With the Georgia State baseball team returning seven batters from the nation's highest-scoring lineup (10.5 rpg), expectations may be the highest they've been in program history. Thankfully for the Panthers, 16 seniors and 22 total letterwinners return from last year's prolific squad.
In 2010, Georgia State shattered nine major single-season offensive school records, including batting average, home runs, runs scored and RBI's.
Losing just four letterwinners off that team means high hopes for 2011, where CAA coaches have picked Georgia State to finish second (just two points behind perennial power James Madison) in the league this season. Panthers head coach Greg Frady knows it's his 16 seniors who will determine how far the team can go in 2011.
"Our senior leadership is simply huge as we have guys that are battle-tested, proven winners," said Frady. "This core group of veterans has established a tremendous work ethic throughout the offseason and raised the bar for the entire program. I'm excited to see how far they can lead us this spring."
The Panthers boast the 2011 CAA Preseason Player of the Year in outfielder Mark Micowski. The senior batted .392 a season ago, with 40 RBI, five home runs and a .482 on-base percentage. He set the Panthers' single-season runs-scored mark with 69 and stole a team-high 17 bases in 20 attempts. Micowski's 2010 numbers placed him in the top ten of five Georgia State single-season categories. His .982 fielding percentage led all Panther outfielders.
Micowski is joined on the Preseason All-CAA Team by fellow senior outfielder Ryan Fleming and junior infielder Brandon Williams. Three additional Panthers were named preseason honorable mention by the league, giving Georgia State more preseason CAA accolades than any other conference school.
"If we can find a way to match our offensive production from a year ago, play terrific defense and support our talented pitching staff, it can be a very exciting season for Georgia State baseball," Frady says.
Even with such a dynamic lineup, Georgia State coaches believe it's the pitching staff that will deliver wins for the Panthers this season. First-year assistant coach Jason Arnold takes charge of a talented group that should provide the Panthers with many options.
"I'm excited about the guys we have on the staff this year," comments Arnold. "We have some great depth by combining veteran leadership with incoming talent."
The lefty Francis led all starters a year ago with a 4.86 ERA in posting a 6-3 record. He struck out 75 batters while walking just 22, and was named to the All-CAA Third Team following the year.
The right-handed Olson pitched more innings (93.2) than any other Panther a year ago, his first season since transferring from Pasco-Hernando Community College in Florida. Olson posted a 5-4 record in 14 starts, striking out 75 while walking just 38.
Junior right-hander Nick Squeglia is in contention to be the team's third starter. Squeglia posted a 3-3 record last season in 15 appearances, with a 5.40 ERA in 31.2 innings.
Georgia State's all-time saves leader Justin Malone enters his junior season as another large part of the Panthers' starting pitching plans. Named a Preseason All-CAA honorable mention, Malone is expected to transition into a mid-week or potential weekend starting role. He made a team-high 26 relief appearances in 2010, picking up five saves and earning a 4-1 record. The former Louisville Slugger and Pro-Line NCBWA All-American has compiled a 3.75 ERA over his first two seasons at State, holding opponents to a .247 batting average. Malone is also expected to make defensive starts at shortstop, where coaches consider him one of the team's best defensive infielders.
The Panthers look to replace the production of departed stalwarts David Buchanan and Ryan Moore, who combined for 21 starts a year ago. Buchanan was drafted in the 7th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. Moore graduated from Georgia State in May and signed an independent league contract.
"Our rotation will likely feature a group of seniors and juniors that have a great amount of top-level experience," says Arnold. It is our hope that they will set the tone for the entire staff by pitching us deep into ballgames."
The Panthers' bullpen will have many different options this upcoming season. Senior right-hander Jeremy Gazerro will be counted on again to eat relief innings in 2011. Gazerro was 5-4 a season ago in 19 appearances, tied for second-most on the team. He held opposing batters to a team-low .232 average on the year.
Campbell, a senior, posted a near 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio a season ago, and has fanned 60 batters in 36 appearances over his Panther career.
Chastain, also a senior, holds a 5.48 career ERA in 36 innings of work for the Panthers, while holding opponents to a .283 batting average. He appeared seven times in relief a year ago.
Marshall enters his junior year having made 23 career appearances at State, compiling 41 strikeouts in 40.2 innings of work.
Two returning southpaws figure to play a big role in keeping opposing hitters off balance in seniors Theo Asher and Wes Grant. Asher has made 21 appearances over three years with the Panthers, including a career-high nine in 2010. He has a 5.70 ERA in 30 career innings, and was the winning pitcher as Georgia State clinched its first-ever CAA Tournament championship in 2009. Grant returns after suffering a season-ending broken leg halfway through the 2010 season. He made five relief appearances in his first season with State before the injury.
Panther fans will also see a few new faces coming out of the bullpen in 2011.
Jake Dyer, a transfer from Georgia Perimeter College, will have two years of eligibility at Georgia State and figures to be a versatile arm. Dyer posted an 11-4 record with 114 strikeouts over two seasons at GPC, earning first team all-conference and all-tournament honors.
Dyer's former GPC teammate Brandon Bast also joins the Panther program, a right-handed sophomore. Additional junior college transfers that should figure into the pitching mix this season include junior LHP Josh Chesler (Phoenix College), junior RHP Tyler Claburn (Wallace-Dothan CC) and sophomore RHP Cole Outz (Young Harris JC).
Agnew-Wieland (Marietta, Ga./Wheeler HS) has emerged during the preseason as a top pitching option, even among the team's many veterans. He was named to the Region 6-AAAAA first team and Georgia Dugout Club All-Star Team his senior year of high school, piling up 75 strikeouts in 66.2 innings at the state's highest classification.
Riley (Decatur, Ga./Decatur HS) comes to Georgia State after a successful career playing for former Panther Rusty Bennett at Decatur High, including tossing a complete game shutout against state champion Lovett his senior year.
RHP Aidan McLaughlin (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge HS) will have four years of eligibility remaining after redshirting a year ago.
In Arnold, the pitching staff has a first-year leader that Frady knows well. Arnold pitched collegiately for the University of Central Florida from 1999-2001 while Frady was the team's associate head coach.
"The qualities I admired about Jason as a player- his competitiveness, his commitment, his hard work and academic success- led me to pursuing him as our next pitching coach at Georgia State," Frady said. "The transition for our program has been very smooth and I believe our pitching staff is taking a strong step forward."
The Panthers will have the luxury of senior leadership behind the plate in 2011, no matter who gets the nod each game. Seniors Shane Hammond and Carter Sackett figure to split catching duties as they did a season ago, with fellow senior utility man Aaron Schmitz as an additional option.
"In our catchers, we have three guys who have worked their tails off," Frady says. "They provide a lot of experience working with our staff. They're all smart guys who can get information into the game and bring a very athletic style of catching to our defensive team."
Hammond batted .308 in 44 games for the Panthers last year, starting 28 times. He drove in 21 runs on the season and scored 20 more. Sackett produced similar offensive numbers in 2010, while starting 23 games for State behind the plate. The Savage, Minn. native batted .241, with 22 RBI and scored 20 runs. Aaron Schmitz has a stellar .986 fielding percentage in his 40 career appearances at Georgia State, while batting a career-high .296 a year ago.
Despite losing record-setting seniors Bradley Logan and Carl Moniz to graduation, the Georgia State infield will offer a host of multi-dimensional stars in 2011. Featured are two utility infielders who became just the fifth and sixth players in Panther history to bat over.400 in a season in senior Rob Lind and junior Brandon Williams.
Lind, a native of Hartford, S.D. shined in his first season on campus after transferring from Iowa Western Community College. He batted .402 on the season with 56 RBI's and nine home runs, and tied for second on the team with 59 runs scored. Lind will be counted on at second and third base this season, having started 52 of the team's 57 games a year ago. The Preseason All-CAA honorable mention will look to duplicate his team-leading .494 on-base percentage in 2011.
Williams, a corner infielder from nearby Marietta, Ga., has put himself in position to be one of the most prolific players in school history. His 2010 performance put him in the top ten in seven Georgia State offensive single-season categories: RBI (first), hits (t-first), total bases (second), average (second), at bats (fifth), doubles (t-fifth) and runs scored (t-sixth). Williams' 56 starts were more than any other Panther in 2010. He figures to play both first and third base this season, and boasts the highest fielding percentage (.982) of any returning infielder. He also enters 2011 on the Preseason All-CAA squad.
"Rob and Brandon deserve a lot of respect for their 2010 season, being in such select company of .400 hitters is truly a rare thing," commented Frady.
Additional veterans give the Panthers depth at each infield position. Returning shortstop/second baseman Daniel Blaustein has made 49 appearances in his first two seasons at State and has a strong chance to be in the mix on opening day. The junior batted .362 a year ago, with 17 RBI and 16 runs scored. Coaches believe senior Bryan Condotta is primed for a breakout season, as the middle infielder has been very impressive throughout the preseason. The Mississauga, Ont. native appeared in 39 games last year, making 11 starts in his first season since transferring from Bossier Parish Community College in Louisiana. Like Williams, Aaron Schmitz can play either corner infield position, adding balance to the returning unit. Schmitz batted .296 with nine RBI and two home runs in 2010 and has appeared in 40 career games over his first three seasons. Utility player Justin Malone will also be featured at shortstop throughout the season.
Newcomer Drew Shields (Canton, GA/Darton College) excites the coaching staff with his ability and is expected to challenge for a starting infield spot himself in 2011. In his one year at Darton, Shields led the team with a .408 batting average and was named first team all-conference.
"This is a very athletic group with a lot of interchangeable parts," Frady says. "Look for these guys to make all the routine plays and many of the spectacular."
The Panthers' 2011 outfield is loaded with experience, talent and some serious pop at the plate.
"The guys we bring back to the outfield are our veteran leaders," Frady says. "The entire group brings high energy and consistent performance on defense and at the plate."
With senior Jonathan Kolowich battling preseason injuries, seniors Micowski, Fleming and Brett Maxwell project as the starting unit. While each has played just one season at State after transferring, the group's 2010 offensive numbers eliminated any doubts about each's ability to get comfortable in a new home. The trio combined for 133 starts, totaling a .369 season average, 204 hits and 123 RBI's.
Micowski (CAA Preseason POY) headlines the bunch as the everyday left fielder. After two years at the University of Vermont, Micowski's first season as a Panther was nothing short of remarkable. He batted .392 on the year, driving in 40 runs and cracking 5 home runs. Micowski's 91 hits tied Brandon Williams for a new Panther single-season record and his 232 at-bats were second-most in school history. He was named to the All-CAA first team following the year.
"Mark is a tremendous leader for our club. He is a rare talent that possesses both power and speed and his numbers back that up. He's very deserving of his status as CAA Preseason Player of the Year and I look for him to anchor our club as a proven leader," Frady says.
Micowski's school-record 69 runs were more than any other CAA player scored last season, and his 17 stolen bases led all Panthers in 2010. Right fielder Ryan Fleming joins Micowski not only on the 2011 Preseason All-CAA squad, but also in the Panther outfield. The senior from Whitby, Ont. led the Panthers in home runs a season ago with 13, while batting .375 overall and driving in 59 runs. His .688 slugging percentage in 2010 ranks as fifth-best in Panther history. Fleming started 44 games for the Panthers last year after transferring from Iowa Western Community College.
Playing center field and rounding out the trio of veteran starters is redshirt-senior Brett Maxwell. 2010 was also Maxwell's first season playing with the Panthers after sitting out 2009 with an injury, and he made an impact right away. In 36 starts, Maxwell hit .324 with 24 RBI's after making the jump from Chipola Community College. He also tied for third on the team with 12 stolen bases.
Battling lower back issues, Kolowich will be a dependable outfield option for Frady when healthy. Having averaged 36 games-played per season during his three years at Georgia State. Kolowich has seen action in all three outfield positions and will be a difference-maker upon his return. He holds a career .309 batting average with 66 RBI's and 11 home runs in three years.
Joey Wood, the Panthers' projected opening day designated hitter, is an additional outfield option. Wood batted .386 a year ago, with 39 RBI's and nine home runs. The redshirt-junior has missed significant time due to injury each of the past two seasons, but enters 2011 healthy and as a Preseason All-CAA honorable mention.
While 15 Panthers will be in their final year of eligibility this season, a select group of five holds a special distinction. Theo Asher, Will Campbell, Zach Chastain, Jonathan Kolowich and Aaron Schmitz are all fourth-year seniors who have played their entire careers at Georgia State. One of coach Frady's first full signing classes, this group has presided over the only three year span in school history in which the Panthers have eclipsed the 30-win mark each year. The five can pass departed senior Bradley Logan as the winningest players in Panther history with 27 or more victories in 2011.
"Any time you have four-year players, it's special," says Frady. "But these guys have been extra-special in the way they've improved the culture at Georgia State and made us a consistent winner.
"Each guy has done a great job of helping new players to understand the system and their personal responsibilities. This group is truly the foundation of our leadership in 2011."
Panther baseball fans will get plenty of chances to see this year's veteran team as 33 of Georgia State's 56 games will take place at home in Panthersville. This is the most home games Georgia State will play since the 2008 season when 34 contests took place in Panthersville.
"This year's schedule provides great balance for our team," says coach Frady. "Early in the season we have a lot of home games, which helps our team find their comfort level."
Georgia State fans can see the team play in Atlanta once more as the Panthers take on cross-town rival Georgia Tech at Russ Chandler Stadium on Mar. 2. The Panthers will look to snap a four-game slide to the Yellow Jackets as the teams meet for the 64th time.
Georgia State's 2011 schedule features seven teams that won 30 or more games a season ago, including three NCAA Regional participants and two defending conference champions.
This year's slate also features six squads the Panthers have never faced- Harvard (Ivy League), Iowa (Big Ten), Mississippi State (SEC), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Texas Southern (SWAC) and Western Illinois (Summit League).
One such matchup with the Tigers of Texas Southern will kick off Georgia State's 2011 season, a three-game home series beginning Feb. 18 in Panthersville. The matchup with the defending SWAC western division champions will be the first meeting between Georgia State and any program from the state of Texas.
The highlight of the 2011 non-conference season comes with a trip to Starkville, Mississippi Mar. 4-6 as the Panthers play their only tournament-format series of the regular season. Waiting for the Panthers are two more first-time opponents in Iowa and host Mississippi State. The Hawkeyes finished third in the Big Ten a season ago with a 30-28 record while the Bulldogs were 23-33 in 2010.
The Panthers will face each squad twice over the three-day period at Dudy Noble Field, the nation's largest on-campus baseball facility. The stadium has hosted 21 of the NCAA's top 25 largest baseball crowds, including a record 14,991 fans for SEC action in 1989.
Additional non-conference games of note for the Panthers in 2011 include series with in-state rivals Mercer and Kennesaw State.
The Panthers will take on the Mercer Bears three times in 2011, including the 100th all-time meeting between the schools in Panthersville on April 5. Mercer made the NCAA Tournament a season ago, capping a 38-24 season and an Atlantic Sun conference title.
Kennesaw State plays host to the Panthers on Mar. 23, the front end of a home-and-home series that concludes in Panthersville April 19. Georgia State is 5-6 against the Owls dating back to 1984.
Conference play kicks off Mar. 11 in Panthersville as Georgia State begins the 2011 CAA season against Towson. The Panthers look to avenge a three-game sweep at the hands of the Tigers in 2010, including 19-18 and 14-13 losses.
Georgia State plays four additional conference series at home in 2011, including a visit from defending tournament champion VCU, Mar. 25-27. The Rams defeated the Panthers in the opening game of the 2010 CAA Tournament and went on to claim their fifth conference crown in the last nine seasons. Georgia State has been picked to finish second in the league in 2011 by CAA coaches, one spot ahead of the Rams.
Hofstra (Apr. 29-May 1) and George Mason (May 19-21) also come to Atlanta for conference series.
The biggest road series of the Panthers' season could come in early April as Georgia State heads to Harrisonburg, Va. to take on preseason CAA favorite James Madison. The Dukes finished just two points ahead of Georgia State in the preseason coaches' poll, and placed three players on the Preseason All-CAA squad, just like the Panthers. The two clubs did not meet in 2010, but the Dukes have won seven straight matchups between the two clubs.
"The second half of the season, we'll certainly be tested on the road," Frady says. "This schedule features a lot of tough, high-level road games."
Another highlight of the road schedule comes May 6-8 when the Panthers travel to UNC Wilmington. The Panthers hope it won't be the last time they're at Brooks Field in 2011, as the Seahawks again play host to the CAA tournament later in the month.
Georgia State will make additional road trips in conference to Delaware (Apr. 1-3), Northeastern (Apr. 22-24) and William & Mary (May 12-14).
The top four teams in the CAA standings will be invited to the conference championship tournament in Wilmington May 26-28. Georgia State looks to make the field for the third straight year, as the Panthers and host Seahawks are the only conference teams to earn a spot in both 2009 and 2010. Georgia State took the title in 2009 and NCAA Regional berth in 2009, but fell just short of repeating in 2010.
"Each game and series will offer something new and adjustments will be made," says Frady . "The keys for each series will be for us to come prepared to do the things we can control in order to meet our overall expectations."
Having won at least 30 games in each of the past three seasons, the Georgia State Panthers look to take the next step on the diamond in 2011. One of just two conference schools to reach the season-ending CAA Tournament each of the past two seasons, the team hopes to position itself to reach Wilmington once again and compete for an NCAA Regional title.
"We expect to play at a highly competitive level this season," Frady says. "Our goals are to be consistent in our work, our commitment, our preparation and our execution. If we can do this, the results will fall into place and we'll find ourselves in the tournaments we want to be in at the end of the year."