The Georgia Southern Eagle baseball team gets the 2022 season underway Friday in Knoxville Tennessee as they battle the No. 19 ranked Tennessee Volunteers in the first of a 3-game series.
The Eagles have advanced to the Sun Belt championship in four of the past five tournaments. Last year the senior-led Eagles won three straight to advance to the title game where they fell to South Alabama 10-4.
This season the Eagles have a few familiar faces mixed in with some newcomers and have been picked to finish second in the Sun Belt in the preseason coaches' poll. Head coach Rodeny Hennon is excited about getting the season underway Friday and feels that while they may not have as many seniors as last year’s squad the experience they have returning will be a key to this season’s success.
“I think we have some veteran guys positionally that have played a lot of baseball here,” said Hennon. “These guys have a good understanding of what it takes to be successful and we have gotten some good leadership up to this point from those guys and we are looking forward to seeing them play.”
The biggest hit the Eagles took from a year ago is on the pitching staff. Nick Jones capped off an outstanding senior season tying the school record for saves and was drafted in the eighth round of the MLB draft by the Los Angeles Angels. Starting pitcher Jordan Jackson was selected in the 10th round by Seattle. The Eagles other starting pitchers for most of the season were Tyler Owens who graduated and Chase Dollander who has since transferred to Tennessee.
“Obviously we lost some good ones from last year and they will be hard to replace but we like who we will be running out there,” said Hennon. “Ty Fisher is a lefty who came in from Tennessee Tech and he will get the start Friday night. Jayen Paden got opportunities to play as a freshman and we feel he is a year better and has continued to progress, along with a guy like Ben Johnson who played as a freshman and got a few chances to start as well.”
The Eagles biggest strength as far as experience come from the position players. Austin Thompson decided to come back for his extra year as well as three Eagles who were tabbed to the All-Conference team in senior infielder Jason Swan, Junior infielder Noah Ledford and senior catcher and outfielder Christian Avant.
“Those are guys have had success during their time here,” said Hennon. “I think the coaches in the league recognize them for what they have done during their careers. They understand you still have to go out and prove yourself every day and those guys are focused on doing whatever is necessary to help our team win ballgames.”
Hennon also went into the transfer Portal to bring in speedy infielder Jesse Sherill who is expected to start at second and power hitting Will Patota who comes to Georgia Southern after playing at Alabama last season.
“Jesse can really run and do some things to pressure the defense,” said Hennon. “He will likely lead off for us this year. Will Patota is another newcomer who will play in the outfield. He is a big physical left-handed bat who we expect to help us.”
Advancing to the conference championship in four of the last six years the Eagles are used to having high expectations and Hennon feels this is a squad who can make another run at the Sun Belt championship.
“I think this team has the makings of a championship team,” said Hennon. “Certainly, I think that was a big motivating factor for those seniors who elected to come back this year. We have a lot of fifth year guys who could have moved on but I think losing in the championship game last year left a bitter taste in their mouths and I am really proud of the way they have worked. I have seen a lot of these guys take it upon themselves to step up and be a little more vocal and help this be a little more of a player led team.”
The Eagles travel to Tennessee Friday to take on the Vols who advanced to Omaha last year and are currently ranked No. 19. The first of the three-game series will be Friday at 4:30 with game two Saturday at 1:00 and game three Sunday at 1:00. The Eagles open their home schedule Tuesday at 6:00 against No. 21 ranked Georgia Tech.