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Influx of junior transfers fuel a revamped Knights rotation

By Jessica Gillespie
On February 16, 2011

Danny Winkler is being thrown right into the fire, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

The junior-college transfer led Parkland College to a JuCo national title two years ago, and now he's ready to take over as the ace of the Knights baseball team's rotation.

"That was one thing I strived for from when I committed here," Winkler said. "I wanted to be the guy here, I wanted to bring this organization to a level that they haven't been and I wanted to be that guy."

The Knights start off their season on Friday night with a home series against Siena, a team they swept last season. The Knights are 31-3 all time against the Saints; the Knights are also 22-16 on opening day.

Projected Line-Up

Ronnie Richardson CF

Darnell Sweeney SS

Beau Taylor C

Jonathan Griffin 1B

Ryan Breen LF

Erik Hempe RF

D.J. Hicks DH

Austin Johnston 3B

Travis Shreve 2B

Pitching Rotation

All three starters for the Knights are junior transfers. Winkler, a right-handed pitcher from Parkland College in Illinois, will be the Friday-night starter.

Winkler said that the realistic expectation for the Knights is Omaha. The junior college transfer already knows what winning feels like. As a freshman, Winkler went 3-0 with a 3.60 ERA and Parkland College won the NJCAA national title with a 49-9 record.

"Danny Winkler is a guy, one of the few of the junior college pitchers that we brought in that when we signed him, we really anticipated that he would be part of our rotation," head coach Terry Rooney said. "Now he had to go out and earn it, and he earned it."

Matt Collins, also a righty, will start on the mound on Saturday.

Collins went to the University of West Florida out of high school, but after Tommy John surgery he went to Daytona State College.

"For me to come in here and get a weekend-start job, it's what I've been looking forward to, it's a huge honor, especially at this program," Collins said.

Junior Ray Hanson, out of Cypress College in California, will start on Sunday. Hanson was inducted into the Cypress College Baseball Hall of Fame and was drafted in the 47th round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants.

What to Watch For

- Siena's projected starters are Kyle Sumple, Justin Brantley and Zach Hartman. Brantley was the Friday-night starter in last year's series and he also got the loss. Brantley was pulled from the game after Beau Taylor and Chris Duffy tripled and Chris Taladay homered in the fifth inning. Sumple started in last year's 12-inning Saturday game.

- Shortstop Darnell Sweeney ended the series against Siena last season with six hits and four runs.

- Joe Rogers got the win in the 12-inning game last season. Rogers is the best returning pitcher from last year's team with a 4-2 record and a 4.5 ERA. The sophomore has been named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award Watch List in the preseason and will start off the season as a closer.

- Center fielder Ronnie Richardson might also close this season. Rooney said that Richardson is going to pitch some this season and that he has a "wicked curve ball."

New bats

All NCAA baseball players will be using different bats starting this season. This new standard will better measure batters offensively and these non-wood bats will be more similar to wood bats.

"It doesn't have a lot of pop compared to last year but we're really going to see who's the real hitters this year," Sweeney said.

Chris Taladay, who was named the 2010 Conference USA Freshman of the Year, said the difference in the bats doesn't matter.

"It's still a baseball game," Taladay said. "You can't let something little like that change the way you play. You got to play your game and just do your best every day."

Taladay won't be playing against Siena because he is still recovering from a shoulder injury, but last year he posted eight home runs and 19 doubles with a season average of .352.

Richardson said that while power numbers will be down that batting averages should still be OK.

"Guys that can hit are still gonna hit," Richardson said. "Guys that have power are still gonna hit their home runs but you're not going to see many accidental home runs, like you've actually got to hit it in order to get it out of the park now."

D.J. Hicks returns

After having a notable freshman season, pitcher and first baseman D.J. Hicks earned a medical redshirt last season due to an injury. Now Hicks is back and feeling healthy.

"We took almost a year off," Hicks said. "We tried coming back last year, like midway. Really wasn't ready but you know, we wanted try, you know, don't want to sit out a year."

After sitting the first seven games last year, he played in six games and started in five before he sat the rest of the season.

"After sitting out a year you learn a lot," Hicks said.

Hicks plans to get back on track by doing the same thing he did two years ago and hopes to make the All-C-USA squad. As a freshman, Hicks had a .301 average with eight homers in 43 games.

Brown and Duffy honored

Former Knights Shane Brown and Chris Duffy will return to Orlando for Friday's game and will have their jerseys honored prior to the first pitch.

Brown was drafted in the 23rd round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees and plays for the Yankees' single-A minor league affiliate, the Staten Island Yankees.

Duffy was drafted in the 26th round of the 2010 MLB draft by the Philadelphia Phillies and plays for the Phillies' single-A minor league affiliate, the Lakewood BlueClaws.

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