This weekend’s series with Georgia College could possibly be a make or break series for Georgia Southwestern.
The Bobcats, which were the preseason No. 1, is ranked fifth in the nation and lead the Peach Belt Western Division by two games over Columbus State and GSW.
“Like most weekends when you play in the Peach Belt Conference, it’s a big weekend,” said coach Bryan McLain. “But when you put the fact the team you’re playing is the No. 5 team in the country, that kind of adds more excitement to it. I think it’s a big opportunity for us. Our emotions are really high, and we’ll be excited to answer the challenge.”
The Hurricanes (18-13, 6-6 PBC) have won four of five games and were voted in at No. 30 in the latest baseball poll. They too two of three games from Flagler this weekend and will play the best offensive team in the PBC.
The Bobcats (23-8, 8-4) lead the league with a .319 batting average and boasts possibly the top two hitters in the conference in Shawn Ward and Tanner Funk. They are first and fourth in RBI and second and third in hits.
Funk is batting .422 with 34 RBI and 17 doubles while Ward is hitting .417 with 46 RBI, 10 doubles and four home runs.
Georgia College leads the PBC in hits, runs and total bases; the Bobcats have struck out the third-most times.
“They have good players, and the thing we’ve seen, they’re real patient at the plate; they’re disciplined,” said McLain. “They try to make you get yourself in bad situations where you become predictable, and when you become predictable from a pitching standpoint, it becomes a lot easier to hit.
“Ward’s got a lot of power. He was one of the top home run guys in the league last year, and I think he’s on pace to hit the same number. He drives the ball in gaps and scores runs. Every guy in the lineup can be in a position to hurt you. We’ve got to be sharp every time a guy steps into the box.”
The Hurricanes’ pitching staff is in the middle of the pack in earned run average (4.06) in the PBC. It is fifth in runs allowed, ninth in walks, and the 60 extra-base hits allowed is one of the lowest in the conference.
GSW will go with Trent Franzago (4-4, 2.62 ERA), Jody Sellars (1-3, 6.19) and Zach Whitman (3-2, 3.10) as its starters. Franzago’s ERA is ninth in the PBC among all starters.
“I don’t know if they’ve seen pitching like they’ll see when they see us,” said McLain. “For us, it’s just throwing strikes and being in the strike zone and pitching to contact. Our guys have really done a good job of that. They’re not being hesitant to throw to the plate and are trusting the guys behind them. They believe they can get you out.”
Michael Coffey heads the GSW offense, batting .373. He is fourth in the conference with 47 hits, and he has 18 RBI.
The Hurricanes are ninth in batting (.279), 10th in runs scored (162) and are near the bottom in extra base hits.
“The biggest thing for us offensively now and what we’ve focused on this past week is consistency,” said McLain. “It’s not a problem whether we can hit or not, but we struggle at different times in just being consistent with guys in scoring position and being consistent with our approach to the plate. We want to make them work to get plays against us.”
A sweep can put GSW in first place, but some losses can drop them toward the bottom in the West, too.
“Right now, they’re kind of the measuring stick of our league, and we’ll be able to see where we’re at and how we stand up. I like our chances,” said McLain.