Baseball Opens 2017 Season at No. 5 South Carolina
GREENSBORO, N.C. – UNCG baseball begins the 2017 season tomorrow evening as the Spartans travel to Columbia, S.C. to take on the No. 5 South Carolina Gamecocks at Founders Park at 4:00. 2016 saw Link Jarrett’s Spartans go 38-21, posting the most wins since the 2003 season, and most under Jarrett. The league’s coaches awarded Jarrett the Southern Conference’s Coach of the Year award after the regular season. UNCG was picked to finish first in the SoCon in the league's preseason coaches poll.
Live stats will be available for the weekend's games, with links for each on the UNCG baseball schedule page. The games will be broadcasted on the SEC Network Plus, and South Carolina will provide a live audio stream. Links for all of these services are on the UNCG baseball schedule page. Friday's game will begin at 4:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m., and the series finale on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
The Blue and Gold hung its hat on offense a season ago, earning the NCAA’s highest batting average and slugging percentage. The squad set several offensive records during the year. The 2017 squad returns seven of nine position players and 10 pitchers.
Ben Spitznagel (Cincinnati, Ohio/Wabash Valley CC) and Andrew Moritz (Charlotte, N.C./Providence) serve as catalysts at the top of the lineup. Spitznagel finished the 2016 season with a .385 batting average, starting all 59 games at second base. Spitznagel returns the most stolen bases from last year, swiping 21. He was an ABCA/Rawlings first team All-Region selection, and was a third team All-American honoree. Moritz, a left-handed hitting outfielder, is coming off a freshman season where he hit for a .400 average in 41 games. A broken foot caused him to miss the final 18 contests. He hit seven triples a season ago, finishing one shy of tying the school record. Moritz earned Freshman All-American honors from Louisville Slugger.
As far as power, UNCG will look for contributions from Dillon Stewart (Dunn, N.C./Brunswick CC), Jake Kusz (Durham, N.C./Riverside) and Cesar Trejo (Greensboro, N.C./Ragsdale). Stewart led the team with 14 home runs, and a .665 slugging percentage last season while driving in 62. Kusz started all 59 games behind the plate, hit 17 doubles, nine long balls, and drove in 52 runs. Trejo started the season on the bench before working his way into the starting lineup. Trejo ended his freshman season as a Louisville Slugger and D1baseball.com Freshman All-American after hitting for a .363 average, with 19 extra base hits, and nine home runs.
UNCG’s projected lineup features three others who hit over .310 last season. Junior shortstop Tripp Shelton (Winston-Salem, N.C./West Forsyth) missed time last season due to injuries, but posted a .357 average with nine doubles and nine stolen bases in 31 games. Outfielder Ryne Sigmon (Danville, Va./Danville CC) hit for a .329 average with 22 extra-base hits, with five triples and five home runs.
On the mound, UNCG returns all but three pitchers from last year’s squad, and added one freshman and five junior college pitchers. Relievers Andrew Wantz (Holly Springs, N.C./Holly Springs) and Chad Sykes (Creedmoor, N.C./Voyager Academy) will look to continue solidifying the bullpen. The two combined to go 11-3 with eight saves, 157 strikeouts, and held opponents to a .190 average against in 20216. Sykes appeared in 27 games out of the bullpen. Wantz was the workhorse for UNCG last season, making 34 appearances. Wantz was also named first team All-SoCon a season ago, and was the Co-Pitcher of the Year in the league’s media poll. He received Preseason All-SoCon recognition for the 2017 season.
Matt Frisbee (Candler, N.C./Enka) and Bryce Hensley (Asheville, N.C./Catawba Valley CC) make their return to the starting rotation on opening weekend. Hensley started 11 games last season, making six appearances out of the bullpen. He earned a 5-3 record in 62.2 innings of work. The southpaw struck out 44 batters and had six quality starts. Frisbee started 15 games in 2016. He earned Freshman All-SoCon honors and was named second team All-SoCon in the league’s preseason poll. He earned a 5-3 record with a 4.98 ERA in 68.2 innings.
Jack Maynard (Crozet, Va./Patrick Henry CC) will start the season opener. Maynard is a junior college transfer from Patrick Henry CC. With the Patriots, Maynard was a 2016 first team All-Region selection. He earned an 8-3 record and a 2.75 ERA, leading Patrick Henry to a 44-16 record. He earned 121 strikeouts in 88.1 innings.
Other transfers that will be looked to produce are Dan Loats (Eden Prairie, Minn./NIACC) Alex Sova (Midland, Mich./Kellogg CC), and Travis Tuttle (Winston-Salem, N.C./Surrey CC). Returners Ben Kerner (Cary, N.C./Brunswick CC), Easton Welch (Randleman, N.C./Gardner-Webb), Drew Goodman (Charlotte, N.C./Hopewell), Jake Mayhew (Winston-Salem, N.C./West Forsyth), Zach Kuchmaner (Charlotte, N.C./Marvin Ridge), Jake Lewis (Wendell, N.C./Corinth Holders) and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Triplett (Wilkesboro, N.C./West Wilkes) will all be counted on for important innings throughout the season.
South Carolina enters opening weekend as the No. 5 ranked team in the country. The Gamecocks were picked to finish second in the SEC’s East Division. Juniors Tyler Johnson and Alex Destino earned Preseason All-SEC honors.
The Gamecocks return seven position starters from last year’s 46-18 team. South Carolina hosted an NCAA Regional, hosting Rhode Island, Duke and UNCW. After dropping the opening game to Rhode Island, South Carolina came through the elimination bracket to defeat Duke (4-2), Rhode Island (23-2), and UNCW twice (10-1, 10-5) to advance to the Super Regional. The Gamecocks hosted Oklahoma State in the Super Regional round, falling to Oklahoma State.
Highlighting the Gamecock bats are Alex Destino, Jonah Bride, John Jones, and LT Tolbert, all of which started in at least 50 games a season ago. Destino was a 2017 Preseason All-American second team selection by the NCBWA, and was 2017 Preseason All-SEC. He was named to the 2016 NCAA Regional All-Tournament team for his performance in the Columbia regional. Bride hit for a .283 average, starting all 63 games. Jones played in 60 games, hitting for a .269 average with seven home runs. Tolbert started 50 games, earning a .229 average and going for extra bases 11 times.
On the hill, South Carolina has one of the most potent pitching staffs in all of college baseball. Clarke Schmidt will throw on Friday night. Schmidt was named a preseason All-American by D1Baseball.com, the NCBWA and Perfect game. He was a third team All-American from Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA a season ago. he struck out 129 batters in 111.1 innings and walked just 27 batters.
Will Crowe will throw on Saturday. The junior righty was a Preseason All-American according to Baseball America. He sat out the 2016 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Adam Hill gets the ball on Sunday. Hill was a Freshman All-American in 2016, going 7-0 with a 3.53 ERA and held opponents to a .208 average against.
Closing games out for the Gamecocks is the pair of Josh Reagan and Johnson. Last season, Reagan appeared in 29 games, earning a 2.08 ERA and a 3-2 record. He earned 11 saves and fanned 50 batters in 56.1 innings of work. He also held opponents to a .172 average. Johnson earned Preseason All-SEC honors. The junior appeared in 29 games, making one start last year. Johnson was a Preseason All-American by D1Baseball.com, NCBWA, and Perfect Game. He played for the USA Collegiate National Team last summer, and was named to the Columbia Regional All-Tournament team and was NCAA Regional MVP. Johnson earned a 2.42 ERA, earning nine saves, and made his first start of the season in the Columbia Regional Championship, earning a complete game victory over UNCW on June 5th.