2013 Georgia Southern Baseball Preview
STATESBORO, Ga. - Georgia Southern baseball is coming off a second-straight appearance in the Southern Conference Tournament Championship Game and their third in the past four years. The disappointment over the season-ending injury to Victor Roache (2011’s NCAA leader in home runs and first-round draft pick) early in the year was equaled by the emergence of freshman All-American Chase Griffin behind the plate and the team’s strong finish in the conference tournament. Head coach Rodney Hennon is hoping to build on the finish to the 2012 season.
“I was really proud of our guys last year and the way they finished. Last year’s team overcame a lot of adversity along the way, and we really played our best baseball the last week of the year in Greenville,” Hennon said. “We were able to see a lot of young players and players that were new to our program develop over the course of the season. Hopefully that experience and the momentum we had at the end of the season is going to carry over into this year.”
Hennon and his staff will take on the challenge of returning to a third-straight conference tournament final with 19 returning letterwinners and 9 starters (seven position, two rotation). The Eagles will also also add three redshirts and 10 newcomers to the mix this season.
Georgia Southern finished the 2012 season winners of seven of their last 10 games and are looking to return to the SoCon Tournament Championship game for an unprecedented third-straight time.
The Eagles’ 2013 scheduled is highlighted by 16 games against 2012 NCAA Regional teams: Appalachian State, Clemson, College of Charleston, Florida, Georgia Tech and Samford as well as home games against Georgia, Indiana, Elon and Furman.
In the Field
Georgia Southern brings back an experienced core in the field and at the plate, returning seven starters from last season’s squad that hit .348/.429/.423 with 10 extra-base hits and scored 43 runs during their four-game stint at the conference tournament.
Freshman All-American and Southern Conference Freshman of the Year Chase Griffin returns for his sophomore season. Griffin was the first Eagle freshman to hit 10 home runs since Steve Walson hit 12 in 1996. The Leesburg, Ga., native capped off his inaugural season behind the plate by hitting .320 with 42 RBIs in 55 games. Griffin grew leaps and bounds from the start of the season to the end of the year and was a SoCon All-Tournament team selection. Backing up Griffin will be a mix of players in Michael McClellan (McDonough, Ga./Union Grove), Brent Pugh (.220, 10 RBIs) and Zac Lenns (,208, 3 RBIs).
“Chase had to learn on the go in a lot of ways last year, but I thought we saw a lot of improvement from him, Hennon said. “He has continued to make progress defensively and with the bat. He gives us some leadership out there. He is a hard nosed player and sets the tone for us in a lot of ways.”
Georgia Southern returns nearly the entire infield from a year ago but will be without the school’s all-time hits leader in Eric Phillips. The Eagles have a core group of experienced infielders in juniors Pugh and Ben Morgan (.243, 12 RBIs), senior T.D. Davis (.308, 34 RBIs) and sophomore Tyler Avera (.283, 27 RBIs). GSU also returns Casey Kicklighter (.235, 12 RBIs) and Garren Palmer (.309, 12 RBIs) and brought in freshman Cole Watson (Canton, Ga./Woodstock) to compete on the left side of the infield.
“One concern is our numbers in the infield. We don’t have as much depth number wise, but I do feel that we are very athletic. We have a chance to be really good defensively because we have some guys that can cover some ground in the infield,” Hennon said. “Tyler Avera had an outstanding year as a true freshman at second base for us last year. He has learned a lot from that experience. We have on the left side of the infield two experienced guys in Ben Morgan and Brent Pugh. Over at first base we saw T.D. really gain some confidence as the season went along, and he really became a big part of our middle of the order. Garren Palmer came on strong down the stretch and in the tournament. Those guys can factor in the middle of the order, and we are comfortable with either one of those guys at first base.”
Despite losing Victor Roache, the Eagles are probably at their deepest in the outfield. The Eagles return four players who saw action a year ago including senior Scooter Williams (.290, 25 RBIs) who started all 60 games in center field.
“We have more overall depth in the outfield, and I think we are very athletic out there. We have some speed and some arm strength as well. We may have the option to match up and load the lineup with right handed hitters because we have the numbers to do it.”
The Eagles also return Stryker Brown (.257, 24 RBIs), Zach Lenns (.208, 3 RBIs) and Hunter Thomas (.221, 14 RBIs) who combined to record 51 starts in right field in place of Roache. Roache’s injury allowed for a number of guys to gain experience which should help the Eagles in 2013. The outfield will also be boasted by two Eagles who did not see action in 2012.
“Kyle Streicher, who was a redshirt, has shown a lot of improvement from last year to now. He could see a lot of time in center field,” Hennon said. “Arthur Owens is back from injury this year, and he gives us another experienced guy who can handle the bat.”
Georgia Southern will also have in the outfield newcomers Johnny Blue Craig (Tallahasse, Fla./Amos P. Godby), Robbie Dodds (Mount Pleasant, S.C./Spartanburg Methodist) and Teft Hill (Ft. Myers, Fla./Cypress Lake).
Utility players Zac Lenns and Brent Pugh are able to help the Eagles in a number of areas. Hennon noted that Lenns can play all three outfield spots and catcher, while Pugh can play second and third base along with catcher. Figuring out where best to use these athletes is something Hennon is looking forward to exploring in preseason practice.
“That is something we are going to experiment a little bit with in preseason practice. It is always a luxury to have guys like that,” Hennon said.
On the Mound
Georgia Southern returns senior starter Justin Hess and senior closer Kyle Rowe from last’s year squad. The Eagles posted their lowest ERA since 2004 and the lowest since pitching coach B.J. Green joined the staff in 2010. GSU also finished third in the SoCon with 476 strikeouts.
The Eagles return two of the three members of their weekend rotation from a year ago but will be without Will Middour (3-3, 3.60 ERA) for the season due to Tommy John surgery. Justin Hess is set to take over the Friday night role vacated by second round draft pick Chris Beck. Hess came on strong to post a 1-0 record with a 1.86 ERA during two appearances in the SoCon Tournament. A SoCon All-Tournament selection, Hess finished the 2012 season with a 5-3 record and 3.76 ERA in 14 starts on the mound.
“Justin Hess really stepped up for us last year, and Justin took upon himself a leadership role. For the second half of the season, Justin was probably our most effective pitcher. We really started to solidify our rotation last year once we stayed with him in the rotation,” Hennon said. “He does an outstanding job setting the tone whether it be on the field or in the weight room.”
Georgia Southern will look at a number of arms to fill their final two weekend rotation spots. Sam Howard (3-1, 5.18 ERA), Evan Challenger (Mount Dora, Fla./Mount Dora), Josh Stevenson (2-2, 6.18 ERA), Matt McCall (Valdosta, Ga./Mercer), Heath Durand (1-1, 4.15 ERA) and Jason Richman (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton) will all compete during preseason practice for a starting role.
“Sam Howard has really improved a lot from last year to this year. He looked really strong in the fall,” Hennon said. “Sam was thrown to the fire at times last year, but he is a year stronger and more mature. He potentially gives us a left handed arm in the rotation. Another guy that was impressive in the fall and is vying for a spot in the rotation is Evan Challenger. He did a nice job in the fall of changing speeds and locating the baseball.”
Once the weekend rotation is settled, the bullpen will start to take shape; but Georgia Southern already has one position locked down. Closer Kyle Rowe is back from a year ago and should be the mainstay in the back end of the Eagles’ bullpen. Rowe was second on the team a year ago with six saves and posted a 6-2 record with a 4.41 ERA in 25 games.
“Rowe and Leverett were the guys we leaned on last year. It is good that Rowe has that experience and it gives us some leadership down in the bullpen,” Hennon said. “Depending on how some things shake out in preseason practice we will define some of those roles as we get ready for opening day. Chris Myers has gotten a lot of experience out of the bullpen and is a guy you can depend on to throw strikes. If we are not using Drew Johnson as a starter, he is another guy we will feel comfortable going to out of the bullpen.”
Also returning from last year’s bullpen are seniors Drew Johnson (1-1, 5.23 ERA), Chris Myers (0-1, 6.43 ERA) and redshirt freshman Clint Taylor (Eastman, Ga./Dodge County). The freshman class also added Zach Schlosser (Suwanne, Ga./Lambert) and Ryan Daiss (Seymour, Conn./Shelton) to the bullpen.
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- Category: Baseball
- Published on Monday, 11 February 2013 08:53