|Troy is working to get back into a regional, as the Trojans played at Vanderbilt in 2011.|
Just had a nice chat with coach Bobby Pierce about where things are. I'll turn this into a print story sometime next week when the spring/summer signees are released by the school, and they will fill some needs there with probably four JUCO players.
Troy won 6 of its last 7 three-game sets, if you include the tournament, and lose four seniors going to next year. Troy usually had fewer than the allotted 27 roster spots for conference games because of injuries and defections but the Trojans were still able to finish strong.
"No doubt about that (it gives us offseason momentum)," Pierce said. "I'm very encouraged with the way our team rallied in the second half of the season. The fact we ended on a very positive note, despite unfortunately not reaching the Sun Belt Tournament championship even though we went 2-1, it certainly should build momentum for next year. The challenge is for our team to get back to the upper echelon of the Sun Belt Conference."
***Pierce is still a strong advocate for round robin play in the Sun Belt Tournament. When the coaches in the conference debated this, they voted to do it on a two-year trial run. They'll vote again on the issue in August. Pros are that (1) Teams are better prepared for a regional with fewer games (2) the host team gets a 3-gate minimum to help with expenses and (3) each team knows who they are playing, what day and what time. The "con" is a belief that there are "meaningless games" to be played when the pool champions are already decided, but Pierce said he doesn't believe in "meaningless games" because they can give young players experience and give a team a chance to finish the season with a win, etc.
***The MLB Draft is early next week and three seniors - Tyler Ray, Tyler Hannah and Boone Shear - have a chance to get picked somewhere. Pierce doesn't think any underclassmen or signees would be drafted high enough to sign.
***From the fall signees, some immediate pitching help will come from some talented players. RHP Tanner Hicks went 10-1 with a 2.76 ERA at Central Alabama Community College and will challenge for the No. 1 spot. RHP Will Starling pitched Southern Union to the World Series as a freshman and didn't have quite as good of a sophomore year, but is expected to compete for a weekend spot. Starling went 5-6, 4.85 ERA, 4 saves this year but was 11-4, 2.89 ERA as a freshman. At the back end, Matthew Howard (5-2, 1.46 ERA, 9 saves) from Northwest Florida State is a 2-time Fireman of the Year (award for closers). Trae Santos, a LHP/1B/OF from NW Florida State, can also come in and help. Santos was 1-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 15 IP, but hit .311 with a team-best 5 HR and 25 RBIs. Freshman LHP Levi Tate from Enterprise will also get a long look.
Some bad news, as talented LHP signee Ben Tidwell is scheduled to meet with Dr. James Andrews and could be facing surgery.
***Some guys coming off injuries are progressing well. Pierce said LHPs Ryan Sorce and Shane McCain, key contributors in 2011, are on track. First baseman Kyle Brown had a second hip surgery but should be fine. RHP Adam Purdy will be ready for fall after ankle/foot surgery. RHP William Shell wasn't on the roster this year because he suffered an Achilles injury over winter break. OF Josh McDorman should be ready to go after shoulder surgery. He played a little bit this year but should get a medical redshirt. Catcher Brandon Brown played most of the year with a torn ligament in his thumb, but he'll get that fixed this summer.
***Outfielder Hayden Hillyer told coaches he was transferring to a smaller school, but not sure where yet.
***The summer comes at a good time for pitchers Thomas Austin and Nate Hill, both of whom took a heavy workload but will be resting this summer for their senior years. Hill has 35 appearances, 79 IP, a 7-2 record with a 3.53 ERA. Austin went 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 32 appearances/64 IPs.
***Some Troy players will be playing in summer leagues. LHP Jimmy Hodgskin is playing in the Cape Cod League for Hyannis. 1B Logan Pierce is playing for the Vermont Mountaineers of the New England Collegiate League. 3B Danny Collins is also playing in that league. OF Clay Holcomb is playing in a Perfect Game League in New York. Others will play in some nearby leagues.
***Troy is tentatively scheduled to open up next year against Florida A&M. Trojans are having a hard time getting quality teams on the schedule out of conference. Auburn won't play them anymore, and Alabama is back to only playing them in Tuscaloosa.
***All in all, I think Troy has a chance to be pretty good next year. The offense will be there, the defense will be there with a good shortstop (and that should be addressed with the spring signings). The key will be pitching - they just need to have better luck with injuries and have more guys pitching well as the season goes on.