If Georgia Southern has proven anything in its brief relationship with the Sun Belt Conference, it’s that the Eagles shouldn’t be taken lightly. The football team rolled to a conference title and the men’s basketball team is right in the championship mix.
The Georgia Southern baseball squad began its attempt to keep the Eagles’ success rolling through the winter and into the spring last weekend by sweeping a three-game series from Bethune-Cookman.
With the season opener came the addition of plenty of new faces to the Eagles’ lineup.
Gone is graduated senior leader Ben Morgan and Garrett Chapman — who proved himself as one of the nation’s best-hitting freshmen before leaving Statesboro last summer.
Even more daunting are the two weekend starting pitching slots vacated by MLB draftees Sam Howard and Josh Wirsu.
“I think we’re going to learn a lot about our team early,” GSU coach Rodney Hennon said. “We’re going to see what some guys can do. Especially when you look at the mound, there are a lot of guys who you only saw a little bit of last season who will be throwing more for us this year.”
One Eagle pitcher whom fans saw none of in 2014 was Evan Challenger. He burst onto the scene with 17 appearances and a 4.23 ERA as a freshman in 2013. He missed all of last season while recovering from elbow surgery, but has looked strong in the offseason and figures to be a stalwart in the Eagles’ weekend rotation.
Adam Kelly made just a pair of one-inning appearances last season before sitting out due to an illness, but now is back to 100 percent. Hennon mentioned that other Eagles such as Caleb Pressey and Byron Yelvertin will also play much bigger roles out of the bullpen this season.
One huge veteran presence on the mound will be Jason Richman. The sidearm-throwing lefty returns for his junior season one year after leading the nation in appearances and finishing sixth in the country with a 1.20 ERA. Richman saved his best for last, appearing in all six games of the Southern Conference tournament and throwing a combined 13.1 innings en route to earning tourney MVP honors.
With a start and three saves among his 47 appearances last season, Richman will again be a threat to get outs for Georgia Southern in any situation.
Looking at the batting order, the Eagles will sorely miss Chapman’s .341 average and Stryker Brown’s 10 home runs, but still return a formidable offensive threat.
“We have a bunch of guys returning who have that extra year under their belt,” Hennon said. “You look at some of the guys we’ve had here in the past and the progression that they’ve made over time. I feel like our guys have the potential to show a lot of improvement.”
Aaron Mizell will again set up shop in right field after leading the Eagles with 13 homeruns last season. Fellow senior Kody Adams returns to center field and junior Hunter Thomas will man the ground in left field to give Georgia Southern a speedy and powerful outfield group.
Dalton Busby will anchor the GSU infield in his second season while Ryan Cleveland returns to first base. Junior-college transfer Spencer Duffie is expected to provide solid defense at third base and add even more speed to the base paths.
Among the freshmen who could make an immediate impact are Jordan Howard and Will Hudgins who will both compete for playing time in the infield.