Pete Cardenas is in a state of mourning. You would be too if you lost your best baseball player for the season after a freak preseason injury.
Starling Odoms, the top returning player in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, tore his anterior cruciate ligament and will not play in 2005. The senior outfielder and team captain will receive a medical redshirt and is expected to be available in 2006.
"Certain players you just can't replace," said Cardenas, the fifth-year Paine coach. "And that one right there hurts."
Before Odoms' injury, high expectations surrounded Paine's program. After four consecutive winning seasons during Cardenas' reign, the Lions had gained a measure of national respect.
In the preseason BlackCollegeBaseball.com poll, Paine checked in at No. 3 in Division II play behind West Virginia State and Albany State.
"It's humbling because of all the hard work that has been put in the past four years," Cardenas said. "At the same time, I play it one game at a time. At the end of the season, we'll look at what we've accomplished."
Cardenas led the Lions to a 30-18 mark last season and the conference's Eastern Division title. Paine, which returns five position players, opens its season at noon today with a doubleheader at Voorhees College (S.C.).
Paine's pressing question will be how to replace Odoms. He was named the 2004 SIAC Player of the Year after recording a .485 batting average with 16 doubles, 50 RBI and 42 stolen bases on 42 attempts. He also led the nation with 11 triples.
Senior outfielder Andrew Carner and sophomore Noah Perrymond will platoon in left field in place of Odoms. After that, the team can rely on four sophomores named to the all-SIAC preseason team, including shortstop Donovan Phillips, outfielder Dominique Morgan, designated hitter Brian Shuler and pitcher Donald Skanes.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
CONFERENCE: Southern Intercollegiate
COACH: Pete Cardenas, fifth year (107-69)
2004 RECORD: 30-18
2004 POSTSEASON: lost to Albany State in SIAC Tournament championship game
RETURNING STARTERS: 2B Donovan Phillips (So., .403, 49 RBI, 50 runs, 36 SB); CF John Kelsey (So., .374, 14 2B, 38 RBI, 19 SB); 3B Brandon Hall (So., .258, 31 runs, 33 RBI); RF Dominique Morgan (So., .361, 44 runs, 36 RBI); 1B Charles Carpenter (Jr., .111, 4 runs); P Donald Skanes (So., 11-2, 5.20 ERA, 89 K, 52 BB); DH Brian Shuler (So., .367, 13 runs, 15 RBI)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: SS Carlos Cahee (Jr.), DH Matt Redden (Sr.), P Justin Hines (Fr.)NOTES: Five of Paine's top six hitters return. ... Phillips has a team-high 29 of the team's 102 errors. ... Five starters return, the majority of them sophomores.
OUTLOOK: Cardenas has built the Lions into a solid program within the SIAC, which is not exactly a baseball hotbed. Defeating Augusta State and winning the SIAC Tournament are high priorities. Accomplishing one of the two would be quite a feat. Doing both, and winning another 30 games, would almost make for a perfect season.