CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern will try to start a new season in May begins as the Buccaneers begin the homestretch of the 2016 season on Friday, opening a three-game series at Winthrop. First pitch is at 6 p.m. at Winthrop Ballpark.
CSU opens the weekend at 3-12 in Big South play and needs a series win to climb back into contention for a Big South Tournament berth. The Bucs are two games back of Asheville and three back of Radford for the final berth, but there is too much baseball left for CSU to watch the standings. A series win would give CSU a fighting chance heading into the final two weekends.
The Bucs should be refreshed after a week off for exams. Winning streaks start with coming through in tight spots, but close games have not been the Bucs' ally. CSU is 0-3 in one-run games in Big South play, but CSU Head Coach Stuart Lake knows baseball is a streaky game and you have to win the first one to get started.
The Bucs didn't score more than two runs in a game in their series with Gardner-Webb, yet had a chance to win twice. Lake expects a trio of close games this weekend and the pressure will be on the CSU offense to deliver.
"It starts with clutch hitting," Lake said on Wednesday. "We'll get the quality starts we need this weekend, but we need guys to step and give us game-changing hits. If we get going on offense on Friday, we'll have a really good weekend."
Friday, 6 p.m. – RHP Evan Raynor (4-4, 1.78 ERA) vs. LHP Sam Kmeic (4-4, 3.47 ERA)
Saturday, 6 p.m. – LHP Daniel Johnson (4-4, 5.54 ERA) vs. RHP Zach Sightler (4-2, 4.02 ERA)
Sunday, 2 p.m. – RHP Evan Nations (1-3, 4.50 ERA) vs. LHP Thad Harris (4-3, 4.28 ERA)
Friday night starter Evan Raynor (4-4) leads the Big South in ERA, but has been short on run support. He held G-W to five hits in a 1-0 complete-game loss on April 22. He's been short on run support in his conference start, getting one run or less in three of his last four.
"Raynor has been really solid for us, but we haven't put it together offensively on Friday nights," Lake added. "We still have a lot of baseball left and he's a guy that can give us a chance against anyone. For us to get on a late roll, we're going to have to play well behind him and give him some support."
The break has given the Bucs' bullpen, which appears to have a very bright future, a chance to get healthy. Four Buc relievers are averaging over a strikeout per inning. CSU had 12 strikeouts in a loss to Wofford last Tuesday night.
Senior Kevin Hickey is playing the best baseball of his career as it winds down. He has eight multi-hit games in CSU's last 15 games and is batting .321 for the year. He had six hits in the Asheville series.
Winthrop (22-20, 8-7 Big South), like the Bucs, will also play its first game in 10 days on Friday. The Eagles have won their last two series since getting swept at Presbyterian. Friday starter Sam Kmiec (4-4, 3.47 ERA) leads a staff that is ninth in the Big South in ERA. Outfielder Anthony Paulson has a .354 average and three home runs to lead WU.