As impressive as Justin Hess was in his first-career start – last Tuesday’s 8-7 win over Kennesaw State – he hasn’t seen anything yet.
The freshman righty will take the mound today as Georgia Southern welcomes No. 21 South Carolina to J.I. Clements Stadium at 7 p.m.
Hopefully, the evening will go better than it did against the last ranked opponent the Eagles (11-10, 4-2 Southern Conference) faced, a 22-6 loss at No. 9 Clemson last Wednesday.
“I want to see the guys that get the opportunity go out there and pitch with some competitiveness and some aggressiveness, and I want to see us play that way,” said GSU coach Rodney Hennon. “If you do that, there’s not a whole lot more you can ask as a coach. I think everything else will kind of take care of itself, and I think we’ll play better baseball when we do that.”
As the pitching staff continues forming an identity – Andy Moye stated his case as the Sunday starter in GSU’s 11-2 win at Wofford, joining Jake Brown and Matt Murray in the weekend rotation – the fact that the Eagles will play only one mid-week game should help take the pressure off everyone else.
The fourth spot on the rotation is Hess’s to lose.
“I think he’s one of those guys right now,” Hennon said about Hess. “I think he deserves to start based on how he’s performed when he’s been given an opportunity. The things I’m looking for are the things he’s been able to do. Hopefully he’ll continue the same approach.”
With so much of the team’s inconsistencies chalked up to the new faces scattered throughout the lineup, Hennon’s main concern is whether or not the team can gel and regularly show up with intensity.
“If we can find that and some guys can step up and give us that, than a lot of things will just take care of themselves,” said the GSU coach. “That’s the way we’ve got to play every day. We’ve got to play with some passion and some grit, and do that on a consistent basis.”
The Gamecocks (16-4, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) enter the game on fire.
Winners of 10-straight, USC swept Tennessee over the weekend and settled in with a mid-week, SoCon sweep before that, with an 8-3 win over Davidson which followed a 15-0 rout of Furman.
Probable starter for South Carolina is sophomore lefty Nolan Belcher (2-0), who has pitched a lights-out 14.2 innings this season, and enters with a 0.67 ERA. He has racked up 21 strikeouts to only five walks.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.