Written by Gabe Burns, Sports Editor
After dropping a Valentine’s Day matchup with Florida Tech, the VSU Blazers have rebounded quite nicely. The team closed out a tight 6-4 win over Georgia College and State before sweeping the weekend’s conference -opening series against Christian Brothers.
That makes the Blazers 10-3 through 13 games for the third season in a row. It also gives VSU the most overall wins in the conference.
It is not the fact that VSU swept the three games, but rather the fashion in which it was accomplished. The first game was called on a mercy rule after 12 Blazers touched home in the seventh inning.
In game two, the Bucs scored the first two runs, but nine unanswered from VSU resulted in another blowout.
The Blazers brought out the brooms on Sunday, finishing the sweep with a 14-4 win. In all, VSU out-scored Christian Brothers 39-12 on the weekend.
While the Buccaneers are far from a traditional power, that showing was a microcosm of how the Blazers have won games in 2016. VSU has used a congregation of hot bats to become the top-ranked scoring offense in the Gulf South Conference with 101 runs. Through 13 games, that is 11 less than 2014 and 35 less than last season (granted, last season’s numbers were skewed by non-conference blowouts, as the mercy rule only applies in GSC competition).
Even with that comparison in mind, this group might be the best-rounded of them all.
“We have the potential to break out and score bunches of runs,” said Blazers coach Greg Guilliams. “I could get nit-picky and say there’s things that we still need to get better at and do, but at the end of the day, we can score runs quickly and because of that, you’re never out of a ball game.”
An offense performing at such a high level will obviously boast a number of individual successes. Dalton Duty leads the GSC with a .500 average. He is also tops in hits (21), walks (15) and stolen bases (9).
Marcus Sigmon has made his way around the bases a conference-leading 15 times. His 24 RBIs are seven higher than the next best in the GSC.
Ryan Smith, Tyler York, Michael Gouge; it is a big list of standout batters for the boys in red and black. But if VSU is going to win deeper in conference play, it is going to take pitching.
VSU is sitting in the middle of the GSC with a 4.02 team ERA while pitching in the most innings with 112. Opposition is batting .278 versus Blazers pitching and has scored 50 earned runs, both of which are third-worst in the conference.
It has not been the best start, but the pitching should hit its crescendo by midseason. Already the group is starting to show signs of promise.
Kellan Bailey had a nice outing on Saturday, throwing a complete game. Mitchell Cody has pitched better than his 6.10 ERA would indicate, and that is likely to balance out in time. Dustin Hersey and Roman Donofro have been important assets out of the bullpen.
The school is either going to sink or swim on the performance of its arms. The competition is about to hit the next gear with a road trip to West Florida this weekend. The 5-5 Argonauts are not amongst the conference’s elite, but the team presents more of a challenge than the Bucs did.
“What’s been crazy is that our starting pitching has probably been the weakest part of our club right now, and going into the spring, I thought that was going to be our strength,” Guilliams said. “I still think that they’re going to be fine. Their talent hasn’t changed.”
Wednesday’s clash with Georgia Regents was postponed, so the Blazers return to the diamond on Saturday after six days of rest. The next home game is on March 2 against non-conference foe Georgia Southwestern.