BASEBALL: Recruiting class reaches 'five'

LEXINGTON – The Kentucky baseball team announced the signing of four players Wednesday to bring the total size of the 2005 recruiting class to five.

The Wildcat received national letter-of-intent's from Phil Britton, Marcus Nidiffer, Chris Rusin and Ryan Strieby. The four join Lexington native Chaz Roe, who has already signed, to round out the five. The group includes two pitchers, two catchers and a corner infielder.

Britton, a catcher, comes from Olney Central College in Olney, Ill. He hit .426 with 15 home runs and set a school record with 89 runs batted in en route to second-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-America honors. He was also drafted in the 36th round of the Major League Amateur Draft by the Atlanta Braves this past summer.

"Phil is a hard nosed young man with tremendous talents, both offensively and defensively," said Cohen. "The numbers that he put up last year as a freshman are more impressive than any other freshman junior college catcher in the country last year.

"He is a very athletic catcher who possesses outstanding arm strength. His baseball abilities coupled with his leadership skills will make him a valuable asset to our program."

Nidiffer, a Bristol, Tenn., native, has played for David Halstead at Tennessee High School since his sophomore year. A two-sport star, Nidiffer is the starting catcher for the baseball team and the starting quarterback for the football team. He is also a very good student, boasting a 4.0 grade-point average.

This past season, Nidiffer was earned first-team All-Conference and first-team All-Northeast Tennessee honors while also being named to the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association Underclassman Team. He batted .356 with seven home runs and 30 runs batted in as a junior while also recorded a staggering .521 on-base percentage. Behind the plate, he is an excellent defensive catcher.

"We're really excited to have Marcus," said Cohen. "He's a great student, a team leader in football and a team leader in baseball. He has tremendous arm strength and tremendous athleticism. He will be an exceptional catcher for us and we think he can be a great offensive player for us as well."

Rusin is a left-handed pitcher who led Divine Child High School to the 2004 Michigan State Championship and was named first-team All-State as a junior. In each of the past two years, Rusin earned the victory in the Catholic League Championship game at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers.

He went 12-1 last season with a 1.05 earned-run average in 62 2/3 innings pitched. He struck out 88 and walked just 26. At the plate, he hit .470 with 21 runs scored and 22 RBI. As a sophomore, Rusin was 7-1 with a 1.75 ERA to garner all-region honors. He also stars in basketball at Divine Child where he is a two-time all-city selection.

"Chris has a tremendous feel for pitching and is a great big game pitcher," said Cohen. "He has a tremendous fastball with movement. He is an outstanding athlete who does a good job controlling the opponents' running game. With maturity and strength, his future is bright."

Standing 6-6 and 235 pounds, Strieby is a corner infielder for Edmonds Community College (Brier, Wash.) in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges. He was drafted in the 29th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers this past summer. Using a wooden bat this past year, he hit .338 and led the team with 35 RBIs en route to first-team All-NWAACC honors.

"Ryan is an extremely athletic big man that has the versatility to play either first or third base," said Cohen. "He'll add tremendous power for us in the middle the lineup and we're excited to get him in the program."

Roe, a first-team All-State pitcher at Lafayette High School, has been rated as the 35th best prospect in the nation by Baseball America. He led the Generals to the state championship game in 2004 with a one-hitter in the quarterfinals and a game-winning two-run home run in the semifinals.

On the mound Roe, who stands 6-5, compiled an 8-1 record with a minuscule 0.90 ERA in 61 innings pitched. He struck out 91 batters and allowed opponents to hit just .139. Offensively, he hit an astounding .421 with 40 runs scored and 44 runs batted in. Among Roe's 45 hits were 29 doubles and six home runs.

"Chaz Roe is one of the top high school pitchers in America," said Cohen. "When you break down his tools as a pitcher, he's the total package. He shows command and has great velocity and movement on his pitches. Because of his tremendous athleticism, he is also able to field his position very well and has the ability to play the middle infield."

Roe also has outstanding baseball bloodlines. His great uncle is Major League Hall of Fame member Bill Mazeroski, who is most well-known for hitting a walk-off home run in game seven of the 1960 World Series to lift the Pittsburgh Pirates to the championship over the New York Yankees.

The 2005 class comes on the heels of the 2004 group, which was rated as one of the top 25 classes in the country by Collegiate Baseball.

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