Thursday, February 14, 2013

MIZZOU MATCHUP: #23 University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

Head Coach:  Scott Berry
Pete Taylor Park  in Hattiesburg, MS
Friday @ 4 PM
Saturday @ 2 PM
Sunday @ 1 PM

The Tigers will have their hands full this weekend, visiting Southern Miss in both team’s opening series. Last year the Golden Eagles finished their 2012 campaign with a record of 32-24, going 20-8 at home.

The Batters

As a whole, the Golden Eagles are looking very similar to 2012, returning seven of their position players.

Their lineup is anchored by sophomore right fielder Mason Robbins, who last year earned a second-team Freshman All-American spot, and is a preseason Third Team All-American according to Baseball America. In his freshman season, Robbins started 50 games, hitting .330 with 3 homers and a Conference USA leading 5 triples. One thing to watch with Robbins is his discipline. His BB/K ratio was an abysmal .125 (6 walks and 48 strikeouts), by far a team worst.

Next to Robbins in the outfield is senior centerfielder Dillon Day. Day had a bounce back season in 2012 batting .290 after posting a .135 average in just 37 at-bats while the team was shifting him from the mound to the field.

A player that frustrated pitchers last year was utility player Michael Sterling who was hit by a pitch just as many times as he struck out (28). He led the team with a .486 OBP and 11 stolen bases.

Reliable first baseman Blake Brown is the only returner to appear in all 56 of the Golden Eagle’s games last season, and he shined at the plate and with the glove. He finished last season with a team leading 6 home runs, and was a near perfect first baseman, only making 2 errors in 515 chances for a .996 FLD%.

Catcher Chase Fowler is returning for his senior season as well. He gave a hard time to would be base stealers last year, catching 15 of the 23 that ran on him.

A batter to keep your eye on also is newcomer Breck Kline. The redshirt freshman hit .354 in an injury shortened 13 games in the Prospect League last summer, and in high school hit .479 as a senior earning All-American honors.

The Pitchers

Likely Friday starter for USM is their ace Andrew Pierce. Pierce, named to the Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball Third Team Preseason All-American Team, went 7-4 last season with a 1.99 ERA in 15 appearances (14 starts). Location is what Pierce relies on, only walking 16 batters while striking out 96 in his 99.1 innings in 2012. His record does not represent how well he pitched though, as USM only scored more than three runs in six of his 14 starts.

Their number two starter, Jake Drehoff, excelled as a freshman last year and looks to build off that this year. His 6-2 record and 3.51 ERA earned him a spot on Conference USA’s All-Freshman team.

In conference play last year, outfielder Mason Robbins emerged as the team’s Sunday starter. He made six starts to finish the year, posting a 1-0 record with a 4.01 ERA. On the days that he starts on the bump, he hits for himself.

Another young player they have is sophomore Bradley Roney who earned a Freshman All-American spot by Collegiate Baseball as the team’s closer. He converted 11 of his 12 chances, putting him at ninth on the team’s all-time saves list as a freshman.

Projected Matchups

Friday: Rob Zastrynzny (5-5, 3.80 ERA) vs. Andrew Pierce (7-4, 1.99 ERA)
Saturday: Brett Graves (4-5, 6.32 ERA) vs. Jake Drehoff (6-2, 3.51 ERA)
Sunday: Jace James (4-0, 1.58 ERA)* vs. Mason Robbins (1-0, 4.01)
  * - stats from 2012 season at Hutchinson Community College

Matchup Wrap-up

The Tigers will have to be aggressive while facing Pierce. He averages only 1.45 walks per 9 innings. Manufacturing and scrapping for runs will be the only way to beat him, as he only gave up 2 home runs in 99.1 innings in 2012. Drehoff and Robbins average over twice the amount of walks as Pierce, so more patience will be needed in the last two games. The only time the Tigers may be bailed out by a home run is against Robbins, who gave up 4 in 33.2 innings last year. They must hold a lead going into the ninth inning, as Bradley Roney was near perfect in save opportunities in his freshman campaign.

Other SEC games this weekend

VMI @ Alabama 2/15-2/17
Western Illinois @ #3 Arkansas 2/15-2/17
Maine @ Auburn 2/15-2/17
Duke @ #17 Florida 2/15-2/17
Georgia @ Georgia Southern 2/15-2/17
Maryland @ #10 LSU 2/15-2/17
#14 TCU @ #13 Ole Miss 2/15-2/17
Portland @ #5 Mississippi State 2/15-2/17
Liberty @ #7 South Carolina 2/15-2/17
Tennessee @ UNLV 2/15-2/17
Illinois-Chicago @ Texas A&M 2/15-2/17
Long Beach State @ #2 Vanderbilt 2/15-2/17
USC Upstate/Wofford Tournament in Spartanburg, SC
 #11 Kentucky vs. UNC Asheville 2/15
 #11 Kentucky vs. South Carolina-Upstate 2/16
 #11 Kentucky vs. Niagara 2/17

Rankings from Baseball America

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