Baseball steps up to the plate in new conference


Sophomore infielder Carson Garner returns as a big piece for the Racers as they head into the 2023 season. Photo by Rebeca Mertins Chiodini/The News.

Simon Elfrink, Contributing writer

A warmer week serves as a welcome reminder Murray State baseball’s return is right around the corner. Head Coach Dan Skirka and the Racers are just days away from retaking the diamond and are determined to secure a 30-win season for the third year in a row. 

Murray State baseball finished last year’s season with exactly 30 wins (30-25), losing 9-2 in the first round of the OVC Tournament against Tennessee Tech University. 

Since then, the Racers have moved to a new conference and graduated several key players Skirka and the rest of the coaching staff are no doubt striving to replace, which is no easy task this season. 

After losing players like center fielder Jake Slunder, third baseman Bryson Bloomer and middle infielder Jordan Holly, among others in the offseason, Skirka and the rest of the staff will look to players like junior infielder Drew Vogel to manufacture the runs the Racers will need to make a splash in 2023. 

After playing just five games in 2021, Vogel turned up the heat his sophomore year, starting in 54 games and hitting a respectable .258. He also smashed seven homers and drove in 36 runs, achieving a .794 OPS in the process. 

Sophomore infielder Carson Garner might be one of the most interesting up-and-comers in the Racers’ dugout. Garner hit .260 with a .787 OPS and five home runs in his freshman season, appearing in 42 games.

Graduate returner Brennan McCullough is expected to play valuable innings in the outfield, having started in 46 games last season. McCullough’s average is nothing to call home about (.256), but his power might be: seven home runs and a .463 slugging percentage helped him pick up 28 RBIs.  McCullough was also a danger on the basepaths last season, swiping 18 bags on 21 attempts.

Redshirt junior left-hander Jordyn Naranjo pitched his fair share of innings out of the bullpen last season, posting a 2-2 record and tallying 20 strikeouts. Naranjo also chalked up two saves to his name and held his opponents to a .224 batting average, the second-lowest on the team. 

One of the highly anticipated returners is redshirt junior right-hander Jacob Pennington, who pitched in 53.2 innings last season, posting a 4.86 ERA and striking out 47 batters. Those numbers, along with his 3-1 record on the hill, would be reason enough to mention him, but Pennington has been appearing as a full-time two-way player for the Racers since 2021. 

In 2022, Pennington hit .289 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs. His on-base percentage (.417) was second only to Bloomer among the Racers, accounting for a .905 OPS. To top it all off, Pennington also jumped onto the base-stealing bandwagon, nabbing eight on as many attempts. 

With plenty of returning faces and a new conference to challenge the Racers, Murray State marches into the 2023 season head first. The first series of the season starts on Feb. 17 when the Racers travel to take on the University of North Florida for a three-game series against the Ospreys.


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