Appalachian State had a bad day on Saturday.
The Mountaineers entered the doubleheader at J.I. Clements Stadium riding a cloud of success, putting together 10-straight wins and joining an exclusive group of just five Division I teams which hadn't lost entering the weekend.
Well, maybe cloud isn't the right word. It was more like a fog.
While Georgia Southern was busy taking its lumps against teams like Tennessee Tech (a participant in last year's Clemson Regional in which it picked up a win against Alabama) and Georgia Tech (yes, that Georgia Tech), ASU was sweeping Rider University and picking up wins against Presbyterian, Niagra, Marist and Gardner-Webb.
So when the Eagles picked up a pair of Ws (an 8-3 affair in Game 1 and a 5-2 win in Game 2), it's safe to say that the only ones who were surprised were the Mountaineers themselves. I guess it wasn't too shocking either when ASU bounced back Sunday with a 16-12 win.
As for the Eagles? No, the season hasn't started with the ideal scenario. Sitting at 8-8 (2-1 Southern Conference), GSU is more than a stone's throw away from where it was this time last season.
Last year when they were 16 games deep into the season, the Eagles were 13-3 (1-0) with a split against Georgia Tech and feeling pretty good about themselves. Though they're over halfway to their loss total from the last regular season and we're only about a quarter of the way into this young campaign, they should have at least one thing in common with last year's squad - they should be feeling pretty good about themselves.
The problem so far this season has been that this young group of ball players has had an identity crisis. Last year, they hit 87 homers and drove in 501 runs. This time around, they're on pace to hit around 55 long balls and drive in 364 - give or take.
Here's the kicker, though. They're scoring 9.69 runs per game, as opposed to 2009's 9.91. Not too much of a dropoff there.
So why the record discrepancy? Well, there's been a big change, not in the number of runs, but in how they're scoring. In an effort to over-simplify (nothing wrong with that, right?) the Eagles are having to advance base runners and scrap their way to the dish, as opposed to the three-run homers and RBI doubles to which they're accustomed.
Rather than having power at the beginning, middle and end of the lineup, they've relied mostly on veterans A.J. Wirnsberger and Kyle Blackburn in the middle to apply the heavy bat, with a scattering of help from newcomers Shawn Payne, Victor Roache and Steve Cochrane and veteran Roman Grimaldi.
Everyone else has just been setting the table, but as the team batting average keeps creeping up to that .300 mark, there's nothing wrong with that.
I won't speak too much on the errors that plagued the defense throughout the opening weeks, because Arthur Owens has found a home in right field (and will hopefully stay there), Blackburn has been a pleasant surprise after the move from designated hitter to first base, Eric Phillips is quickly becoming Mr. Reliable at shortstop and Wirnsberger is all of a sudden looking like a golden glover at third.
Finally, the mound is where the identity crisis has been the most apparent.
Jake Brown and Matt Murray have been the most consistent, solidifying their roles as Friday and Saturday starters respectively, but every other spot still remains a question mark. Trent Franzago got shaken up in his Sunday start against ASU after not making it out of the first inning, and the mid-week roles are nothing if not up in the air as it sits.
Once the Eagles can fill out their weekend rotation and that Sunday spot becomes reliable, the rest will take care of itself. Right now, it's a tossup between Franzago, freshmen Chris Beck and Justin Hess and veterans Colin Snow, Michael Hester and even Andy Moye, whose role this season has been mostly out of the bullpen.
To me, the success of the squad (if it wants another SoCon Championship) relies most heavily on the pitching staff finding its identity, and that's really the bottom line.
As a closer, Dexter Bobo has been throwing heat as expected, but unless he can get his other pitches into the same comfort zone he has with his fastball, those long outs of late could end up turning into big innings for the opposition.
Right now, it seems everyone else knows exactly what they need to do when first pitch rolls around, and with the addition of so many new faces in the lineup, that's a good sign of things to come.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.