The Valdosta Daily Times
After winning 26 of their final 34 games in 2013 on the way to capturing the Gulf South Conference tournament title, the Valdosta State baseball team hopes to carry that momentum into the new season.
The Blazers, who finished 34-18 a year ago, open the new campaign today against Truett-McConnell at 3 p.m. in the Comfort Suites Classic at Billy Grant Field.
VSU returns a handful of familiar faces in its lineup, led by junior catcher Bryant Hayman. Named a preseason All-American earlier this week, Hayman has been named all-Gulf South Conference each of the past two seasons. Hitting .335 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs last season, Hayman has career totals of 16 home runs, 80 RBIs and 68 runs scored with a career .334 average.
Also back in the VSU lineup is second baseman Matthew Fears, who also earned all-conference honors despite an injury-shortened junior campaign. Playing just 21 games, Fears hit .407 with 24 runs and 21 RBIs.
Fears and Hayman are joined by fellow returnees Michael Gouge at third base, Hunter Thompson in the outfield and Cooper Lemonds, playing both in the outfield and at first. Gouge, a sophomore, hit .300 last season, while Thompson swiped 15 bases in 18 attempts.
Helping to fill in around those experienced Blazers will be Division I transfers Jimmy Dowdell (Boston College), Matt Fitzsimmons (USC-Upstate) and Casey Kicklighter (Georgia Southern). Mike Reed, who began his career at Auburn before moving to Florida State College, is expected to play short for VSU.
While there are familiar faces in the VSU lineup, the Blazers don’t return much on the mound as all three weekend starters departed. The Blazers’ top returning arm is Josh Mann, who posted a 3.05 ERA in 18 games. Dom DeMasi is also back after registering three saves in 17 appearances.
Junior college transfers Kyle Andre and Ethan Bornstein are among the talented arms the Blazers hope to fill the void. Andre, a right-hander, had a 2.12 ERA at Seminole State Community College a year ago, while the left-handed Bornstein had a 3.76 ERA at Tallahassee Community College. Also figuring into the mix will be former TCC lefty Cameron Tewksbury, who had a 2.84 ERA there in 2012 prior to transferring and redshirting at South Carolina last season.
Also providing depth on the bump will be juco transfers Matt Moses, Justin Guy, Jarod Stanley and Colby Wisdom. VSU also has transfers Ryan Mosley from Georgia Southwestern and James Hager from Columbus State.