Georgia Tech (1-2) at Georgia Southern (2-1)
Wednesday, 6 p.m.
J.I. Clements Stadium
It’s hard not to have high hopes for Georgia Southern’s 2014 baseball team, especially after its 18-4 demolishing of Georgia in Athens on 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?
Well, for starters, there’s the pitching. Justin Hess was asked to do an awful lot last season, and this time around the Eagles have two potential aces, Sam Howard and Josh Wirsu.
Howard was lights out against UGA, going five scoreless innings and fanning seven.
Wirsu was shaky in his first career start as an Eagles, 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 sent 10 pitchers to the mound in the UGA series, and the Bulldogs hit .262. That includes the Eagles’ 11-3 loss in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.
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’s the bats.
Georgia Southern 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 plate 30 times.
Once we get a large enough sample size we’ll know a lot 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 different 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 in the series.
In other words, when somebody hits a slump, there will be another bat to plug in there. That will also serve as a luxury if any defensive liabilities — something from which the Eagles haven't been immune — 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 season will look a lot better this year than last, and the program’s final run through the Southern Conference could turn into a good one.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.