Sun Belt Tournament Preview – Bracket Two – From the Bird’s Nest
The Sun Belt Conference baseball tournament begins Tuesday evening. This is the third and final in a series previewing the participants. Today, Georgia Southern, Little Rock and Troy. These teams play their first games on Wednesday.
#2 GEORGIA SOUTHERN (32-23, 18-12) Coach: Rodney Hennon
OFFENSE RANK (ALL GAMES) AVG 4TH, SLG 7TH, OBP 4TH, OPS 6TH
OFFENSE RANK (SBC GAMES) AVG 3RD, SLG 5TH, OBP 4TH, OPS 4TH
PITCHING RANK (ALL GAMES) ERA 1ST, BA AGAINST 6TH, WALKS 2ND, STRIKEOUTS 1ST
PITCHING RANK (SBC GAMES) ERA 6TH, BA AGAINST 9TH, WALKS 1ST, STRIKEOUTS 1ST.
STRENGTHS: After a slow start to the season, the Eagles' bats came alive Steven Curry won the league batting title and Mason McWhorter became a beast once conference play began. In league play, McWhorter hit .374 and tied for the league lead in homers in SBC play and was tops in RBI and total bases and second in slugging. Noah Ledford also hit double digit bombs, while Jason Swan really increased his production after league play started. Seth Shuman is a first team all conference guy and Joe Nahas was a pretty solid #2 late in the year. The Eagles have two quality guys at the end of the game in Cole Whitney and Hayden Harris. In league play, they were the second toughest to strike out.
WEAKNESSES: Their team ERA was a run higher than their overall numbers, mainly because their starting pitching became a question mark. Even Shuman was hittable at times. They tried five different other guys as starters and only Nahas had an ERA under 6.00. They lost their catcher earlier in the season and you can run on the replacements. They are okay defensively, but not outstanding. They are in the second half of the league in walks received and it affects their on base percentage a little
OUTLOOK--There is a lot to like about this bunch. They've turned themselves into a pretty scary offensive team that hits just about everyone. Shuman is a stud and Nahas is good enough to win. Their bullpen guys at the back are really good. They have an issue with middle relief but who doesn't in this league? They need to get decent starts as the tournament goes on so the pen doesn't get overworked. But as the pitching gets more shaky, the better their hitters will do. I think this is Hennon's best team since they've been in the league. If they get to Sunday, maybe the third time will be the charm.
#3 LITTLE ROCK (28-26, 18-11) Coach: Chris Curry, 6th season
OFFENSE RANKS (ALL GAMES) BA 7TH, SLG 6TH, OBP 8TH OPS 7TH
OFFENSE RANKS (SUN BELT) BA 7TH, SLG 8TH, OBP 8TH, OPS T6TH
PITCHING RANKS (ALL GAMES) ERA 5TH, BA AGAINST 3RD, WALKS 6TH, STRIKEOUTS 3RD
PITCHING RANKS (SBC) ERA 1ST, BA AGAINST 3RD, WALKS 3RD, STRIKEOUTS 2ND
STRENGTHS: This is a team that swings the bat with purpose. Riley Pittman is one of the scariest hitters in the league. Troy Alexander got it going after a slow start and has great power from the left side. Ryan Benevides, Nick Perez and James Gann are all solid with the bat. Chandler Fidel is one of the league's best from the left side. He throws strikes and makes you get yourself out. Hayden Arnold has proven himself as a solid number two. Donavin Buck, Zach Ours and Dillon Delgadillo are all solid in the bullpen.
WEAKNESSES: While they've got some guys who can swing it, the bottom of their order doesn't hit for average. The rest are very good mistake hitters, but pitchers who stay in their lanes get them out. They have the lowest team ERA in league games, but that's due in part to mostly getting it done with just six guys...there's a depth question here. Teams have run on them a lot. And, make no mistake about it...this team is brutal on defense.
OUTLOOK: They won 18 league games this year, a high water mark for the program. Curry has done a great job making them not only competitive, but a team that deserves a lot of respect. They'll make you play nine innings every time out. If they're going to make it through the bracket they have to get deeper into their bullpen and have success. If that happens, they'll be a really tough out.
#6 TROY (29-27, 16-14) Coach: Mark Smartt (4th season)
OFFENSE RANKS (ALL GAMES) BA: 2ND, SLG 2nd, OBP 7TH, OPS 3RD
OFFENSE RANKS (SBC): BA: 4TH, SLG 3RD, OBP 5TH, OPS 3RD
PITCHING RANKS (ALL GAMES) ERA 10TH, BATTING AVG 9TH, WALKS 11TH, STRIKEOUTS 4TH
PITCHING RANKS (SBC) ERA 7TH, BATTING AVG. 12TH, WALKS 8TH, STRIKEOUTS 6TH
STRENGTHS: Man, this team can really swing it. They were tops in the league in doubles and second in homer runs. Chase Smartt has always been good defensively, but this year he turned into one of the most feared hitters in the league. Drew Frederick, Rigsby Mosley, Sadler Godwin and Dalton Sinquefield are all very good hitters. Not everyone in this lineup hits for average, but they all can hit with power. Mark Smartt moved Cory Gill from the bullpen to a starting role and he blossomed. Levi Thomas has been solid on the bump as well. Lance Johnson and Russ Hixon lead the bullpen. Run on them at your own risk.
WEAKNESSES: They swing and miss. A lot. They're second in the league in strikeouts and #1 and #3 didn't make the tournament. They also don't get a lot of free base runners and that keeps their on base percentage down. Their pitching staff walks way too many people and that gets them in trouble. They never did find a third starter, and while Johnson and Hixon aren't bad, they aren't the best the league has to offer. I feel like their fielding percentage should be a little better playing so many games on turf.
OUTLOOK: This team will love playing at Coastal and you can expect there will be some long balls hit This lineup rivals the hosts for the best in the league. But they'll need to get good performances from their starters in this tournament. And, facing Fidel on Wednesday is a tall task. But it'll be fun to watch these guys. The longer they stay in the tournament, the more dangerous they'll get.