Georgia Southwestern pitcher Justin Lott, a former star at Deerfield-Windsor, is one of the keys players for the Hurricanes, who hope there is enough time left in the season to earn a playoff spot.
AMERICUS — The Georgia Southwestern baseball team has started to turn its season around, but coach Bryan McLain is asking himself one big question.
Is there enough time left for it to make a difference?
“That’s the big question right now,” said McLain, whose Hurricanes are 3-14 in Peach Belt Conference play and seven games out of the final playoff spot with only 12 PBC games remaining. “We have to accept the fact that we dug ourselves into this hole and just need to concentrate on going out there and playing as well as we can, and at the end of the day if it’s not enough we will know where most of the blame will fall and we accept that.”
GSW, which is 12-22 overall, has won five of its last eight games and is coming off a victory Saturday against nationally-ranked No. 2 Lander University, but the Hurricanes have had to fight through five separate losing streaks of three or more games and are only ahead of Augusta State in the PBC standings.
It’s been a dark season in Americus, but the clouds have finally started to part in the past two weeks.
“We have started playing a lot better,” McLain said. “I think we just kind of finally figured out what our identity is as a team. We started to understand that it’s OK to be in tight ball games, and we will need to scrap and battle. We aren’t going to blow people out.”
Right at the heart of the turnaround has been the pitching staff, which has allowed 4.3 runs per game since March 20, compared to 7.4 runs in their first 27 games.
Junior starter and former Lee County star Matthew Suggs has a team-low 2.83 ERA and is a big reason the Hurricanes are peaking.
“Matt is well thought of throughout the league by the other coaches,” McLain said about Suggs, who is 3-5 with 53 strikeouts and 18 walks. “He has developed a reputation of being an outstanding left-handed pitcher. The good thing is that he is going to be back with us next year, and as good as he is he still has a lot of places where he can improve and get better and have the opportunity to be even more consistent.”
GSW has also gotten good outings out of Frank Ambrosino (5.10 ERA) and former Deerfield star Justin Lott (4.29 ERA), who held Lander to six hits and two runs in 5 2/3 innings in Saturday’s 3-2 win.
Lott, a senior right-hander who overcame serious shoulder surgery three years ago, also leads the team in strikeouts with 56.
“He is a persistent young man,” McLain said. “He wanted to follow his dream of pitching in collegiate baseball, and he has definitely done that. We used him last year as a bullpen guy.
“He has always wanted to be a starter, but we were concerned about his ability to go deep into games.”
Lott started this season in the bullpen but has emerged as a go-to starter and has a 2.23 ERA in his last four starts.
“I think a lot of the credit for (the recent success) goes to our pitching staff,” McLain said. “We have gone out and pitched extremely well. Guys have settled into some different rolls and have done a good job coming out of the bullpen as well as getting quality starting pitching.”
Bray Bishop, Dylan Folds, Earl Dupree and Drew Cataldo all picked up wins during the Hurricanes’ recent surge, but GSW still has an uphill battle to make the PBC playoffs for the first time since 2010.
“But as long as we have games to play, this group of men will show up and represent ourselves as well as the university,” McLain said.
WESTWOOD’S SMITH SITTING OUT FOR GSW: Three-time Herald Player of the Year and former Westwood tennis star Sydnee Smith was redshirted this season as a freshman at GSW.
Smith won four GISA Class A state titles in a row, made it to the state semifinals as an eighth-grader and finished her high school career 87-1 on the court.
GSW men’s and women’s tennis coach Brennon Sewell said that since Smith — like most athletes — will likely take five years to finish college, it made sense to give her a year away from competition to adjust to the difference of play between GISA and arguably the best Division II tennis conference in the country.
“We thought it would be better for her game to practice this year and see the competitive level we play in, and it still gives her four more years to play,” Sewell said. “She is a very control-type player, which works OK as long as you aren’t being pushed around the court by speed. She has picked up the pace of her game and is probably hitting the ball at least 33 percent harder than when she got here.”
Sewell, who is returning his top four players and gaining a talented recruiting class next season, also said a spot in the lineup won’t be guaranteed for Smith next season but there will be lively competition for the last few singles positions.
The Lady Hurricanes are currently 7-16 overall and 0-12 in the conference heading into Saturday’s season finale at Columbus State.