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Courtesy: Georgia State Sports Communications
Josh Merrigan (left) and Matt Rose earned Freshman All-America honors.

Baseball Builds for the Future with 35-Win Season

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A year of transition proved to be a highly successful season for the Georgia State baseball program as it prepares for its move to the Sun Belt Conference. Led by one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, the 2013 Panthers blended impact newcomers with key veterans to record the third-highest victory total in school history in their final season in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Achieving their fifth winning mark in seven seasons under head coach Greg Frady, the Panthers posted a 35-21 overall record. Only Georgia State’s 2009 NCAA Tournament team (39-22) and 2011 club (37-21) won more games.

Georgia State went 14-13 in CAA play, despite a schedule imbalance that saw the Panthers play 15 conference road games versus only 12 at home, including series against the top three teams in the league away from home. The Panthers’ fifth-place finish would have qualified GSU for the CAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years, but the team was unable to participate, per league policy, due to Georgia State’s move to the Sun Belt on July 1, 2013.

“What a great year, especially considering how much this team overcame,” Frady said. “All year long, our players gave great effort and found a way to win. Even though we didn’t accomplish our ultimate team goal of winning 40 games and playing in an NCAA Regional – which are lofty goals, by any standard--this team has so much to be proud of.”

Notable accomplishments during the season include a 6-7 record against teams in the NCAA field, a 24-7 slate at home, an eight-game winning streak in April that equaled the second-longest streak in GSU history, and a 5-3 mark against in-state foes, highlighted by the Panthers’ first win over Georgia since 2001.

The Panthers also garnered individual recognition, highlighted by two honorable mention All-Americans, two Freshman All-Americans, two All-Atlantic Region honorees, and six all-conference and all-rookie players.

Throughout the season, Georgia State flashed its potent offense as the Panthers led the nation in hitting at various times throughout the spring before finishing in the top five in the NCAA in batting average and runs per game.

The Panthers achieved these lofty marks while relying on numerous freshmen in the everyday lineup and on the mound. The team also overcame season-ending injuries to two veteran starters in catcher Scott Sarratt and second baseman Greg Bowder.

Of the 12 position players who regularly saw action in 2013, seven were in their first year in the program, including three talented freshmen starters who combined for more than 500 at-bats. On the mound, freshmen made a total of 24 starts and logged nearly 200 innings.

“We settled on our lineup, our young guys emerged, and we played with a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Frady said. “I was impressed with the team concept and how everybody accepted their roles. Our entire organization was very cohesive to achieve our goals.

“We had strong contributions and leadership from our veterans, and when the younger guys got their chance, they ran with it. And that's only going to make us better in the future.”

INDIVIDUAL ACCOLADES ABOUND

Shortstop Chad Prain put together one of the most prolific offensive seasons in school history and was rewarded with honorable mention All-America honors by Louisville Slugger/CollegeBaseballInsider.com, as was designated hitter Chase Raffield.

Prain was also tabbed to the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award Watch List and was a semifinalist for the inaugural Gregg Olson Award as Breakout Player of the Year.

Georgia State’s strong freshman class earned national recognition as center fielder Josh Merrigan and pitcher-infielder Matt Rose were both named to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team by Collegiate Baseball newspaper, while Merrigan was also named a second-team Freshman All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Merrigan was honored as the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year, a first for the program.

Prain earned first-team All-CAA honors, while Merrigan, Raffield and third baseman Caden Bailey were second-team All-CAA selections. Raffield was a first-team All-Atlantic Region honoree by the ABCA, and Prain made the second team.

Three Panthers made the CAA All-Rookie team in Merrigan, Rose and catcher Joey Roach. Merrigan, Rose and pitchers Garrett Ford and Nathan Bates combined to claim the CAA’s Rookie of the Week award eight times during the season.

The accomplishments of the 2013 club extended beyond the playing field as catcher Scott Sarratt was named to the Capital One Academic All-America second team, becoming Georgia State’s first ever Academic All-American in baseball. Before his season-ending injury, Sarratt was named to the watch list for the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top catcher, and on March 5 he was honored as CAA Player of the Week after leading the Panthers to three wins in four games against Georgia and Boston College.

OFFENSIVE FIREPOWER

Georgia State’s calling card throughout the season was one of the nation’s most potent offenses. The Panthers hit .321 as a team, good for third in the nation, while averaging 7.9 runs per game to rank fourth nationally in scoring.

GSU also ranked fourth nationally in doubles per game (2.39/134), as well as fifth in slugging percentage (.468) and 10th in on-base percentage (.404).

This year’s offensive production rivaled that of Frady’s 2010 GSU squad that led the nation with 10.5 runs per game and ranked third with a .355 batting average, marks that are unlikely to be surpassed with the bats currently used in college baseball.

“It’s hard to compare teams and years, but without a doubt, this is one of the best offensive teams we've ever had,” Frady said.

“We've had offensive success in the past so I know what we are teaching is working, and I know the players are buying into our system,” he continued. “But you have to have great players. A great system doesn't work without great players, so you have to credit our players.”

Individually, Prain spent several weeks in March and April as the NCAA leader in batting average or hits before finishing the season with a .394 average, good for 11th in the nation. He knocked 89 hits during the year, just two shy of the school record, and he had a 20-game hitting streak as well as a string of 37 straight games of reaching safely. For the season, Prain failed to reach base in just two games.

Prain, who also drove in 48 runs and stole 15 bases, was one of four Panthers to bat higher than .350 for the season, along with designated hitter Chase Raffield (.382), center fielder Josh Merrigan (.353) and third baseman Caden Bailey (.353).

Merrigan’s .353 average bettered the previous high for a Panther freshman by nearly 30 points. The Panthers’ primary leadoff hitter also shattered the GSU freshmen records for hits (84) and runs scored (52). His .353 batting average was fifth in the nation among freshmen.

“It about selecting players, developing them and then giving them the confidence and the opportunity to go be who they are,” Frady said. “Josh Merrigan’s season really speaks volumes about that. We really didn't try to change Josh. We just helped with his confidence, helped with his adjustments, helped him understand how he was being pitched, and he did the rest.”

Raffield was the Panthers’ top power source, leading the team with 10 home runs, 19 doubles, 51 RBI and a .645 slugging percentage. First baseman Nic Wilson contributed eight round-trippers, and left fielder Chris Triplett added six.

The GSU offense remained productive despite losing two of its top right-handed hitters to season-ending injuries on the same day when senior catcher Scott Sarratt (.326) and junior second baseman Greg Bowder (.349) both went down April 20 at James Madison.

YOUNG PITCHING STAFF MAKES PROGRESS

Georgia State entered the season with numerous question marks on the mound as the Panthers returned only three pitchers, who had combined for fewer than 100 innings and just eight decisions in 2012.

Newcomers carried much of the load, including junior college transfers Andrew Fessler and Ben Burns and freshmen Garrett Ford, Nathan Bates and Matt Rose.

Despite missing the first two weeks of the season, the left-handed Fessler developed into the Panthers’ top starter, finishing with a 6-2 record and a 3.04 earned run average and leading the CAA with a .227 batting average against.

While Fessler led the staff with 77.0 innings, freshman lefty Garrett Ford (4-4) was right behind with 74.2 innings as he started every Saturday. Bates (2-1, 2.98 ERA) also spent time in the weekend rotation, highlighted by his 11-strikeout effort at New Orleans.

Rose’s (3-2, 5 saves, 2.55 ERA) impact on the mound increased as the season progressed, with the right-hander serving as both a closer and then a weekend starter who ended the season with back-to-back victories.

“We're excited about Matt Rose,” Frady said. “We brought him along slowly because he had an arm injury in the fall, but I can truly say he was pitching his best baseball at the end, As we go into next year, we can start that process from the beginning.”

Burns (6-3, 2 saves), a junior left-hander, and sophomore righty Jerry Stuckey (3-2, 3 saves) were workhorses out of the bullpen while making occasional starts, while sophomore right-hander Connor Stanley (5-2, 3 saves) was another bullpen stalwart who led the team with 26 appearances.

The staff’s total of 13 saves, posted by four different pitchers, is second only to the school-record 19 amassed by GSU’s 2009 club.

“In the games where we played well, we got stronger as the game went on, and you don't get stronger from the fifth inning on unless your pitching, particularly the bullpen, gives you a chance,” Frady said.

HEAD COACH GREG FRADY

Head coach Greg Frady reached two significant milestones during the season. On March 3, the Panthers defeated Boston College, 7-6, to win the series and give Frady his 200th victory at Georgia State. Frady finished his seventh season at the helm with a record of 228-173-1 at GSU. He owns the highest winning percentage (.568) among all Georgia State head coaches while ranking second to Mike Hurst (293 wins) in victories.

Frady, who compiled 187 victories in six seasons as the head coach at North Florida Community College from 1991-96, earned his 400th victory as a collegiate head coach on April 7 versus Fordham. 

Since taking the reins prior to the 2007 season, Frady has guided the Georgia State program to 33 or more wins in five of his seven seasons. To put that in perspective, prior to his arrival, the Panthers had won as many as 30 games only twice in their history.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS

In the season’s second week, with Georgia making a rare visit to GSU Baseball Complex, Chris Triplett’s two-run homer in the fifth inning put the Panthers ahead and on their way to a 10-7 victory for Georgia State’s first win over the Bulldogs since 2001. Georgia State rallied from deficits of 3-0, 4-1 and 7-4 to snap a 12-game losing streak against Georgia.

The win over Georgia kicked off a very successful week for the Panthers, who then took a weekend series from Boston College, played at Al Lang Field in Tampa, Fla. That gave GSU three wins in four games against foes from the powerful Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences, annually the top two leagues in college baseball.

Enjoying success against its in-state rivals, the Panthers took two of three games from Kennesaw State, split a home-and-home with Mercer, an NCAA Tournament team, and defeated Savannah State, another NCAA qualifier.

The Panthers opened CAA play by winning five of their first six games, including two memorable walk-off wins.

The opening series against George Mason was tied at one game apiece when the Panthers fell behind 6-0. Georgia State rallied to tie the game at 6-6, fell behind again, 7-6, and then tied the game in the bottom of the eighth when Chase Raffield was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Caden Bailey led off the bottom of the ninth inning with his first career homer to give the Panthers the 8-7, walk-off win.

One week later, the Panthers pulled out an even more improbable victory, rallying from a 10-1 deficit in the sixth inning for a 12-10 win over Old Dominion. The Panthers scored two in the sixth, two in the seventh and three in the eighth to pull within 10-8. Nic Wilson hit a solo homer with one out in the ninth, and then Greg Bowder drew a walk and scored the tying run on an infield single and wild throw. Then Chase Raffield belted a two-run, walk-off home run. This dramatic comeback came one year to the day after Georgia State scored 11 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to turn a 10-run deficit into a 13-12 victory over Northeastern on March 16, 2012.

The Panthers put together an eight-game winning streak in April, equaling the second-longest streak in school history. The GSU record is 10 in a row in 2011.

The month of April also saw Georgia State play a string of five straight one-run games, three of them in extra innings and all of them on the road. GSU won four of those one-run games, including 12- and 11-inning wins at New Orleans and a 10-inning victory at Kennesaw State in a five-day span. Georgia State played a total of seven extra-inning contests during the season.

“It was very satisfying and gratifying to see the program go in a positive direction, despite the obstacles,” Frady said. “Then you step back and say, what can we do next year? The ceiling is high because we return most of our players. The seniors that we did graduate will be missed, but the next group will step up.

“We’ll need our incoming recruits to get on the same page quickly, and if we can do that, with all our returnees, we have a chance for a great season next year.”

NATIONAL HONORS

 

Louisville Slugger/CollegeBaseballInsider.com All-America

Chad Prain, SS (honorable mention)

 

Chase Raffield, DH (honorable mention)

Capital One Academic All-America:

Scott Sarratt, C (second team)

Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team (Collegiate Baseball):

Josh Merrigan, OF

 

Matt Rose, P-INF

NCBWA Freshman All-American Team

Josh Merrigan, OF (second team)

Johnny Bench Award (Nation’s Top Catcher), Watch List:

Scott Sarratt, C

Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award, Watch List:

Chad Prain, SS

Gregg Olson Award (Breakout Player of the Year), Semifinalist:

Chad Prain, SS

   

REGIONAL HONORS

 

ABCA All-Atlantic Region

Chase Raffield, DH (first team) 

 

Chad Prain, SS (second team) 

Capital One Academic All-District IV:

Scott Sarratt, C (first team)

   

CONFERENCE HONORS

 

CAA Rookie of the Year:

Josh Merrigan, OF

First-team All-CAA:

Chad Prain, SS

Second-Team All-CAA:

Caden Bailey, 3B

 

Josh Merrigan, OF

 

Chase Raffield, DH

CAA All-Rookie:

Josh Merrigan, OF

 

Matt Rose, P-INF

 

Joey Roach, C

   

CONFERENCE WEEKLY HONORS

 

CAA Player of the Week:

Scott Sarratt, C (Mar. 5)

CAA Rookie of the Week:

Josh Merrigan, OF (Feb. 18, Mar. 18, Apr. 22)

 

Garrett Ford, P (Mar. 11, Apr. 29)

 

Matt Rose, P-INF (Apr. 8, May 13)

 

Nathan Bates, P (Apr. 15)

NCAA RANKINGS

   

Batting Average

0.321

3rd

Hits

650

18th

Runs Per Game

7.7

4th

Runs

432

13th

Doubles

134

6th

Doubles Per Game

2.39

4th

On-Base Percentage

0.404

10th

Slugging Percentage

0.468

5th

Double Plays

57

21st

Double Plays Per Game

1.02

19th

 

 

 

Batting Average

 

 

Chad Prain

0.394

11th

Chase Raffield

0.382

25th

 

 

 

Hits

 

 

Chad Prain

89

22nd

 

 

 

Slugging Percentage

 

 

Chase Raffield

0.645

20th

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