In less than two weeks, the Troy University baseball team will step foot on the diamond and prepare to defend its title as Sun Belt Conference champions. One key element to its execution of this task is the team’s defense.
Last year, the Troy defense was a key component to the team’s winning record and postseason. From the starters to the bullpen, many players helped the team function as a well-oiled machine.
Returning players that carried the load before are pre-season All-American Tyler Vaughn, who will continue to play shortstop for the Trojans; Shane McCain, who was the 2013 Sun Belt pitcher of the year and Tanner Hicks, who was a starting pitcher for the Trojans.
The pitching staff for the Trojan defense had to carry a large load through a tough season last year and the players for this season know it’s tough to produce endurance and carry the load throughout the entire course of the season.
“There is certainly a load to be carried by the pitching staff and we obviously returned Tanner and a lot of core guys that have a lot of experience,” McCain said.
McCain and Hicks will be in starting roles for the pitching staff. McCain had a 9-1 record in 2013 and earned a 3.48 ERA throughout his 10 starts. Hicks ended last season with an 8-4 record and ERA of 3.61. He also leads the team in innings pitched.
“We do have some experience returning on the mound that has been very successful for us,” said head coach Bobby Pierce. “So at the front end with McCain and Hicks, possibly Will Starling coming back from Tommy John surgery being ready, those three would be a great place to start on the mound, fill in the bullpen and go from there.”
The two-headed monster for the 2013 season consisted of relief pitchers Thomas Austin and Nate Hill, who extended the pitching life for the baseball team. New players will have to step up into these relief roles and help the Trojans in trying situations in the last innings of the game.
“Tom Austin and Nate Hill both set career appearance records at Troy in their time here, three years for Nate and four years for Tom, so that experience, that trustworthiness that those guys brought and the success that they had, awfully tough to replace,” Pierce said. “And at the tail of the game, guys come in with the biggest pressure moments so not just anybody can fill those roles, so there again a big challenge.”
Putting these defensive changes and challenges into play will begin soon for the team. The season will begin at home for the Trojans on Feb. 14 with first pitch at 6 p.m. against Northern Kentucky.