers play host to Itawamba.

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