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Rafters Collegiate Season Opening Weekend Preview

OpeningWeekendPreview(Pictured (Left to Right): Returning Rafters Players Demetrius Sims, Dustin Woodcock, John Jaeger, and Incoming Players Yamil Pagan, Josh Shepley, and Joey Morgan)

First Game Action For Many 2016 Rafters This Weekend

By: Cooper Perkins

Opening day in Wisconsin Rapids and the Northwoods League is still a few months in the distance, but the Rafters are excited to track the progress of their slated 2016 roster into college baseball’s opening weekend. Friday marks opening day in college baseball for most Division 1 programs and the following mix of returning and future Rafters will begin their quests for successful spring seasons.

P – Chris Cooper, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi
The Islanders welcome Chicago State to town for a three-game series beginning Friday night at 6:30 p.m. Cooper, a redshirt sophomore, is in pursuit of a breakout college season after being a top performer in the Texas Collegiate League last summer. With some major losses in the bullpen and only a handful of Islanders returning with relief experience, this weekend offers Cooper his first chance to carve out a major role in the bullpen.

P – Ethan Evanko, Grand Canyon University
With Grand Canyon slated to face Gonzaga in a four-game weekend series at home, Evanko, a sophomore, will make his first start of the season against the Bulldogs. The start will mark Evanko’s first appearance for Grand Canyon in nearly a calendar year, having last entered a game for the Lopes on March 25 of last year. After redshirting lat season, he will look to build upon his stellar freshman campaign from 2015 where he went 6-1 with a 3.42 ERA as a member of the starting rotation.

P – Jake Repavich, Grand Canyon University
Like his current teammate, Ethan Evanko, Repavich will toe the rubber for the first time this spring against Gonzaga at home for Grand Canyon. Entering his sophomore season, Repavich is slated to be the Sunday starter for the Lopes and will look to build on his stellar freshman season in which he finished with eight wins, tied for fourth nationally amongst freshmen.

P – Jon Jaeger, Sterling College
While the vast majority of the country is set to get the 2016 season under way this weekend, Jaeger and his teammates from NAIA Sterling College have already jumped out to a 6-0 record. A member of Sterling’s starting rotation, the Rafter returnee has made a pair of starts, recording wins in both. Across eight total innings Jaeger has punched out nine hitters while walking only one and allowing five earned runs. This weekend Jaeger and company will welcome Concordia University to Sterling for a four-game series in which Jaeger is slated to make his third start.

P – Jay Peters, UW Milwaukee
The Panthers will welcome a stern challenge to open the season this weekend as they travel to Lubbock, Texas for a four-game series against Texas Tech from the Big-12. Peters will look to get his first taste of Division 1 college baseball against the Red Raiders after concluding two successful seasons as a starter for Muscatine Community College. With four pitchers returning for UW Milwaukee with starting experience, Peters will see his role with the Panthers become more clearly defined this weekend.

P – Josh Shepley, Canisius College
Following a berth in the NCAA Tournament last season, Canisius will face a strong challenge to open the season. Shepley and Canisius will travel south to Port St. Lucie, Florida to meet the University of Michigan for a four-game series this weekend. As the returner with the third most starts under his belt, Shepley has the inside track to cement his spot as a member of the Griffin’s rotation. Because two of the top three starters from a year ago return, Shepley will likely factor into the rotation in either the third or fourth slot.

C – Joey Morgan, University of Washington
The Huskies will travel to Waco, Texas to take on Baylor in a matchup of premier Division 1 baseball conferences. Starting Friday evening, the series will span three games and offer Morgan his first opportunity to showcase his advancement from his freshman to sophomore campaigns. With a full year of starting behind the plate and handling one of the best pitching staffs in the Pac-12 behind him, Morgan will look to demonstrate a refined offensive approach come opening day.

INF – Jake Lumley, Canisius College
The second of two future Rafters to dawn purple and yellow for the Griffins, Lumley will join Josh Shepley and the rest of the Canisius squad on their trip to Florida to exchange punches with Michigan. This weekend marks the beginning of Lumley’s quest to establish himself as one of the premier hitters across the country as he follows up his breakout sophomore year that saw him hit .331 and produce 39 RBI. Lumley will start in the middle infield for Canisius.

INF – Jon Meola, University of Virginia
Meola and the defending champion Cavaliers open their title defense away from Charlottsville with three games in the Caravelle Resort Tournament held in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Virginia will begin with a matchup against Kent State on Friday evening, followed by a Saturday duel with Appalachian State and a Sunday afternoon date with #23 Coastal Carolina. Virginia opens the season ranked #4 and #13 in the respective pre-season rankings. Meola, a true freshman, is not currently projected to start the opener, but will look to make his collegiate debut off the bench.

INF – Yamil Pagan, Alabama State University
Pagan will begin his follow-up act from his Freshman All-American season last year as the Hornets travel to Louisiana for a three-game series against Northwestern State. The matchup will feature a pair of teams that each won more than 30 games a year ago. A pre-season first-team All-SWAC conference selection, Pagan will begin his task of improving on his hot-hitting freshman season that saw him finish with a .321 batting average.

INF – Demetrius Sims, Bethune-Cookman University
A 2015 Rafter, Sims and his Wildcat teammates will play host to Murray State for a three-game set to start their season. Baseball America recently tabbed Sims as their preseason Player of the Year in the MEAC. After starting every game at shortstop last season as a redshirt freshman, Sims enters the weekend looking to make a significant impact at the top of the lineup. Before joining the Rafters last summer, Sims led the Wildcats in runs scored and is looking to translate his table-setting skills and athleticism into further sustained success in 2016.

OF – Doak Dozier, University of Virginia
Dozier will accompany Meola and the rest of the defending champion Virginia squad to Myrtle Beach for their three-game tournament appearance. Dozier is one of three freshman outfielders competing for two corner outfield spots in the Cavalier lineup. Dozier will look to the matchups against Kent State, Appalachian State, and #23 Coastal Carolina as his first opportunities to translate his remarkable high school performance into success in big-time Division 1 baseball. As a high school senior in 2015, Dozier led his home state of Texas with 35 stolen bases and finished second in the state with seven home runs and 56 hits.

OF – Joseph Estrada, Alabama State University
Along with future Rafter teammate Yamil Pagan, Estrada will trek to Louisiana with the Hornets to face off with Northwestern State this weekend. Following a freshman season that saw Estrada log time in the outfield both as a starter and off the bench, the Puerto Rico native has been competing for the starting job in right field throughout the offseason. Opening weekend will act as Estrada’s first chance to place his claim on the full-time right field job as Alabama State takes on the Demons.

OF – Dustin Woodcock, SIU-Edwardsville
Woodcock and SIU-Edwardsville will hit the road on opening weekend for a three-game stand against the #2 ranked Louisville Cardinals. The matchup will offer Woodcock a chance to grapple with one of the premier starting pitchers in college baseball, Kyle Funkhouser, who was drafted 35th overall by Los Angeles Dodgers last June. Coming off a Freshman All-American debut in 2015 that saw him finish second on SIU-Edwardsville with a .306 batting average, Woodcock will enter the weekend as a key offensive piece and a starter in the outfield for the Cougars.