Trojans enter season with a new-look pitching staff

Published 9:39 pm Friday, February 8, 2019

With the season under a week away, the Troy Trojans starting rotation will have a different look.

The Trojans made a run to the NCAA Regionals a season ago and the pitching staff played a big part in that success.

Led by seniors Andrew Crane and Darren Osby, the Trojans finished the season with a team ERA of 3.90, good enough to earn the top spot in the Sun Belt Conference.

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The Trojans enter the season without their top two arms in Crane and Osby. Crane led the team with a 2.74 ERA after entering the season as the Sun Belt Conference Preseason Pitcher of the Year.

Osby finished the season 7-1 record with a 4.26 ERA.

“We lost an awful lot,” said Troy head coach Mark Smartt. “We lost two starters in Crane and Osby and we lost three in the bullpen in (CJ) Carter, (Corey) Childress and (Jackson) Cofer. They threw meaningful innings for us. There are going to be a new group of names, but they’re familiar names. A lot of them have been here.”

The biggest challenge early for Smartt and the Trojans will be putting the pieces in the right order and find out which pitcher fills the right role.

Levi Thomas, who surged down the stretch will be looked at to fill the top spot in the Trojans’ rotation, at least on opening weekend.

Thomas finished last season with a 2-0 record and an ERA of 1.96 as a freshman. He started seven games for the Trojans, including key games in the season’s final stretch. He began his Trojan career by allowing just one hit and no runs over his first 13 innings.

He got the call in the winner’s bracket game against Georgia in the Athens Regional last season.

“Levi Thomas finished 2018 with a flourish,” Smartt said. “He was injured early, we had to work him back in. At the end of the season, he was one of our best guys in the rotation. He started game one of the conference tournament and game two of the regionals, so his experience is meaningful.”

“It was incredible,” Thomas said. “The atmosphere at both games were absolutely amazing. Just having that experience as a freshman is something that I never thought would happen. Knowing I can do those things and pitch under pressure when it calls for it is a big confidence booster.”

Being a just a sophomore, Thomas has not had the experience of being an opening day starter, but it’s a role that Smartt believes he is capable of.

“It will be interesting to see how he handles it,” Smartt said. “He is plenty good enough, but that is a new role.”

Other than Thomas’s seven starts, the Trojans have just two other pitchers on the roster that started at least one game last season: Rush Hixon and Max Newton.

Thomas’ apparent game one duties is a dream come true for the sophomore right-hander. It’s a role he will not take lightly.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” Thomas said. “It’s what you should come here and strive for. If you are a starter, I believe that should be your ultimate goal. That’s my ultimate goal and that is what I have been working for.”

Thomas and the rest of the Trojan starts will have to contend with strong lineups throughout the Sun Belt Conference in the 2019 season.

“It’s electric,” Thomas said. “You have to be ready for anything. Coastal was an incredible team last year. They can hit one through nine. Same with Louisiana, you have to be ready for everything. You can’t count a team out because of their record. You have to give it your all every single time.”

Thomas and the Trojans will open up the season next Friday night when they open up a four-game series with Central Michigan beginning at 6 p.m.