Hattiesburg, Miss.- (2017 Schedule) William Carey University will begin the 2017 season on February 3-5 as they host the WCU Invitational at Milton Wheeler Field.

Last season WCU posted a 40-21 record and finished the season ranked 20th in the final NAIA Coaches' Top 25 poll. Last month the NAIA announced the preseason top 25 and Carey will begin the season ranked 23rd.

The Southern States Athletic Conference also announced the baseball preseason poll and Carey was voted third by the league coaches.

Head Coach Bobby Halford returns seven starters in the field led by All-SSAC selection Tyler Odom (SR/Hattiesburg, Miss.). Odom hit .387 last season while driving in 53 runs. Odom was second on the team in RBI's and led the team in doubles. Adrian Brown (SR/McComb, Miss.) also returns for his senior campaign after having a great season in 2016. The senior centerfielder hit .382 with 5 home runs and drove in 45 runs. Brown also accounted for 29 stolen bases which was good enough for second on the team. First baseman James Land (SR/Gulfport, Miss.) returns as well after hitting .306 last season with 54 RBI's. Land caught fire in the opening round of the national tournament in California and hit 5 home runs to tie an NAIA record for most home runs in a opening round. Other returning starters for the Crusaders include 2B Tyler James (JR/Slidell, La.) (.298, 22 RBI, 35 SB), 3B Cody Christian (SR/Satsuma, Ala.) (.338, 3 HR, 25 RBI), and SS Wes Brown (JR/Denham Springs, La.) (.260, 15 RBI). Senior Catcher Tyler Graves (SR/Petal, Miss.) is expected to fill Lowe's role behind the plate. As a junior, Graves hit .295 with one round tripper and 14 RBI while serving as the back up to Lowe.

The Crusader pitching staff must also replace a good chunk of its production from a year ago. Carey lost 5 pitchers to graduation including starters Mason Woodrow (6-3, 4.26 ERA, 61 K) and JD Little (8-1, 4.43 ERA, 65 K). However, the biggest loss could be to ace reliever Kyle Deckwa. Deckwa posted a 7-3 record in relief and sported a 2.34 ERA while striking out 64 in 61 innings of work. The Crusaders return Sophomore Devin Smith (SO/Franklinton, La.) after a fantastic freshman campaign. Smith finished the season with a record of 6-1 and an ERA of 3.35 to earn Freshman All-Conference honors. Carey also returns veteran reliever Lane Fazende (SR/Picayune, Miss.). Fazende was an integral part of the Carey bullpen last season as he posted a 3-3 record with a 3.07 ERA in 19 appearances for the Crusaders. In addition to Smith and Fazende the Crusaders will count on returners senior Sam Richard (SR/Jackson, Miss.) and sophomore Lake Robertson (SO/Hammond, La.).

"Offensively, we could be better with all of the guys that are returning. Graves gives us a solid catcher behind the plate and defensively we should be solid. The good thing is that most of these guys have played together for a couple of years, some for three years, and that should give us an edge over a lot of teams. We play a tough schedule right out of the gate so we will have to hit the ground running" says Head Coach Bobby Halford.