The Oglethorpe baseball team is about set to take the field for the 2018 season, and will return a number of important contributors to last season's squad and mix them in with a variety of newcomers. The team will get started against in-state opponent Covenant Saturday afternoon at Anderson Field, where the two teams will play a doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m.
Oglethorpe head coach Dan Giordano is excited to get the season started.
"We had a very good fall and offseason," said Giordano. "Depth has created a very competitive culture and it has been fun to watch the guys grow and develop. This conference is loaded top to bottom, so we look forward to the challenges every weekend. Guys are excited to kick off this journey together and our goal is to keep growing and developing every day."
The Stormy Petrels return with two key members of their starting rotation in tact from last season. Senior Matt Davis, the staff No. 1, returns for another season atop the Oglethorpe pitching staff, while junior Kyle Babb returns to his role as a weekend starter and looks to match or improve on the form that made him an All-SAA Honorable Mention selection in 2017.
Oglethorpe will also add a couple of new faces to the rotation, as sophomore Noah Cole looks to slot in as a weekend starter and freshman Alex Smith will hold down the midweek starting slot and has potential to work his way into the weekend rotation.
The Petrels have a lot of new faces in the bullpen, including freshmen Christopher Keane, Devlin Basinger, Chandler Barkley and Reddon McLaurine, along with sophomore transfers Jack Bartlewski and Kyle Blakeney. They will be joined by a returning group led by senior left-handed specialist Stuart Spiers. It's a group that will look to gel as the season progresses and will have a chance to be an outstanding unit.
"Matt and Kyle both return to anchor the staff and we are counting on them to log some quality innings for us in our weekend rotation," said Giordano. "Even though we will rely on a bevy of new arms to carry the rest of the load to fill out the starting rotation and in the bullpen, we love their upside and their development so far in the program. We expect them as a group to do big things for us."
In the field, senior Adrian Celata will largely man the designated hitter position and will look to maintain his All-SAA First Team form. Sophomore Andrew Mink will largely man the first base position again, a spot where he earned All-SAA First Team honors in 2017, as well. Seniors Bobby Rezac and Matt Motz also return, and both earned All-SAA honors for their efforts in the 2017 season. Rezac looks to see a lot of time in the outfield and will also see a fair amount of time at catcher, while Motz will man second base again for the Petrels. Freshman Alex Featherstone will look to earn significant playing time at shortstop, while sophomore Sam Held will split time between shortstop and second. Senior Connor Crooke looks to hold down the third base starting job, while freshman Lucas Briggs has performed very well in practice and should earn some time at the position, as well. Senior Jarvis Miller will man center field for the Petrels, while fellow senior Patrick Burnette will get significant time in right field. Senior Britton Araujo is returning from injury and will also see time in the outfield, with sophomore newcomer Sam Buchanan and fellow sophomore Michael Talaga also getting time.
"I believe we have tremendous depth across the diamond," said Giordano. "In the fall and so far early in the spring we have seen tremendous competition at every spot. This will only make us better in the long run."
The Petrel lineup is also coming off a season in which they won the NCAA Division III statistical championship in home runs per game, cracking 1.18 long balls per contest over the season. They also converted at an 89 percent rate in stolen bases on the season.
"I really think offensively we'll be able to score runs in bunch of different ways," Giordano said. "I feel we have a more diverse offense and have the ability to put pressure on opposing defenses one through nine."
The Petrels will make their way through a tough non-conference slate, featuring games against No. 10 LaGrange, as well as excellent teams from Emory, Piedmont and Kalamazoo. In SAA play, the Petrels will take on the always difficult conference slate, which will include No. 7 Birmingham-Southern and a Rhodes team receiving votes in the preseason D3baseball poll.
The Petrels get started with a doubleheader visit from Covenant Saturday at 2 p.m. before they make a return trip to Lookout Mountain on Tuesday at 2 p.m. and welcoming MacMurray to Anderson Field for a 3-game series the following weekend.