After originally being scheduled to start the 2018 season at the friendly confines of Ken Turner Field, the East Central University baseball team will hit the road to begin the year with a four-game series at Southwest Baptist in Bolivar, Missouri.

The switch was made due to construction delays on the fence at Ken Turner Field.

The two teams will kick things off with a single game at 2 p.m. today and play a 1 p.m. contest on Friday. A Saturday doubleheader is set to begin at noon.

The Tigers finished the 2017 season with an 11-29 overall record and a 10-22 mark in the Great American Conference (10th). ECU was picked to finish 11th in the 2018 GAC Preseason Poll, with only nine players returning for the 2018 campaign.

Of the nine returners for the Tigers, six are relief pitchers. Senior Kiyaannii Bohan — a Byng High School product — saw the most action in 2017. Bohan, who coached the Ada A’s American Legion baseball team last summer, pitched 11 inning in 11 appearances and allowed 17 hits and 17 runs while recording six strikeouts.

The top returning fielding player is senior Connor Stevenson. Stevenson earned a .296 batting average, 27 runs, 40 hits, five doubles, seven home runs, 34 RBIs and a .917 (10-12-2) fielding percentage.

Once again returning to be a part of head coach Dino Rosato’s coaching staff is assistant Nolan Fanning, a graduate of Coalgate High School. A new addition to ECU’s coaching staff is assistant Matt Benedict, a former Tupelo High School All-State player who has spent three seasons as a pitcher for at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

The Bearcats finished the 2017 season with a 30-21 overall record and an 18-9 mark in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. SBU returned 19 total players, nine of which are pitchers.

Andrew Meijer is the top fielding player returning, hitting .408, and recording 29 runs, 58 hits, 28 RBIs and a .966 fielding percentage. Drew Wagner brings the most experience back to the mound, throwing in 20 games in 2017 and earning a 5-3 record. Wagner garnered a 4.59 ERA, allowed 84 hits and 49 runs and struck out 58 batters in his 68.2 innings.

This will be the second season that the Bearcats will open the season against a GAC team, after going 3-0 against Southern Nazarene a year ago.

The Tigers and SBU will be facing each other for the first time since at least 1999 (when year-by-year results are available).

Note: Ada News sports editor Jeff Cali contributed to this report.

Jeff Cali has been covering sports in the Ada area since the mid-90s. He graduated from Byng High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from East Central University.