PRINCESS ANNE, Md. - The University of Maryland Eastern Shore baseball team comes into the 2012 season looking to build upon strong conference play last year. Head coach Will Gardner returns for his sixth season with the Hawks and will use a strong combination of returners and newcomers to compete for a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title. Despite a 9-41 season, UMES made strong strides in MEAC play. The Hawks more than doubled their conference wins from three in 2010 to seven last year, earning a five-seed in the conference tournament. UMES defeated Florida A&M in the MEACs for its first tournament victory since 2007. UMES also set a milestone mark in conference awards. Designated hitter Bryan Chaikowsky became the first Hawk in 20 years to be a First Team All-MEAC player, hitting .360 with nine doubles, nine triples with six home runs in his senior season. INFIELD With the departure of UMES's two primary corner infielders, Luis Mena and Elliott Alston, the Hawks will have a good mix of returners and newcomers on the lower half of the diamond. Senior James Newsome (Mechanicsville, Md.) served as the team's shortstop last year, finishing with a .255 average including 12 extra base hits and going 12-14 in stolen base attempts. Shaquille Bagwell (Atlantic, Va.) started 45 games at second base last season as a junior, getting a .235 average with eight doubles and had the lowest strikeout total of all regular players with just 22. Sophomore Jeffrey Fleetwood (Delmar, Md.) provided a source of power off the bench as a first baseman, going .227 with a pair of home runs and six combined extra base hits in 66 at-bats. Rounding out the returning infielders is sophomore Jordan McDougal (Oxon Hill, Md.), who reached base in two of his three games played. Six freshmen will be the mix to fill the rest of the infield, including three players with high school All-American accolades. Brady Bassford (Olney, Md.), a Rawlings and Perfect Game Preseason All-American as a second baseman, Joshua James (Milford, Del.) an Under Armour Preseason All-American and Chipper Smith (Florence, S.C.), a Pro-Day and Baseball Factory All-American, will all compete for starting spots. A pair of Delmar High School players will suit up for the Maroon and Grey for the first time: Nick Cooper (Delmar, Del.) and Thomas Gray (Delmar, Del.) join the team as freshmen. In addition, Aaron Burton (Roanoke, Va.) will compete for a spot on the left side of the infield of at second base. OUTFIELD The outfield is where UMES has the strongest experience in the lineup this season, returning four players with at least 22 starts in '11. Leading the corps is Second Team All-MEAC and MEAC All-Tournament Team center fielder Tre-von Johnson (East New Market, Md.), UMES's leadoff hitter last year. The junior and current team captain hit .359 last season, leading the team with 11 doubles, 15 stolen bases and 38 runs scored. Starting 40 games as a corner outfielder last season, sophomore Byron Campbell (Waldorf, Md.) hit .183 in '11, earning five extra base hits and stealing five bases. Sophomore lefty Stephen Bull (Millsboro, Del.) hit .211, going 4-4 on stolen base attempts and scored 10 runs, and senior Franklin Armstrong (Trenton, N.J.) went .180 last year with six RBI and two stolen bases. Last year these four, playing in 158 games including 136 starts, allowed just eight errors combined and totaled 15 outfield assists. A trio of newcomers will bolster the outfield's strength. Malik Wylie (Bronx, N.Y.), a transfer from Westchester Community College, joins the Hawks in junior standing. UMES also adds two players from along the Eastern Shore. Tim Gray (Dover, Del.) from Dover High School and Dylan Bell (Salisbury, Md.) from Parkside High School will each push for time beyond the infield soil. CATCHERS UMES will go to newcomers behind the dish with the departure of Nick Wiggins and Luis Mena, who combined to start all 50 games at catcher last season. Brandon Schott (Warren, Pa.) comes to UMES after two years at Allegany College of Maryland, including playing his first year with Jacob Foreman. He enters the spring in the lead to be the starting catcher and is a team captain. Two freshmen from the Eastern Shore will also compete at catcher: Dustin Aigner (Melfa, Va.), from Nandua High School and Zach Townsend (Salisbury, Md.) from Parkside High School. PITCHING STAFF The Hawks return six of their seven pitchers this season, adding six more to make a full- time staff of 12. UMES will need to replace the production of Matt Witte, the team's top pitcher last year. Two members of last year's weekend rotation will suit up in Princess Anne again. Senior team captain Jacob Foreman (Little Orleans, Md.) threw the most innings for the Hawks last season with 76.1, getting a 3-9 record with 50 strikeouts. Also back in the rotation is sophomore Tyler Witte (Westminster, Md.) who went 1-9 and striking out 44 in 63.1 innings. Serving as a reliever and mid-week starter, Karim Gonzalez (Mexico City, Mexico) is the lone four-year UMES pitcher. He went 2-6 last year with a save, throwing 51 innings with 43 strikeouts. Zachary Saca (Elk Grove, Calif.) also served as a mid-week starter and reliever, having the lowest walk ratio on the team last season with one walk every 2.7 innings, throwing 58.2 innings last year. Bernard Parker (Waldorf, Md.) served as the primary reliever last season, throwing in 25 games for a combined 36.2 innings, striking out 20 batters in his freshman season. Also out of the bullpen last season is current sophomore Sean Woods (Clinton, Md.), who pitched 15 innings in 14 games with six strikeouts. From Rockland Community College comes Jesus Hernandez (Haverstraw, N.Y.), who is expected to compete for a place in the starting rotation, getting three wins and 22 strikeouts last season. Five freshmen will look for time on the mound with the Hawks. Devin Repine (Salisbury, Md.), a local player from Bennett High School, is the tallest player on the team at 6-8. Also from the state of Maryland is Alex Welch (Baltimore, Md.), who will compete for a mid-week starting spot. From Pennsylvania comes Jordan Bone (Pittston, Pa.), the team's only southpaw pitcher this season, and Michael Epps (Pottstown, Pa.), a starter who threw a pair of complete games in his high school career. Smith will also do some pitching along with playing as an infielder. SCHEDULE This year will see changes in the MEAC. With the addition of North Carolina Central and Savannah State into the conference this year, MEAC baseball is now split into two divisions. UMES will compete in the Northern Division along with Delaware State, Coppin State and Norfolk State. Teams will only play other division members in conference play. The Hawks are set to play 53 games this season, including 23 at Hawks Stadium. In addition to the change in the conference members, the number of MEAC games this year increases from 18 to 24. UMES will begin the season with a three-game road series against Gardner-Webb from Feb. 17-19. After a mid-week game with Navy, the Hawks fly to Alabama to play in the Bulldog Classic to take on host Alabama A&M, Indiana State and Western Illinois. The home slate begins on Wednesday, February 29th with a doubleheader against Lehigh. The homestand continues with a pair of twinbills against Cornell. The remainder of UMES's non-conference slate includes a three-day road weekend against Philadelphia schools Villanova, Temple and Saint Joseph's, three home games against Mount St. Mary's, a mid-week trip to the Tar Heel State to face Elizabeth City State and North Carolina Central, a home-and-away matchup with George Washington, a weekend series at Longwood, a second game with Navy and a road contest against Towson. Conference play begins with a road series against Norfolk State, starting with a doubleheader on March 17th and a single game the next day. It will be the first of three series against NSU. UMES will also play three series with Delaware State and two with Coppin State. The MEAC Tournament will be held in Norfolk, Virginia from May 17-20.