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Leadoff settled, two a question

After the opening weekend, even though the hits didn’t flow at Carolina Stadium like they did some other places, the batting order seems to be largely settled. Junior Evan Marzilli, an on-and-off leadoff hitter during his career, seems to have that role nailed down. Hitting behind him, though, is a question.

Junior Evan Marzilli

After a season chock-full of strikeouts, Marzilli did everything head coach Ray Tanner could ask out of his leadoff hitter the opening weekend against VMI.

Marzilli was 6-of-12 at the plate, which gave him the highest batting average on the team amongst starters, with one walk and only one strikeout. He scored three runs, swiped a base, and worked deep into the count.

“He did his job,” Tanner said. “He’s a guy who has played a little bit, gotten older now, and has some maturity. He can walk if a pitch isn’t around the plate good enough, but he can hit and run the bases extremely well. He has a great feel for being a leadoff hitter. As he’s been here, he’s gotten to where he walks more. His on-base percentage will increase, which will give him an opportunity to steal bases.”

As a freshman, Marzilli came into his own down the stretch. He blossomed and became an every day outfielder after platooning some with Adam Matthews early in the season. After setting aside some hesitancy, Tanner had Marzilli as his leadoff hitter during the postseason.

In 2011, Marzilli hit leadoff 12 times but gave way to Peter Mooney later in the season. The Cranston, R.I. native had too many strikeouts, 63, to warrant the top spot. This year, he has focused on winning the job and keeping it all the way through the season.

“It’s something I definitely wanted to secure,” Marzilli said. “I want to be leadoff. I think I can do a lot of different things there. Coming into the spring, I just work on getting on base more and being a table setter. That’s just what a leadoff guy’s role is.”

Marzilli only walked 25 times last season, which was good for fifth on the team. His on-base percentage was .375, which was sixth. Those numbers needed to improve this year.

“Just get on base,” Marzilli said. “Hit the ball hard, work the counts, and try to get on base.”

Senior Adam Matthews

Tanner said that he wanted to see freshman Tanner English improve enough with the bat to challenge for the leadoff spot this season. Asked about his freshman teammate and his coach’s comments, Marzilli smiled and shrugged.

Reading his body language, it was something Marzilli sees as a challenge and a roll he doesn’t want to relinquish.

“I don’t know what to say,” Marzilli said. “Things can change. The lineup is never the same at the end of the year as it is at the beginning of the year. I’ll hit wherever he needs me to.”

Tanner wants to move English up in the order, but maybe not quite as far as he mentioned during media day. Instead of the leadoff spot, English is vying with Matthews for the two-hole in the batting order.

“Right now, it’s still a work in progress,” Tanner said. “It’s still early. Someone else could emerge, too. We’ll just have to see. I’m not really set right now.”

But he knows his top candidates are his corner outfield duo. Matthews started the first game hitting second in the lineup, but English was penciled in for the spot in both games on Saturday.

Both have their strengths and weaknesses at the spot, but Tanner admitted prior to the VMI series he wanted his experience near the top of the lineup. Following the series, he was unsure what he wanted to do.

Adam Matthews is an older guy who can hit in the two-hole, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to take the bat out of his hands,” Tanner said. “He has an opportunity to hit some doubles and hit the ball out of the yard. I don’t really want to take the bat so much.”

Matthews was 2-for-9 on the weekend with one walk and three strikeouts. He did score a run and was credited with a double to the gap in right center when the VMI outfielders converged and both backed away from the popup.

English was 3-for-11 on the weekend with two runs scored and a pair of RBIs. He didn’t strike out, dropped a sacrifice bunt, and chipped in an outfield assist, which doesn’t have any bearing on his spot in the batting order.

Tanner English got a couple games there last weekend and he could be the guy if he gets his bunts down and makes good, solid contact,” Tanner said.

The coaching staff has worked hard with English to keep the ball out of the air. He left the weekend series with a couple of pop outs, but he tried to keep the ball on a line or on the ground.

Whether he can do that from weekend to weekend or not is the question, but one that his coach doesn’t have the answer to just yet.

Get your lineup cards ready, because batting first will be Marzilli. Christian Walker and LB Dantzler will be third and fourth, respectively. Just have to figure out who to put at two.

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