Troy preps for Sun Belt Tournament

Published 11:51 pm Monday, May 21, 2012

After being selected in a tie with Florida International to finish atop the Sun Belt Conference standings, the Try baseball struggled to keep its head above water most of the season. The Trojans finish the 2012 season with a 26-29 record, the first losing regular season under head coach Bobby Pierce.

Troy, who opened 3-10 in league play, didn’t win its first conference series until mid April but since that time have taken five of the final six league sets to finish 14-16 in Sun Belt play and earn the sixth seed in the Sun Belt Tournament which begins Thursday.

Troy defeated South Alabama 8-5 on Saturday to lock up a spot in Bowling Green, Ky., and will face Florida International at 11 a.m.

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With the team tied for dead last, the Trojans took two-of-three from Middle Tennessee State, league-champion Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, and South Alabama. Preseason All-American Tyler Ray is 4-5 with a 5.55 ERA and hasn’t really come close to reproducing the results he had a year ago when he finished 12-0, but he still serves as Troy’s “go-to” guy on the mound.

The emergence of Joe Hernandez as a No. 2 starter has been huge for the Trojans down the stretch. Hernandez finished the regular season with a 4-3 mark and a 4.39 ERA. Ryan Brady has also turned in some quality starts and has, on most occasions, been able to bridge the gap on Sunday from the first few innings to the bullpen, which has been solid. Both Nate Hill and Thomas Austin have worked more innings in relief than Hernandez and Brady have as starters. Hill and Austin both have ERA’s under 4.00 and are a combined 9-6 with seven saves.

Offensively, Logan Pierce has had a breakthrough junior season for the Trojans batting a team-high .341 with five home runs. Another positive statistic for Pierce is that he leads the team in walks with 41 while batting in the heart of the lineup. Like Ray, preseason All-American Tyler Hannah has found it difficult to duplicate the successful season he had a year ago. Hannah is batting .276 with five long balls but has found ways to get on base. Hannah trails only Pierce with a .412 on-base percentage.

Boone Shear has put together a solid year batting .321 with nine home runs and a team-high 55 RBI. Sophomore Danny Collins overcame early defensive struggles to reinsert himself at third base while leading the team with 11 home runs.

The Trojans are in Pool B of the Sun Belt tournament meaning they will play a round-robin series with second-seed Arkansas State, No. 3 FIU and No. 7 Middle Tennessee. The two pool winners will advance to a championship game on May 27.

Troy is 3-6 this season against its pool play opponents.

To say a No.6 seed doesn’t have much of a chance in the tournament, one would only need to turn back one year in the history books. In 2011, Arkansas-Little Rock entered the conference tournament as the eighth seed and knocked off second-seeded Florida International to earn an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.