Trojans begin final preparations for 2019 season

Published 9:00 pm Monday, January 28, 2019

The Troy Trojans baseball team made a trip to the Athens Regional a season ago. On Saturday, the squad took their first steps towards what they hope is a repeat performance in 2019.

The Trojans opened up practice on Saturday. With the season just under three weeks away, head coach Mark Smartt was happy to be back on the field.

“It’s a great time of the year,” Smartt said. “We have been at it since August with this team, going through our fall practice sessions. It’s an exciting time to see where everybody is at. We see how much work we have to accomplish to get ready for the season.”

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The Trojans finished last season 42-21 overall. They finished conference play 19-11. The Trojans after finishing second in the conference tournament earned an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

The Trojans went to the Athens Regional along with Duke, Campbell and host Georgia. The Trojans picked up a round one win against the Blue Devils before falling to Georgia and Duke, ending their season.

“It’s done, that’s over,” Smartt said. “We’ve had a lot of things that have come and gone in that process – a lot of awards, a lot of recognitions, a lot to be proud of. In reality, last year’s success can only help us in terms of how we deal with that success. This is a new team and every team is new. I’m anxious to see how this team responds. Obviously when you have a year like we had, people are going to circle us on the schedule.”

The Trojans will have a new-look pitching staff in 2019. The Trojans lost staff ace Andrew Crain as well as Darren Osby. In the bullpen, the Trojans said goodbye to junior CJ Carter, Jackson Cofer and Corey Childress.

“We lost an awful lot,” Smartt said. “We lost three key guys in the bullpen in Carter, Childress and Cofer. They threw meaningful innings for us. It’s going to be a new group of names, but they’re familiar names. A lot of them have been here and our biggest challenge is to figure out who fits in what roles. That may be a challenge early.

“I am excited about the ability of our staff. We have very capable people, they just haven’t been put in those situations yet.”

Sophomore Levi Thomas will be looked at as a possible opening day starter. Troy native Rush Hixon will get some looks in the bullpen.

Like the pitching staff, the Trojans lineup will also look different in 2019. The Trojans said goodbye to Joey Denison, Matt Sanders and Brandon Lockridge among others.

“It’s impossible to replace Matt Sanders, period,” Smartt said. “A four-year starter, a leadoff shortstop. Joey Denison had arguably one of the best seasons a Troy hitter has ever had. The thing that I think we can do is collectively, I think we have a chance to do some things offensively.”

Team speed, which was a strength a season ago, will play a factor for the offense in 2019.

“Speed is a good equalizer, it keeps you alive,” Smartt said. “I hope that speed can pay dividends up and down our lineup.”

The Trojans will compete in what should be a competitive Sun Belt Conference this season. Defending champion Coastal Carolina should be favored to win once again, while teams like South Alabama and Louisiana in contention.

“It’s the same names,” Smartt said. “Our league is good top to bottom. Our 8, 9 or 10 can play with anybody. To win in this league a couple things have to happen. One, typically the older teams have success in our leagues. Experience means a lot at this level. Secondly, you have to be able to pitch well. If you don’t pitch well, it’s very difficult to win in the Sun Belt.”

The Trojans will open the season with a four-game series with Central Michigan on February 15. Their first conference game will be on March 15 against Arkansas State.

“Over the next three weeks, we will do what we can to get ready,” Smartt said. “Can’t wait until opening day. That’s the best time of the year for all baseball teams and it’s right around the corner.”