from staff reports
The Meridian Star
Dillon Sudduth didn’t have to have a history lesson when he took over as head baseball coach at Meridian Community College.
He was a second baseman on the school’s 2004 team that earned a spot in the NJCAA College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., and served as assistant coach at MCC for the past five years, helping former head coaches Chris Rose and Chris Curry add to that legacy.
Now Sudduth will be the one in charge of the program that has sent seven teams to the JUCO World Series, when the Eagles open the 2013 season in Monroeville, Ala., today against Chipola Junior College
“I’m extremely aware of the tradition here,” said Sudduth. “You are always aware of those who have come before you. It gives you a great appreciation of the program and what it has taken to o get this far.”
While there is evidence of the past everywhere he turns, including the retired jerseys of former coach Corky Palmer and Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, who pitched at MCC for two years, Sudduth’s focus is on the future of the program.
“We are really going to be a balanced team with some good runners and a lot of speed at the top of the lineup,” he said. “We have some experienced guys coming back, some good young guys and we are pretty deep when it comes to pitching.”
One of the spark plugs offensively for MCC will be center fielder and leadoff hitter Jonathan Youngblood, who was drafted in the 15th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of last season.
“He came back this year in an effort to improve upon his draft stock,” Sudduth said.
“We are looking for big things out of him. He is 6-foot-3, 185 pounds and can really run and throw. He has gotten a lot stronger since he got there.”
The Eagles are also looking for big things out of first baseman Dallas Hannah and left fielder Charles Morton.
Youngblood hit .279 for the Eagles, who went 36-23 last season, while Hannah ó a former MHS Wildcat ó hit .336 and drove in 23 runs.
Sudduth is also looking for some offensive pop out of the freshman catching duo of Kevin Hall and Garrett Larosa. Max Seibert and Levi Runyon will see time at third, while Brooks Balisterri is set to anchor the defense at shortstop with Ben Gann and Grant Hill vying for playing time at second base. Paul Angel is expected to get the nod in right field.
Among the returning pitchers who will be leading the Eagles into their final year in the Miss-Lou Conference is sophomore Brandon Davis, who went 3-3 with a 3.85 ERA in 2012.
“He was one of our conference starters last year and has a lot of experience,” Sudduth said. “We will also be looking for Mitchel Babb to help us.” The left-hander from South Panola will pitch for Ole Miss in 2014.
Others Sudduth is counting on to provide big innings on the mound are former Lamar School standout Witt Haggard, lefty Jace Belcher of Quitman and Blake Barrow of Montgomery, Ala. Sudduth said freshman Kellon Hibbard of Collier, Tenn., will also figure heavily into the Eagles’ pitching plans.
After opening with Chipola and Alabama Southern, MCC returns home to Scaggs Field to host East Mississippi Community College on Tuesday for a noon doubleheader. That begins an eight-game homestand that concludes on Feb. 23-24 with MCC hosting Hinds and Kaskaskia in the Rush Invitational Tournament.