The Bisons, the 2008 Atlantic Sun Tournament Champion, open the season Friday afternoon at 3 at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Last season the Bisons played the Yellow Jackets in the second round of the NCAA Regional in Athens, Ga. The Bisons lost 6-3 in a game that was not decided until the final out.
This time around the Yellow Jackets are ranked 13th in the nation. Friday afternoon the Bisons will send junior left-hander Rex Brothers to the mound. Brothers has been named to the A-Sun Preseason All-Conference Team as a starting pitcher.
Saturday afternoon at 1 senior right-hander Brandon McClurg will start. McClurg has also been named to the A-Sun Preseason All-Conference Team as a starting pitcher.
Sunday afternoon at 1 right-hander Josh Smith, a redshirt junior, will get the starting nod.
“I look at Rex and Brandon and the biggest thing you can’t practice and can’t teach is experience,” said Bisons coach Jeff Forehand. “Rex started as a freshman and has two full seasons as a starter under his belt. He has been in some big situations. He is obviously going to be our No.1 guy.
“Brandon is a great No.2. We feel pretty confident with that one-two punch. They don’t have to go out every weekend and win for us, but they can go out and give you an opportunity every weekend by giving you good starts.”
The fact that Brothers is a left-hander is a plus. But he is a hard thrower who has been attracting attention from a number of Major League scouts.
“Rex is a hard thrower, but he has really improved his breaking pitch,” said Forehand. “There are not a lot of left-handers who can do what he does.
“He is a strikeout pitcher. But he gets himself caught up with wanting to do that with every at bat. He sometimes gets himself into high pitch counts where we have to remove him from a game before he gets into the late innings. We want to be able to keep him in games longer.”
McClurg also throws a lot of strikes, but he is not a power pitcher like Brothers.
“Brandon is not going to throw with a lot of velocity, but you don’t see the same pitch over and over again,” said Forehand.
Most baseball teams count on their pitching to carry them. The Bisons have lost a great deal of their offensive punch from last season, making strong pitching even more important.
“All you hope every game is that you have a chance to win at the end,” said Forehand. “For us to have those two guys at the top helps us a great deal.”
Smith is set to fill the No. 3 spot in the rotation.
“Josh had a great season last year,” said Forehand. “He finished really strong. I’m very satisfied he can be our No. 3 guy.
“Josh has got an upper-80s fastball, but he also has as good a curve ball as any pitcher in college baseball. His changeup is improving.”
Also in the starting mix is senior Charles Williams. He has been more of a reliever in his previous three years with the team, but he is going to open the season as a starter.
“Josh swings the bat pretty good,” said Forehand. “If we have to mix things up and use Josh on the offensive side then Charles could fall into that role as the third starter.
“Charles is a competitor. He has a hard fastball. He throws a lot of strikes. With the fourth starter you are talking about pitching against Vanderbilt and Fresno State. You want those fourth and fifth starters to be prepared for tournament time.”
Forehand wants his pitchers to think strikeouts, but he also wants them to think about concentrating more on being contact pitchers.
“We hope it will be soft contact,” said Forehand.
With a schedule without many days off Forehand doesn’t want to dip deep into his bullpen very often.
Junior right-hander Matt Bowling will be a swing man on the staff.
“Matt can be a starter or a reliever,” said Forehand. “He bounces back really quickly. He has a 90 miles per hour fastball. He is developing a pretty good slider.
“We hope we can use him in the middle of games on the weekends. And we can also possibly use him as a fifth starter. This will be a big year for him.”
Redshirt junior right-hander Jerry Young and senior left-hander Jordan Baron will also get some opportunities to pitch.
“Jordan is a little unconventional from the left side,” said Forehand. “He gives you a lot of different looks and a lot of different arm angles. He tries to keep hitters off balance.
“Jerry is a big, hard thrower. Jordan throws a lot of strikes and will force contact. Jerry has not typically thrown a lot of strikes. But Jerry could be our next draft pick if he gets it together. He has all the tools. He has the size and the body and two or three very good pitches.”
Three freshmen, Martin Grude, Josh Cotham and Davey Hackett, all right-handers, will also get a shot out of the bullpen. Any of the three could also emerge as a fifth starter.
“They have had a lot of success in high school,” said Forehand. “Their first opportunities will be against Georgia Tech or Auburn.”
Right-handed senior Kyle Tognazzini had a strong season. He will get the call in the late innings to protect leads.
“He is a battler,” said Forehand. “He hits a lot of spots with a lot of different pitches from a very difficult arm angle. I’m looking forward to see what his year is going to look like.”