Pitching will be deciding factor in the upcoming season
Last season the Golden Eagles led Conference USA with a team earned run average of 4.16. The loss of weekend starters Kirk McCarty, Taylor Braley, relief pitcher Hayden Roberts and pitching coach Mike Federico left a hole in the pitching staff. However, with a new influx of pitchers, experience in the bullpen and a new pitching coach, the team still looks to be able to duplicate last season’s results.
The weekend starters:
The loss of McCarty and Braley leads the team to look to J.C. Keyes and Colt Smith who combined for 14 starts last season.
Keyes had eight starts and made 16 appearances where he posted a 5.56 ERA and threw 48 strikeouts.
Smith made weekend starts in the second half of the season posting a 6-2 record and throwing 3.36 ERA with 43 strikeouts while appearing 23 times.
Jones Community Junior College transfer Mason Strickland, made 13 appearances throwing 65 strikeouts in over 79 innings and posting an 11-1 record. Although pitching roles have not been established, Strickland looks to be a future starter.
The return of Walker Powell creates another plausible weekend starter for the Golden Eagles. The 6’7 junior missed last season due to his second Tommy John surgery. In Powell’s freshman season he was a weekend starter posting a 3.46 ERA and a 4-3 record before he was injured.
Hayden Roberts was a go-to bullpen pitcher as he posted a 5-2 record in 20 appearances, but a plethora of experience returns to the bullpen.
Preseason pitcher of the year, closer Nick Sandlin, returns after throwing 80 strikeouts and posting a 2.38 ERA.
A hip injury limited Matt Wallner to only nine appearances last season with all of his appearances as a relief pitcher.
Stevie Powers and Alex Nelms are both familiar relievers that could see starts early in the season. Both took time to develop last season and became two of the most reliable pitchers in the bullpen.
A new addition is the University of Louisiana Monroe transfer relief pitcher Keller Bradford. In the 2016 season at ULM he had a 2-3 record and threw 35 strikeouts in 48 innings.
New left-handed pitchers:
Replacing a starting left-handed pitcher as dominant as McCarty is a tall order, but the Golden Eagles have added three new left-handed pitchers. The new additions give the team a chance to find a replacement for McCarty and the ability to play matchups more efficiently.
“It allows us to not deplete that bullpen for a series,” said Head Coach Scott Berry. “This does give us a lot of options in depth through a series and a weeklong of baseball games.”
Hinds Community College transfer Adam Jackson threw 50 strikeouts and recorded a 5-2 record in 12 appearances to have a 3.22 ERA.
The other two new left-handed pitchers are both freshmen, Drew Boyd from Oak Grove and Jacob Weirich from Missouri.
Boyd, who had an injury senior year of high school, still posted a 4-0 record and a 0.00 ERA in 22 innings.
Weirich threw 117 strikeouts in over 79 innings, earning him a 9-0 record and being named second-team All-American by MaxPreps in his senior year.
New pitching coach:
Federico left the team for a head coaching position at ULM after being with the team for eight seasons.
Taking his place is Christian Ostrander, the former pitching coach of Louisiana Tech. In his tenure, his staff broke the school record in strikeouts in a season, setting it at 496.
“[Ostrander] is a great pitching coach, he’s a great man, he has character,” Berry said. “I think he relates very well to those guys; he challenges them.”
Although the pitching staff lost several key members, there is plenty of new talent to help reestablish the pitching staff and improve from last year’s results.