NEXT GAME: Panthers Host Kennesaw State Wednesday at 5 p.m.

ATLANTA – A famous coach once said, “The best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.”

But the Georgia State baseball team will take freshman center fielder Josh Merrigan just the way he is, thank you very much.

How can you argue with what the Marietta, Ga., native is accomplishing in his rookie season with the Panthers?

Already a leading candidate for the Colonial Athletic Association’s Rookie of the Year award, Merrigan is also making a strong case for Freshman All-America accolades.

The speedy center fielder is batting .357 with 34 runs batted in and 46 runs scored. He has smashed three homers, 14 doubles and four triples, and he is 11-for-11 on stolen bases.

Among all freshmen in the nation, Merrigan ranks second in hits, third in batting average and third in runs scored, trailing only LSU shortstop Alex Bregman and Stetson catcher Patrick Mazeika in average. With 74 hits, he ranks 10th in the NCAA among all players.

Hitting in the leadoff spot, the left-handed hitting Merrigan has been a catalyst for one of the nation’s top offensive teams, helping the Panthers rank in the top five in the NCAA in batting average, hits, runs and doubles. Georgia State has won five straight games and 16 of its last 20 to stand at 32-17, heading into the final seven games of the regular season.

“It’s easy for all of us to take for granted what kind of season Josh Merrigan is having because we’ve seen it every day,” said GSU head coach Greg Frady. “But it’s not normal by any means. It’s completely special.

“There’s really nothing he can’t do,” Frady continued. “He’s a line drive hitter with a high average who hits to all fields, but we’ve seen him hit some big home runs when his team needed them. He hits against left-handers and right-handers. He can bunt, he run and steal a base, and he plays a great center field.”

Most recently, Merrigan collected seven hits and six RBI, with two doubles, a triple and a homer, in a series sweep of Towson.

In Friday’s series-opening win against Towson, Merrigan capped GSU’s six-run rally in the sixth inning with a three-run homer that turned a 6-4 deficit into a 7-6 lead. He added another run-scoring single in the eighth, and after Towson managed to tie the game in the ninth, Merrigan’s ground ball in the bottom of the ninth was misplayed by the first baseman to bring home the winning run.

In Sunday’s win over Towson, Merrigan drove in the Panthers’ first two runs with RBI-singles in the third and fourth innings, and then he tripled and scored in the eighth for a key insurance run.

One series earlier, Merrigan came to the plate in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game at Northeastern, and he smashed an opposite-field home run against NU’s top starting pitcher, Kevin Ferguson, a tough left-hander with an ERA below two, to give Georgia State the series-clinching victory.

Merrigan has been named CAA Rookie of the Week three times this season. In fact, his toughest competition each week has come from his own team, as pitcher-infielder Matt Rose and starting pitchers Garrett Ford and Nathan Bates have also won the honor, giving GSU seven awards in 12 weeks.

Merrigan, who played at Walton High School in the Atlanta suburbs, impressed the GSU coaches during fall practice and was penciled in as a starter as the Panthers entered the spring, but his production and consistency could not have been predicted.

Trying to ease the freshman into the rigors of college baseball, Frady began the season by starting Merrigan in left field and batting him in the No. 9 position. All Merrigan did was double off the wall in his first collegiate at-bat. For the opening series, he went 7-for-11 with six RBI and six runs scored while facing three left-handed starting pitchers from Butler to earn his first CAA Rookie of the Week nod.

By game five, Merrigan had moved to the top of the order and was starting in center field, and he’s been a fixture ever since, putting together the most productive freshman season in Georgia State history. With 74 hits and 46 runs scored, he has easily surpassed the GSU freshman marks in those categories, while his 34 RBI are just seven away from the record. Merrigan’s .357 batting average would easily better the current freshman mark of .327 by Jean-Michel Rochon-Salvas in 2005.

And who knows what this freshman can do when he becomes a sophomore?

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