Murray counting on experience to winFebruary 6, 2007
by David Shelton, Special to the Post & Courier
If experience counts for anything in the world of college baseball, the 2007 Charleston Southern Buccaneers should be Jason Murray's best team yet.
Murray's first two seasons have come with mixed results - a 24-29 record in 2005 and an 18-36 mark last season. This season, however, the Buccaneers have returning starters at nearly every defensive position and have six pitchers who logged at least 25 innings last season.
"I really believe that last year humbled a lot of our players," said Murray. "I think we had some talent but because there was not a lot of depth, the guys who were playing maybe didn't work as hard as they should have worked. There was nobody behind the starter to really push them. That has changed some this year. I think every senior on this team feels like he could be replaced by a younger player if he doesn't perform. I haven't seen the complacency that I saw some last year. Our fall was extremely competitive and I think it has made us a better team."
The Buccaneers will likely send as competitive a lineup to the plate as any team in the Big South Conference this season. If, however, the team is to make a serious run in the league, the pitching and defense must be improved.
Charleston Southern committed 116 errors last season, including seven games with at least four errors. The pitching staff posted a team earned run average of 6.48 and opponents batted .326 against the Buccaneers.
"Most of our focus during the fall and preseason has been on pitching and defense," said Murray. "We lost a lot of games due to poor defense and we lost some games where we didn't pitch well. With the experience returning defensively, I would like to think we'll be better.
"As far as pitching, we worked a lot on being more aggressive and throwing more strikes early in the count. I saw a totally different pitching staff this fall in terms of confidence and attitude. I believe we have some competitive kids who want the ball and want their chance to help this team win."
Murray expects a group of six pitchers to compete for the top four spots in the rotation. Senior left-hander Ryan Rowland was 5-2 last year with two saves and a 5.79 earned run average. Senior right-hander D. J Throneburg had several solid starts but posted only one win in six decisions with an ERA of 6.46.
Senior left-hander Mike Mead was 1-4 a year ago but had an excellent fall, according to Murray. Former Wando standout Brandon Roberts, a sophomore right-hander, is expected to try his hand at starting after a 3-2 record last season, mostly in relief.
Senior right-hander Joey Timmerman and junior transfer Cody Higgins, another righty, will also compete for starts and middle relief work.
Sophomore southpaw Andrew White shows potential out the pen while junior left-hander Payton Tweddale will return as the closer after posting five saves last season. Transfer Eric McGuff also will compete out the pen early on.
CSU's returning outfield will be among the best in the Big South. Senior Justin Fyle returns in left after hitting .352 with eight homeruns and a school-record 80 hits. Senior Wes Brundridge, who batted .342 with 78 hits and five homeruns, returns in right. Senior Chris Krogmeier is back in center with a .286 average a year ago.
Joining Fyle on the all-conference team last season was designated hitter David Perkins, who returns as a senior this season. Perkins hit .302 with six homeruns a year ago but was hitting over .330 for most of the season.
Senior Anthony Hayes returns at first base and lends power potential in the middle of the lineup. Battling for the start at third are senior Lionel Greene (.246) and freshman Will Rodriguez. Senior Sean Doherty batted .284 last season and can play third or second.
Senior Adam Brown, a Summerville native, is battling with Fort Dorchester grad Mark Perry for the nod at short. Both are solid defensively and the better offensive player will likely earn the spot, according to Murray. Both could also see time at second behind returning starter Ryan Smart.
Junior Keith Stewart (seven homeruns last season) will push for time at first and designated hitter, and also will backup senior Stephen Herzog behind the plate. Herzog, who could also see time in the outfield, sat out last season but brings athleticism and speed to the lineup.
"We potentially could start nine seniors in most games," said Murray, who has 17 seniors on the roster. "I have to hope their heart takes over this year. I would hope they would do all they could do to win. We've challenged them to make this their best season and to go out as winners. The potential to be very competitive is there if we play to our potential."