GSW readies for first Peach Belt baseball tournament

Stanton's been clutch for Hurricanes

Game will be aired on WISK 98.7

AMERICUS — Zack Stanton has been a clutch performer this season.

The senior third baseman is near the top in all the major offensive categories this season, and when Georgia Southwestern has needed a hit, he’s delivered.

Whether it was the 4-RBI night to beat Columbus State or the grand slam against Brewton Parker, Stanton has shined this season.

The Hurricanes hope Stanton’s bat doesn’t slow down as they put their season on the line Saturday at the Peach Belt Tournament when they face No. 5 Francis Marion. First pitch is 11 a.m. at USC-Aiken.

“I think it’s going to come down to who’s on the hill for both teams,” said coach Bryan McLain. “We’re such a senior-laden team on offense, and our guys have bought into what we’re trying to do.”

Stanton and Byron Haynes are the lone 3-year starters for the Hurricanes (27-18). While Haynes is more of a power hitter, Stanton does a little of everything.

He batted .228 as a sophomore and has raised his average to .294 to .319 this season. McLain said a lot of Stanton’s success has come in his thought process.

“Zack’s a talented player in about every phase of the game,” he said. “Sometimes as competitors and athletes, we’re our own worst enemy. Zack was really his own worst enemy early on. But he’s matured and is understanding the game, and in his development, he’s continued to get better. The biggest thing for him, and it’s a couple of things, is one consistency, and the second thing is he has been allowing himself to succeed.”

Stanton was in the top three in several offensive categories last year. With an improved offense this season, he leads GSW in RBI (47) and is second in hits (66) and home runs (6) and third in runs scored (38) and doubles (11).

“What stands out for me is his pitch selection,” said McLain. “He’s understanding his at-bats and is maintaining focus through his at-bat. He used to be down on himself that if he didn’t get a hit every time, he was upset with himself. He’s been able to overcome that and move on to the next at-bat of the game and still do well.”

Stanton seems to be his best when the pressure is on. The right-hander has 17 hits against left-handed pitchers, is first with 41 hits with runners on; is hitting .308 with the bases loaded, .356 with runners in scoring position and has 16 RBI with two outs.

“He’s done a tremendous job with two strikes,” said McLain. “There’s no questions he’s been (clutch) down the stretch for us. That’s the mold of a 3-hole hitter in a lineup. He’s maybe not the absolute best at one thing, but overall, he’s that top guy.”

Ahead of Stanton in home runs, Haynes has 10 on the year. He is second in slugging (.500) and has 10 doubles to go with 33 RBI. McLain said Haynes, who leads the team with 31 walks, has adjusted to being a hitter teams try to get around without any damage.

“That’s what happens when you put up 10 home runs,” said McLain. “With the power he’s got, that comes with the territory. He used to look at the fact of teams pitching around him as a bad thing, but when you look at it, it’s a good thing. It’s just like a double. He’ll steal second and sometimes third.”

Francis Marion has the top pitching staff in the conference, leading the league in ERA (3.51). The Patriots have 16 saves and have allowed the fewest number of walks.

The Patriots won 2 of 3 from the Hurricanes, including a 4-3, 10-inning game in the series opener.

McLain expects another pitcher’s duel as he sends Ryan Lackey to the mound and expects the Patriots to send Josh Edgin.

“It’ll be which team takes advantage of opportunities that arise,” he said. “We had the bases loaded twice and didn’t score against them (in the first game). We’ve got to be ready when the opportunity comes.”


GSW pitchers grow into individual roles

Game will be aired on WISK 98.7

AMERICUS — The Georgia Southwestern pitching staff has shown a visible difference this season on the mound with a .500 conference record to show for it.

Ryan Lackey has knocked two runs off his earned run average over his last three starts, which included a win against No. 7 Columbus State.

He will be the Hurricanes’ go-to man in the opening round of the Peach Belt baseball tournament, starting at 11 a.m. Saturday at USC-Aiken. GSW plays No. 5 Francis Marion.

“Our guys have done a great job and for the most part, kept us in position to have a chance to win games,” said coach Bryan McLain. “I think we’ve done a better job using our guys in roles and really trying to maximize those things. Our starters, especially as of late, have done a really good job of giving us a chance to be in ball games late.”

GSW is ranked ninth in the PBC in team earned run average, but McLain said a better offense and defense has helped the pitching staff relax.

“We’re not putting those guys in position where we’re asking them to shut teams down and hold them to one or two runs or no runs,” said McLain. “There’s a lot more of a team effort than what we had last year.”

Also making an impact has been the pitchers settling more into their individual roles. Four have started nine games or more while three others have made at least 21 appearances, mostly in reliever roles.

McLain said the relievers showed early in the season they could get the job done, making it easier to pull a starter if they were in trouble.

“We really haven’t had to get guys to go seven or eight innings,” he said. “We feel real comfortable making moves when we’ve felt like the time was right as opposed to stretching a guy as long as we can go with them.”

Lackey has been the team’s conference-opener starter for most of the season, and McLain believes he will give the Hurricanes the best chance to upset the Patriots.

His last outing against Francis Marion, GSW couldn’t take advantage of two bases-loaded situations and lost 4-3 in 10 innings.

“I kind of quote the coach from Francis Marion when I say Ryan keeps coming at you,” said McLain. “He’s commanded the strike zone very well his last three outings, and he’s kind of sneaky with his velocity. He doesn’t look like he throws as hard as he does, and he spots his fast ball really well. He keeps challenging hitters. He’s giving us a chance to make plays in the field and not putting us in bad spots with a bunch of walks.”

Brandon Reeder and Corey Hawes have done the work in middle relief, with Hawes maintaining a 2.04 ERA.

Georgia College beat up the entire GSW staff during a 3-game sweep, but it’s been able to rebound since that series, especially the relievers.

“They’ve come out and got guys out or managed the inning, giving up one run or two and held the teams for the most part scoreless to give us a chance to come back if we’re down,” said McLain. “Both Corey and Brandon challenge the strike zone. These guys are experienced, road-tested and can throw in any spot. We know they’ll give their best effort whatever the end result.”

Chris Carroll was the closer until the end of the season when he started 3 of 4 games. He took a line drive off his foot against Francis Marion, but McLain expects him to be 100 percent by Saturday.

The Patriots are fourth in batting average, next to last in walks drawn and have the fewest strikeouts in the conference. Shortstop/pitcher Barrett Kleinknecht heads the FMU offense, batting .352 with 17 doubles, 11 home runs and 42 RBI.

“You try to put things where you don’t leave it up to him,” said McLain. “You work it to where the other guys have to do their jobs. The fact they don’t walk much and strike out much, they’re swinging at a lot of pitches. If we command the strike zone and don’t let them get comfortable of picking and choosing and knowing the pitches you have to throw because of the counts you’re in, I think we can have success against them and most teams.

“I like where we’re at and what we’re doing. I tell the guys all the time don’t worry about their team, worry about ourselves and do what we do.”