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Upset-minded Troy opens Sun Belt tourney against Arkansas State

Each and every member of the Troy baseball team knows what they have to do to make it back to the NCAA Regionals.

With the Trojans below .500 on the season, the only hope they have of advancing past this weekend is to win the tournament.

Troy, the No. 6 seed in the tournament, opens the Sun Belt Championship Wednesday against Arkansas State. The Trojans and Red Wolves played a close, highly contested three-game series in Jonesboro two weeks ago. Troy won the first game of the series 2-1, before falling 10-7 and 8-5 in the final two games.

“We didn’t have a lot of confidence going up there, but we got a great pitching performance to open the series and get a win,” said Bobby Pierce, Troy head coach. “We didn’t get another win up there. We should have, but we didn’t. We were forced to come back down here and fight our way in to the tournament. We did and now it is a new season for us.”

Prior to losing to the final two games this season, Troy had won 13 straight games in Jonesboro against Arkansas State.

Pierce feels the Sun Belt Conference will get a maximum of two bids to NCAA Regionals this year, so he is placing utmost importance on the tournament.

“I think we will get a couple of teams in this year,” Pierce said. “It Lafayette wins the tournament, then I think it will probably be just one. We expect to have a very close, tight game with Ark State, like all of our games this year. It’s a new season now. Everyone is zeroed out. All it takes is five perfect days and things are all good again.

The Trojans are 15-12 all-time in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and looks to claim its first tournament title since 2006.

Troy and Arkansas State are set for a 4 P.m. first pitch from Stanky Field on the campus of the University of South Alabama in Mobile.


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Waiting his turn

Waiting his turn

Jakob Nixon worked to get back in the starting lineup over the last two seasons.  He has provided a spark for the Trojans over the last three weeks. (Photo/Troy Athletics)
Jakob Nixon worked to get back in the starting lineup over the last two seasons. He has provided a spark for the Trojans over the last three weeks. (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Troy’s Jakob Nixon making the most of second chance

While some players see sitting on the bench as a rough patch of their career, Troy’s Jakob Nixon looks back on his stint on the bench as one of most important times of his career.

Nixon came to Troy in 2012, following a highly successful season at Middle Georgia College, and found his way in to a starting role in the first third of the season. During the 2012 season Nixon spent time in left field, second base and the designated hitter. Nixon started the season on a tear, but towards the end of the season, things didn’t go as well.

Nixon struck out more than he should, and was moved from the leadoff spot late in the year.

“It was really nice coming in to a program and getting to play every day,” Nixon said. “But stuff happens. That’s life. Guys came in that filled holes, and I had to wait for my chance to get back.”

He made only 11 starts in 2013, and watched most of Troy’s Sun Belt title season from the dugout. The 2014 season started out the same way for Nixon. But everything changed about a month ago on a road trip to Arkansas-Little Rock. Looking to shuffle things around, Troy coach Bobby Pierce moved Nixon back in to the starting lineup.

“I worked by rear end off to get back,” Nixon said. “I finally got the chance to do it again this year. I just wanted to help the team out any way I could. I am happy to be able to do that again.”

Nixon has made 10 starts at second base this season, five in left field and one as the designated hitter.

Pierce said Nixon’s production in the lineup has helped the Trojans quite a bit over the last several weeks.

“He has been a real energetic plug in our lineup recently,” Pierce said. “That may be from fresh legs, but he has really helped us out down the stretch.”

Nixon has seen his average climb from 0.091 to .328 over the last month. He has recorded a hit in all-but-two games since becoming an everyday player in mid-April.

“I have just tried to shorten everything up, and put the ball in play more,” Nixon said. “I haven’t tried to do too much. I just try to stay confident and take that confidence in to every at-bat. I need to do whatever I can to get on base and help score runs. You can’t square everything up, and you have to pick your pitches and make sure to swing at good ones. That has been the biggest thing for me. I just love being able to help this team again.”

Troy opens the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Wednesday. The Trojans will meet Arkansas State at 4 P.m. at Stanky Field on the campus of the University of South Alabama in Mobile.


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Troy heads north for pair of tough midweek games

Troy’s weekend series at Arkansas-Little Rock was long in more ways than one.

The Trojans played a total of 35 innings over three days, including a 16-inning marathon loss on Friday night, en route to losing the Sun Belt series to UALR.

“It certainly was a long one,” said Troy head coach Bobby Pierce. “The number of innings we played made it pretty doggone long. Friday we had plenty of opportunities to push a run across and just didn’t. If we score in any of those 14 scoreless innings on Friday, we get to come home with a series win. But we just didn’t get the job done.”

After Sunday’s 10-4 loss, Troy boarded the bus and made the 527 mile, eight hour rid from Little Rock, Arkansas. The Trojans returned home after midnight Monday, and face a short turnaround for a pair of midweek games against in-state opponents.

Troy will travel to Birmingham on Tuesday to face Samford before making the 80 mile trip to Jacksonville on Wednesday to take on long-time Trojan rival Jacksonville State.

Pierce said the tough week of games isn’t ideal now, but that wasn’t the case when the scheduled was made.

“You do what you can to put together a good schedule,” said Pierce. “We got to looking at it, and decided that it was an awfully long trip to just play one game and turn around and go home. We have the chance to get two for one on this trip, but it isn’t coming at a great time.”

The overnight trip is sandwiched between two Sun Belt series, coming on the heels of the UALR trip and right before Troy welcomes in Texas-Arlington this weekend.

Troy lost to the Bulldogs and Gamecocks earlier this season at home. Jacksonville State eased to a 7-3 win over Troy, while Samford clawed itself out of an early seven-run hole to claim an 11-9 win.

“I don’t know if the players remember the games earlier this season, but neither went the way we would have liked,” said Pierce. “Samford is one that we would certainly like to even the series with. We jumped out to a big lead on them, and then they chipped away at it and took it. Two wins over really good teams with really good coaches would be big for us as we head for home.”

Troy is in the home stretch of the season, and enters the week with just 15 games left before a possible trip to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

Pierce said his team has a simple plan for the rest of the year.

“It’s our time to play now,” Pierce said. “No more excuses. It is time for us to suck it up and go win the games can win.”

Tuesday’s tilt in Birmingham is set for a 6 p.m. first pitch.


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FINALLY!!!

 

Troy’s Levi Tate set a new career high for strikeouts in Wednesday’s win over Alabama A&M. (Photo/Troy Athletics)
Troy’s Levi Tate set a new career high for strikeouts in Wednesday’s win over Alabama A&M. (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Troy breaks ugly four-game losing streak with comeback win over Alabama A&M

Troy clawed its way out of an early four-run hole, and claimed a 9-6 win over Alabama A&M Wednesday night at Riddle-Pace Field in Troy.

Alabama A&M scored three runs, on three hits, in the first inning and picked up one more in the second against Troy starter Jesse Nelson prompting a pitching change in the third inning.

Troy turned to Levi Tate, and the left-handed reliever delivered. Tate threw five innings of two-hit baseball and struck out eight of the 15 batters he faced.

“The first thing you have to do is throw strikes and take command of the zone,” said Tate. “Good things happen when you throw a lot of strikes. My changeup was really working for me tonight, and being able to throw it off the fastball was big for me.”

Tate’s outing set a career-high for strikeouts, and drew praise from Troy head coach Bobby Pierce.

“I am really pleased with how Levi Tate pitched today,” Pierce said. “He did exactly what we wanted him to do, and that was to come in and put some zeros on the board and give our offense a chance to get back in it. He held them there for four innings.”

Troy pitching coach Brad Phillips made the change at the start of the third inning, and Tate took Phillips’ pitching motto to the hill with him.

“He always tells us that our best stuff can beat their best stuff,” said Tate. “I went out there with that in my mind and was able to give our offense a chance to come back.

Troy chipped away the four-run Bulldog lead, picking up one run in the second, two in the fourth and one in the fifth before exploding for five big runs in the sixth inning.

Justin Hancock walked to lead off the inning, and later scored to give Troy the lead on a line-drive single off the bat of Garrett Pitts. Later in the inning, Troy strung together three consecutive RBI at-bats, including a bases-loaded bunt single from Matthew Howard.

Pierce said the bunt is one of Howard’s better weapons, and was happy to see him use it in that situation.

“They don’t ever need a signal to use one of their best weapons,” said Pierce. “Muggsy laid it down perfectly. It was a beautiful bunt, and it opened the door for us to score some more. He is great at that, and it was the perfect time and place to lay one down.”

Alabama A&M picked up two more runs late in the game on a line-drive home run over the scoreboard in right field, but Ben Tidwell shut down the Bulldogs in the ninth inning to seal the win.

After four ugly losses in a row, Pierce feels the win over a “much improved A&M ball team,” is a positive for his team.

“It is a step in the right direction,” said Pierce. “We still have work to do, but tonight is a good win for us. We had lost four in a row, so it’s a step in the right direction, but we have to take more than a step.”

Troy hosts Western Kentucky this weekend.


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Troy looking to regroup with trip to rival Auburn

While most people in the work force dread Monday’s, Troy head coach Bobby Pierce couldn’t wait for the new week to get here.

Pierce’s Trojans were swept by Sun Belt leader, and No. 2 nationally ranked Louisiana-Lafayette in a three-game set at Riddle-Pace Field.

The three-game series marked the first time in nearly a decade the Trojans were swept at home. The last time Troy lost every game of a home series was May 7-8 of 2004, a three-game sweep at the hands of Florida Atlantic.

The Trojans gave up 37 runs in the series against ULL, and notched only one hit in the finale on Saturday evening.

The new week gives Pierce new hope as the season nears the home stretch.

“After a weekend like we just had, the biggest thing we need to do is just regroup,” said Pierce. “We have to find a way to be more competitive for longer periods of time. We didn’t compete well this weekend, and have to clear our heads and get ready for a busy week of baseball.”

Troy opens the busy week on the road at Plainsman Park in Auburn. Auburn was also swept over the weekend by Ole Miss. The Tigers lost the first game of the series on a three-run home run in the 13th inning on what was an attempted intentional walk. Jordan Ebert heads the Tigers’ offensive attack with a .385 average. Blake Austin leads the squad with 22 RBIs while Damek Tomscha has turned in 21 RBIs with a team-high seven doubles.

Auburn is led by new head coach Sunny Galloway.

Galloway came to Auburn after nine highly successful seasons at Oklahoma. Galloway led the Sooners to NCAA Regionals in eight of his nine seasons, and guided the 2010 team to 50 wins and a trip to the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Pierce said he has not spoken about baseball with Galloway, but does respect him.

“I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Sunny, but everyone knows about his career,” said Pierce. “He has been a winner his whole time, at Oral Roberts and at Oklahoma. Looking at Auburn’s stats, you know that they are pretty dogone good.”

Later in the week, Troy plays host to Alabama A&M in a single game on Wednesday and Western Kentucky in a three-game Sun Belt Conference series over the weekend.

Pierce feels a successful week will do wonders for his team, and it all starts Tuesday night on the plains.

“We need a win for a lot of different reasons right now,” Pierce said. “We need to boost the confidence of these guys and get back to competing every day. A good week this week, and the season may start to turnaround for us.”

 


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Errors doom Troy in blowout loss to Sun Belt leader Louisiana-Lafayette

While the run column on the scoreboard is the ultimate indication of who won or lost a baseball game, the error slot can tell the story on most days.

ULL committed two errors, while the bright red number next to Troy’s name gleamed a big bold “5.” The errors told the story of the 15-4 ULL win Friday night.

The errors came early for Troy, as what seemed a routine fly ball out in the top of the first turned in to a run for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Left fielder Ali Knowles misplayed the ball and allowed ULL’s Seth Harrison to scoot all the way around for the game’s first run.

In the second inning, the Cajuns took advantage of two more Troy errors, and strung together three straight two-out hits to plate six runs and pull away for good.

“We got started off the wrong way with the first mistake in the outfield,” said Troy head coach Bobby Pierce. “When you playing a team that is as good as Lafayette, you can’t afford to give them anything. Tonight we gave them everything.”

ULL pushed two runs across in the sixth and two more in the seventh, the latter coming on a massive two-run homer to right center from Caleb Adams.

Troy picked up its first runs of the game in the bottom of the fourth on back-to-back hits from Jo-El Bennett and Ali Knowles.

Clay Holcomb picked up an RBI in the seventh with sac fly, and David Hall brought home Troy’s final run with a double.

Despite the late scratch of ULL pitcher Austin Robichaux, Troy was left baffled at the plate most of the night.

Ragin’ Cajun pitchers Carson Baranik and Ben Carter combined to strike out 11 Trojan batters.

Pierce said all the team can do is get some sleep and come to the ballpark ready to play on Saturday.

“You just got to flush days like today,” Pierce said. “Saturday is a huge day for us. When you lose Friday, Saturday games become that much more important and tomorrow is no exception.”

 


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Red hot Ragin’ Cajuns bring lofty ranking to Troy this weekend

It doesn’t matter which college baseball poll you want to use. The end result is UL-Lafayette is one of the best teams in the nation.

The Ragin’ Cajuns rank anywhere from second to sixth in the four baseball polls, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers, the USA Today Coaches Poll, Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America, used by the NCAA.

ULL is the highest ranked team to ever play at Riddle-Pace Field, surpassing the 1998 Alabama Crimson Tide, who was ranked 11th.

Troy head coach Bobby Pierce knows what ranked baseball teams possess, as his Trojans climbed the polls just a season ago.

“Lafayette is a very, very good baseball team,” said Pierce. “The have lots of experience at every position. They can pitch well, they can swing the bat well and they play the field well. Add all of those up, and you get a very good team deserving to be ranked where they are.”

Friday’s game will pit two of the best pitchers in the Sun Belt Conference, and perhaps the nation, head-to-head.

Troy will hand the ball to its usual Friday starter, Tanner Hicks, while ULL will go with Austin Robichaux.

Robichaux, the son of Ragin’ Cajuns head coach Tony Robichaux, is 4-2 on the season with a 2.92 ERA and 47 strikeouts.

Hicks is 2-4, with a 3.3 ERA and 44 strikeouts.

Even though he will be managing the game from the third base dugout, Pierce said he will be sure to take in the competition between the two talented pitchers.

“I am at a stage in my career when I can really enjoy the competition on the field,” said Pierce. “Robichaux is a great pitcher, as is Tanner. They will both be on their game I’m sure. Saturday’s game with Baranik for them and (Shane) McCain for us will be just as good.”

On Sunday, Ben Tidwell will get the start for Troy and Cody Boutte will toss for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Troy enters the series fresh off a 7-2 win over in-state rival UAB on Tuesday. The Trojans pounded out 13 hits, and got breakout days from newcomers Chase Davidson and Adam Tewksbury.

Davidson pitched six scoreless innings allowing just one hit and striking out four, while Tewksbury went 3-for-4 at the plate with a triple and three RBIs.

Pierce feels they only way Troy can claw its way back in the Sun Belt title hunt is two win each of the next two series.

“It is a must win for us this weekend, and the next,” said Pierce. “If we want to entertain winning this conference title, it all starts now. We play the new two series at home, and our guys like to play at home and like to play in big games.”

The series begins with a 6 P.m. first pitch on Friday, while Saturday’s game is set for a 3 P.m. start and will be televises on CSS.

Sunday’s matinee will begin at 1 p.m.

“I am really looking forward to seeing our guys compete as a team this weekend,” Pierce said. “We have inexperienced guys, but are playing together. We have to compete every pitch, every inning and every game. If we can do that, we have a shot to win this series against a very talented ULL team.”

 


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ALA-BAMMED

ALA-BAMMED

Clay Holcomb (13) is congratulated at home by Garrett Pitts (2) and Trevin Hall (7) after belting a solo homer in the first inning against Alabama Tuesday night. (Photo/Troy Athletics)
Clay Holcomb (13) is congratulated at home by Garrett Pitts (2) and Trevin Hall (7) after belting a solo homer in the first inning against Alabama Tuesday night. (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Crimson Tide uses grand slam to roll past Troy 10-5 in neutral-site game

By Steve Barnes

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Off the bat, things looked great for Troy.

After that, the bats went silent.

Alabama offense erupted and the Trojans went dormant as the Tide rolled to a 10-5 win at Bayfront Stadium Tuesday before a soldout crowd of 5,038.

Clay Holcomb drilled the fourth pitch of the game over the left-field fence to give the Trojans a sudden 1-0 lead. Holcomb was more surprised than anyone the ball got out of the park.

“I saw a couple of fastballs up and I just tried to hit the next one hard,” Holcomb said. “I just wanted to get the barrel of the bat on the ball and the wind helped it get out of here. Usually when I get one up in the air it is a bad thing.”

Not this time. However, the ball did not quite make it into Pensacola Bay located about 100 feet past the fence.

“I knew it wasn’t in the water,” Holcomb said. “I don’t have that kind of pop.”

No one else had that much pop either, although Troy ended up only being outhit 13-11.

Alabama starter Nick Eicholtz went seven strong innings, surrendering just three hits and the one homer. He also struck out nine while delivering 109 pitches.

“There guy pitched inside as well as I’ve seen a young kid pitch,” Troy coach Bobby Pierce said. “He hit his spots all night.”

The Crimson Tide scored three runs in the second, four in the third and one in the fourth to easily race past Troy.

“We have to tip our caps to Alabama,” Pierce said. “They had the better game, and they had the two big innings early.”

After falling behind 10-1, the Trojans rallied with three runs in the top of the eight inning, keyed by a two-run double Nick Masonia. Masonia led the team by going 2-for-4.

“I liked we battled back,” Pierce said. “We scored a few runs late and we did end up with 11 hits.”

Holcomb and Tyler Vaughn each had two hits for the Trojans.

Apart from the loss, the experience was a good one for Troy, playing in the minor league stadium.

“It was a great atmosphere down here,” Pierce said. “It was a great opportunity for us.”

Alabama was led by Mikey White who went 4-for-5. Pensacola native Austen Smith was 3-for-4 and Casey Hughston provided the big blast with a grand slam for the Tide.

Bama improves to 16-8, Troy falls to 14-11.

Troy travels to Atlanta this weekend to face Sun Belt Conference foe Georgia State.

The Trojans and Panthers will play a three-game set. First pitch for Friday’s game is set for 5 p.m.


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Trojans right at home in Penscola, Bayfront Stadium

By Steve Barnes

PENSACOLA, Fla. — When Troy’s baseball team walked to the top of the tunnel at Pensacola’s Bayfront Stadium, each player had the same look — his eyes were as big as baseballs.

The Trojans and Alabama met Tuesday at the home ballpark of Pensacola’s Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. It came just four days before the Reds play an exhibition game against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and the field was in pristine condition.

“This is an outstanding experience, I’ve never seen such a nice park,” Troy pitcher Tanner Hicks said. “The field and the backdrop makes me feel like we are in a major-league stadium.”

The evening was even better.

Alabama took the field against the Trojans on a perfect Gulf Coast night on the bank of Pensacola Bay. A gentle 66 degrees with soft breezes off the bay. Even better than the weather was the Troy turnout.

“We expect a great amount of fans tonight,” Steve Timberlake, president of the Pensacola Bay Area Troy Alumni and Friends, said. “Pensacola is a great market for Troy.”

The organization typically funds eight scholarships a year from Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties in the Florida panhandle each year. Along with that, the group contributes $2,000 a year to the Troy University Foundation.

Several Troy alumni and fans gathered at Nick’s Boathouse, a restaurant neighboring the Bayfront Stadium, prior to the game.

The crowd included Chancellor, Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., and athletic director John Hartwell.

As friendly as the party was, Troy expected something else on the field. After all, the Trojans eliminated Alabama from the NCAA Tallahassee Regional last year.

“With the hype of last year’s 9-8 win, it will be fun,” Hicks said. “We’d like our games with Alabama to become a rivalry.”

Judging from Tuesday, it has.


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Large Troy crowd expected to give Trojans ‘home field advantage’ in Pensacola

Special to The Messenger by Steve Barnes

PENSACOLA, Fla. – It is unsure which team will bat first when Alabama takes on Troy tonight, but there is little doubt there will be a feel of a Trojans’ home game.

Fewer than 150 mile separate Troy from Pensacola and it has always had a large contingent of Trojans.

On the diamond, Keith Bragg and Chuck Stanhope were standouts for Chase Riddle, with Stanhope spending a few seasons in the minor leagues and Bragg now a baseball coach at Pensacola High School.

In football, Steven Campbell, Demontray Carter, Lance Sasser, Antjuan Marsh and Lawrence Tynes each had success on the gridiron in Troy after finishing their prep careers in the area.

Even the Troy basketball team had pair of players on the roster last season from Pensacola State College. It is not limited to simply men either. Barbara Sherwood, Tammy Lowery, Jinni Frisbey and Tara Blackwell are all Pensacola natives. Lady Trojan basketball coach Chandra Rigby was hired from PSC.

There is even a satellite Troy campus near Pensacola Naval Air Station.

“We have always had a lot of support for Troy athletics in Pensacola,” former Trojan kicker, Greg Whibbs, said. “Pensacola is a great sports town with native Don Sutton in the baseball hall of fame, Emmitt Smith in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Derrick Brooks will be inducted into the hall this fall.”

Whibbs, who is a Pensacola native and now is an assistant in the Florida State’s Attorney’s Office, will have a special sense of pride tonight. His alma mater will be playing at the complex named for his grandfather, former mayor Vince Whibbs.

“It is going to be exciting, I am sure,” Whibbs said. “There will be a lot of people yelling “Roll Tide!” but there will be more Trojans there who have ties to the University. It will be cool to hear the fans getting after one another.”

The game seems to be an interesting match as well. Alabama comes in 15-8 (3-3 in the Southeastern Conference), while Troy is 14-10 (3-2 in the Sun Belt). The Crimson Tide dropped 2-of-3 to Arkansas over the weekend, the Trojans took 2-of-3 from Louisiana-Monroe.

“We are extremely excited to have a pair of programs at this level play here,” Jason Libbert, head event coordinator for the Pensacola Sports Association said. “The teams can get exposure that is going to help them in recruiting our area.”

Alabama already features a pair of Pensacola players, Wade Wass and Austin Smith. For the Trojans, senior Austin Sullivan is from nearby Mary Esther, Robert Price from Niceville and Peyton Fuller from just across the state line in Fairhope.

“This is the second Division I game we’ve had here at Bayfront Stadium,” Libbert said. “Three weeks ago we had Florida play Southern Miss and now we get to follow that with two more great teams.”

There is another game scheduled in the preseason at the park that rests on the bank of Pensacola Bay. Thursday, the Pensacola Blue Wahoo will host its parent team, the Cincinnati Reds at the picturesque park. In 2012, the first year of the complex, the stadium was named ballpark of the year by Baseballparks.com.

Along with a state of the art video board, the park also features a berm for fans to enjoy the game from beyond the fence in right field. Over the left-field wall, it is a different story. Much like the park in San Francisco, batters who belt a ball well enough can have it land in the bay.

According to Libbert, only about 600 standing-room tickets remain as the 5,038-seat venue has be sold out for the game.

The game can be seen on Cox Sports Television.