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PREVIEW: UGA, Georgia Tech, FSU baseball teams open season today

A pair of former Lee County stars who are now playing in college --- Daniel Nichols and Chase Griffin --- will face off today when Nichols' Georgia Bulldogs host Griffin's Georgia Southern Eagles.

A pair of former Lee County stars who are now playing in college --- Daniel Nichols and Chase Griffin --- will face off today when Nichols' Georgia Bulldogs host Griffin's Georgia Southern Eagles.

ATHENS — Georgia opens the 2013 season at Georgia Southern today at 6 p.m., looking to begin on a high note after an up-and-down 2012 campaign.

The Bulldogs last opened a season on the road in 2011 when it went to Stetson for a three-game set. Georgia went 31-26 last year and saw its season end at the SEC Tournament. Meanwhile, the Eagles posted a 33-27 mark and ended their year at the Southern Conference Tournament.

The probable opening day lineup will feature seven veterans and a big-time freshman in the batting order as two Southwest Georgia teammates prepare to clash. Freshmen Daniel Nichols (DH) — a former Lee County star and Herald Co-Player of the Year — will make his Bulldog debut against Georgia Southern against Eagles sophomore catcher Chase Griffin, who returns after an award-winning freshman campaign. Griffin was named the league’s Freshman of the Year and was a Freshman All-American Selection in 2012.

Griffin led the 2012 team with 10 home runs and posted a team-best .343 batting average during SoCon play.

He is the first GSU freshman since Steve Walson (12 HRs in 1996) to hit 10 home runs in a season.

Griffin hit nine of his homers during a stretch of 20 games from March 17 to April 15.

The Leesburg, native hit .413 with a 1.341 OPS, six doubles and 24 RBIs during that period.

Georgia welcomes back five starters and seven pitchers from last season, headlined by senior All-SEC third baseman Curt Powell (.355-2-20, 12 SB), senior Kyle Farmer (.302-4-41), who served as the Team USA shortstop this past summer, and outfielder Hunter Cole (.276-7-23) who earned Freshman All-America honors in 2012.

Georgia welcomes back five starters and seven pitchers from last season, headlined by senior All-SEC third baseman Curt Powell (.355-2-20, 12 SB), senior Kyle Farmer (.302-4-41), who served as the Team USA shortstop this past summer, and outfielder Hunter Cole (.276-7-23) who earned Freshman All-America honors in 2012.

Freshman right-hander Sean McLaughlin draws the opening day start. He would be the first true freshman Bulldog pitcher to start opening day in records dating back to 1972. McLaughlin is slated to see action as an outfielder in the series, too. Redshirt junior left-hander Patrick Boling (1-2, 5.62 ERA in 2011) will start Saturday and sophomore right-hander Luke Crumley (3-2, 3.86 ERA in 2012) goes Sunday.

David Perno begins his 12th season at the helm and 17th overall at UGA. He has guided the Bulldogs to six NCAA appearances with three trips to the College Word Series, including the CWS Finals in 2008.

The Eagles, under the direction of Rodney Hennon, have been picked to finish fifth in the Southern Conference according to voting by league coaches and media. GSU has 19 returning lettermen including nine starters (seven position, two from the rotation).

Since 1950, Georgia holds a 45-27-1 edge in the series. The teams last met in 2005. The team split a two-game set in Athens (GSU 4-1, UGA 7-4) while the Eagles claimed a 9-4 decision in Statesboro.

Georgia Tech

ATLANTA — Preseason No. 21 Georgia Tech opens its 116th season, and the 20th under head coach Danny Hall, today when the Yellow Jackets begin a three-game series versus Akron at Russ Chandler Stadium.

The Yellow Jackets are coming off the program’s eighth ACC Championship in 2012, going 38-26, and reaching an NCAA Regional for 28th time in program history and for the 26th time in the last 28 years.

Tech welcomes 23 players back from 2012 and boasts one of the most experienced lineups in the nation. Preseason All-America seniors Buck Farmer and Brandon Thomas each turned down high draft picks to return in 2013, and six Jackets have each played 117 games or more in their college careers.

Akron comes to Atlanta with a second-year head coach that’s no stranger to the Yellow Jackets. Rick Rembielak, who was a volunteer assistant on Danny Hall’s staff in 2011, has won 530 games as a college head coach.

Georgia Tech is ranked in all four polls to open the regular season, marking the 20th time under Hall that the Jackets are ranked in at least one preseason poll. Tech was a preseason pick by the ACC coaches to finish second to North Carolina in the Coastal Division.

Georgia Tech, which captured the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title for the eighth time, finished the 2012 season 38-26 overall, 12-18 in ACC play.

Last year saw Hall achieve a pair of noteworthy career milestones, winning his 800th career game at Tech and the 1,000th in his overall head-coaching career.

The Jackets have all but one starting position player returning and welcome back every pitcher that contributed significant innings down the stretch.

Farmer is expected to hold down the No. 1 spot in the rotation, with junior RHP Dusty Isaacs and sophomore RHP Cole Pitts — the same rotation Tech used for much of the 2012 season.

Junior Zane Evans is among the nation’s top multi-purpose players. The Roswell native is Tech’s top returning catcher, who hit .295 last year and was among the ACC’s leaders with seven saves as the closer.

There may be no bigger power threat in the ACC than junior Daniel Palka. The lefty, who competed in the 2012 TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby, has mashed 24 home runs in his first two seasons.

Across the diamond, Tech will look similar to 2012 with Thomas and Kyle Wren in the outfield, Mott Hyde and Thomas Smith up the middle in the infield and Evans catching. Freshman Matt Gonzalez, who was drafted in the 11th round but chose Tech, could win the starting job at third base — a move that would bump senior Sam Dove to the outfield and Palka to first base.

Following an impressive fall season, sophomore A.J. Murray is expected to be starting at either first base or as the designated hitter. Sophomore Daniel Spingola and freshman Dylan Dore also give Tech options in the outfield.

Behind Farmer, Isaacs and Pitts in the starting rotation, freshman LHP Jonathan King was strong in the fall and continues to compete for a starting spot, along with sophomore righty Josh Heddinger.

With seven saves in 2012, Evans is expected to anchor Tech’s bullpen as the closer, and junior Alex Cruz (1.83 ERA, 8-3 in 2012) being the bridge to Evans. Junior righty Jonathan Roberts was strong in the fall and should compete for more impactful innings in 2013.

Tech was void of lefty options in the bullpen in 2012, but that will change in 2013 with King, fellow freshman southpaw Sam Clay and the return of junior Devin Stanton, who missed all but one game last season with an injury. Stanton underwent Tommy John surgery and the expectations are for him to return to game action by March.

Georgia Tech has been ranked in the preseason Top 25 by at least one of the major polls (Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, USA Today/Baseball Weekly) in each of Danny Hall’s 20 seasons as the Yellow Jackets’ skipper.

After finishing last season outside of the Top 25 in all four major polls, Tech debuts this year at 16th by Baseball America, 17th by Collegiate, and 21st in both the National Collegiate Baseball Writers and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll.

The Yellow Jackets have played in the NCAA Tournament every year since 1985, with the exception of the 1999 and 2007 seasons, and made its 28th postseason appearance all time last year.

Florida State

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — FSU’s 2013 college baseball season gets under way today at 4 p.m. on Mike Martin Field inside Dick Howser Stadium, when No. 9 Florida State hosts Rhode Island.

Today’s game will mark the first of a 15-game home stand for the Seminoles to start the 2013 campaign.

The Seminoles and Rams are no strangers to each other as the two schools met just last year in Tallahassee. FSU won all three games outscoring URI 25-11 en route to the series sweep. But don’t let the run differential fool you as games two and three of the series were determined by a combined three runs.

Florida State embarks on the 2013 season, winners of 14 in a row on opening day, while posting an all-time record of 57-7-1. Today marks the first time that FSU will play Rhode Island on opening day. The Seminoles have also not lost the first series of the season since 1981 – a streak of 31 consecutive series victories on opening weekend.

Sophomore Brandon Leibrandt will take the mound as the opening day starter today for the second straight year. He will be followed Saturday by RHP Scott Sitz and on Sunday by RHP Peter Miller.