The 64th season of Gamecock baseball is just a week away, when JSU opens their season next Friday at Kennesaw State.
Coach Jim Case is back for his 12 season as the head man with a 353-278 record over that span. The Gamecocks return 19 players from a year ago, and have 13 newcomers on board.
JSU will have to replace 145 hits, 26 home runs, and 89 RBIs which were the totals of Sam Eberle and Ben Waldrip combines a season ago, both were drafted by Major League squads. Along with Eberle and Waldrip, JSU lost pitcher Daniel Watts to the draft. Watts’ 89 innings pitched and 87 strikeouts were the most by a pitcher last season.
“We are very excited about getting on the field,” said coach Case. “There is excitement everywhere right now, we are all undefeated. We know the season is right around the corner and it’s going to start counting.”
On the mound, the Gamecocks will turn to Travis Stout and senior Cody Ponder to be the lead guys followed by Ben Haynes, Robby Lilly, Casey Antley, Michael Barber, and Kurt Lipscomb will play key roles as well. The outfield will be covered by the Bishops, Michael and Andrew, while Zach Elbirt and Adam Miller see lots off time as well. Newcomers Chase Silvani and Ty Pierce could add depth as well.
One of the major changes this year will be not having Todd Hornsby to come in as closer. Hornsby set the all-time Ohio Valley Conference saves record last season closing out a win against Auburn.
“We will have all new starters this year and a new closer,” said Coach Case. “But, we do have some guys that have some experience and their roles are going to increase and its opportunity for them.”
The infield is pretty solid with Coty Blanchard out of football pads and back at shortstop. Blanchard and Andrew Bishop both spent last summer in the Cape Cod League. Slugging catch Cal Lambert will be behind the plate. After rotating positions, Colby Dixson, Byrom Ferrell, Gavin Golsan, and A.J. Reynolds will all add depth to the infield.
“This is going to be a different team, we are not going to hit as many home runs as the past, but I think this team will be able to run,” added Case. “I really believe this team has a chance to play really good defense, which could be a big help to a young pitching staff.”
Offensively Cal Lambert returns after hitting 14 doubles a year ago, second only to Eberle, and 23 RBIs. Blanchard will look to get on base early and have one of the Bishops bring him in as the two combined for 32 RBIs a year ago.
Jacksonville State opens at home on February 19, against in-state opponent UAB.