It’s hard not to have high hopes for Georgia Southern baseball, especially after its 18-4 demolishing of Georgia in Athens last Sunday to take two of three from the Bulldogs in the season-opening series.
It’s also not hard to forget the Eagles’ fast start in 2013 that began with, you guessed it, a series win over UGA, and the subsequent spiraling to a 27-32 record. It was the first losing season at Georgia Southern since 1998 and — get this — the sixth ever. The other four on record were 1950, 1951, 1971 and 1984.
So really, that’s the bad news and the good news for the Eagles. But why should 2014 be any different than 2013 for GSU, which was 3-1 after topping Georgia Tech, 4-3, Tuesday in Statesboro?
Well, for starters, there’s the pitching. Justin Hess was asked to do a lot last season, and this time the Eagles have two potential aces, Sam Howard and Josh Wirsu. Howard was lights out against UGA, going five scoreless innings with 7 Ks.
Wirsu was shaky in his first career start as an Eagle, getting rocked for six runs in two innings, but if his numbers in junior college are any indication, that was an anomaly. We’ll see.
The Eagles used 10 pitchers in the UGA series, and the Bulldogs hit .262. That includes the Eagles’ 11-3 loss.
GSU pitching also mowed down 29 batters.
There are veterans in the bullpen (Jason Richman, Matt McCall) and in the lineup (Howard, currently suspended Will Middour).
Then there are the bats. GSU hit three homers in the final game, including two by right fielder Aaron Mizell.
The Eagles belted out 42 hits including eight doubles and touched home 30 times.
Once we get a large enough sample, we’ll know more about GSU’s batting order, but the one thing for sure is that there is a lot of depth — something sorely lacking a season ago.
Consider this: Robbie Dodds was the heart of the GSU lineup last season. If he, Chase Griffin and T.D. Davis weren’t hitting, that was pretty much all she wrote.
An injury to Hunter Thomas meant Ben Morgan and Stryker Brown had to hold down the fort.
Eight Eagles had at least four hits against UGA, including Griffin, Morgan and Brown, but five newcomers — Mizell, Ryan Cleveland, Garrett Chapman, Dalton Busby and Kody Adams — combined for 22 hits and 15 RBIs.
So when somebody hits a slump, there will be another bat to plug in. That also will serve as a luxury if defensive liabilities show up.
The lineup has speed, left-handed hitting and power, three things that were missing a season ago despite a few bright spots here and there.
Obviously the Eagles will have to avoid injuries, but with a well for head coach Rodney Hennon to draw from, GSU’s final run through the Southern Conference could be good.