GSC Baseball Ready To Meet The Challenges of Lofty Expectations

The 2020 Gordon State College baseball team finished its abbreviated season at 16-5, including a 10-game win streak to close it out.
The 2020 Gordon State College baseball team finished its abbreviated season at 16-5, including a 10-game win streak to close it out.

Gordon State College Baseball 2020 Season Preview

BARNESVILLE, Ga. – Gordon State College's baseball team brings back a talented collection of players for the 2020 season as the Highlanders look to build upon the success of last year's 50-win season, but also seek to erase the disappointing finish in the postseason.

GSC enters the 2020 season ranked as high as No. 6 in national preseason polls and the Highlanders appear to have the talent to support those lofty expectations.  But interim head coach Justin Huff knows those predictions are nothing more than that and this team will have to go out and earn it on the field.

GSC posted a sparkling 50-9 overall record in 2019, including a first-place finish with a 26-4 record in the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association (also known as Region 17 in the National Junior College Athletic Association).

That included a 28-1 home record with the only loss coming in a 4-1 decision to East Georgia State on March 30. But that loss propelled GSC on a 24-game winning streak overall, including an 18-11 victory over South Georgia State for the GCAA championship.

But a 5-2 loss and 5-4 loss to Walters State in the NJCAA East-Central District tournament suddenly brought the 2019 season to a close.

So 2020 brings a new opportunity to the plate for GSC and this team appears to have the offense, defense and pitching to be successful.

"Returning six offensive starters and several reliable arms from last year's conference championship team obviously creates a lot of attention and excitement for the program," said Huff, who is entering his fourth season at GSC after serving the past three seasons as assistant coach. "However, these returners must fill a void of leadership left by a strong sophomore class from last year. Taking ownership has been our motto all year.

"This is a new year with new obstacles to overcome. Last year's work will not win a single game for us in 2020."

On the infield, GSC will feature sophomore Ethan Scott (Augusta, Ga. / Aquinas HS) at first baseman.  Scott hit .270 (OBP .446) last season with eight homers, 38 RBI, 41 runs and led the team in walks with 44.  Scott was solid at first base with a .980 fielding percentage on 294 total chances.

Sophomore Jesse Sherrill (Pensacola, Fla. / Tate HS) will play second base and lead off for GSC.  Sherrill led the Highlanders with a .445 batting average (OBP .514) in 2019, which was good enough for 14th nationally.  Sherrill, who is a Kennesaw State commitment, led the GCAA with 81 hits and ranked third in the conference in both runs scored (59) and stolen bases (28).

Shortstop Gavin Patel (Moultrie, Ga. / Colquitt Co. HS) is back for his sophomore season after hitting .326 (OBP .426) while driving in 27 runs, walking 29 times and stealing 14 bases. Patel is solid defensively and should give the Highlanders strength in the middle infield.

Joining Patel on the left side of the infield will be sophomore Sam Kuchinski (Powder Springs, Ga. / Harrison HS), who is expected to hit fifth in the GSC lineup after hitting .364 (OBP .473) with six homers, 52 RBI (fourth in the GCAA) and 13 doubles (tied for best on the team) in 2019.

Sophomore Derek Wylie (Warner Robins, Ga. / Veterans HS) gets the nod in left field as he hit .347 (OBP .413) with five home runs, 41 RBI and 13 doubles (tied with Kuchinski for team honors).

Jamel Rookard (Winston, Ga. / Chapel Hill HS) is back for his sophomore season and will hit second while manning the territory in center field. Rookard hit .414 (OBP .538) in 39 games last season while scoring 16 runs and stealing eight bases.

Freshman B.J. Spears (McDonough, Ga. / Tattnall Square Academy) and redshirt freshman Hunter Marion (Zebulon, Ga. / Pike Co. HS) will also see time in center field

Holding down the fort in right field will be sophomore cleanup hitter Cole Phillips (Trion, Ga. / Trion HS), who hit for a .345 average with an on-base percentage of .477 and slugging percentage of .696 after connecting for 13 homers (No. 2 in the GCAA) and 56 RBI (No. 3 in the GCAA) last season. Phillips is committed to play at Tennessee Wesleyan University next year.

Coleman Tanner (Soph. / Waycross, Ga. / Ware Co. HS) will be behind the plate. Tanner played in just nine games in 2019 and hit .273 (OBP .526) with six RBI and five runs scored.

Freshman Trevor Knowles (Folkston, Ga. / Charlton Co. HS) will also see time at catcher for the Highlanders.

Sophomore Ali LaPread (Berkeley Lake, Ga. / Norcross HS) is penciled into the designated hitter spot and hit third for the Highlanders. LaPread, who can also play the infield and outfield, comes to GSC from Georgia Gwinnett College and is a University of South Carolina-Upstate commitment.

The Highlanders will also look to freshman Corbet Luna (Warner Robins, Ga. / Houston Co. HS) and redshirt freshman Adam Alicea-Brooks (Fairburn, Ga. / Collins Hill HS) for some pop from the DH.

Pitching should be another strong area for GSC in 2020 after the Highlanders posted a team earned-run average of 3.32 – 15th best in the nation. 

Left-hander Dominic Canale (Lawrenceville, Ga. / Mountain View HS) and right-hander Kolby Johnson (Ball Ground, Ga. / Creekview HS) are a pair of returning sophomores who will joined as starting pitchers by freshmen Sam Wright (RHP / Newborn, Ga. / Piedmont Academy), Thomas Ross (RHP / Watkinsville, Ga. / Prince Avenue Christian School), Joseph Gill (LHP / Canton, Ga. / Creekview HS) and Davis Swenson (RHP/ Toccoa, Ga. / Stephens Co. HS).

Canale went 10-1 with a 2.89 ERA in 15 appearances last season for GSC while Johnson was 5-1 with a 4.36 ERA.

Wylie will come in from left field to close along with sophomore right-hander Preston Felt (Buford, Ga. / Flowery Branch HS) out of the bullpen.

Sophomore right-hander Cory Newsome (Moultrie, Ga. / Colquitt Co. HS), freshman left-hander Jaxon O'Neal (Newnan, Ga. / Newnan HS) and sophomore right-hander Dylan High (Carrollton, Ga. / Central Carroll HS) will work middle relief for the Highlanders.

GSC will also look to sophomore right-hander Trey Felt (Lawrenceville, Ga. / Prince Avenue Christian School) and freshman right-hander Luke Jester (Arlington, Ga. / Early Co. HS) to boost the Highlanders' bullpen.

"I'm excited to see the talented freshman class step up in a lot of different areas, especially on the mound. We have a crew of young arms that will play a huge role in whether we can meet our goal of Grand Junction (Colorado – home of the NJCAA baseball national championship)."

Chase Sudduth has joined the GSC staff as an assistant coach in 2020.

"Chase Sudduth has been a valuable addition coming in mid-year and helping with the transition," Huff said. "The players have taken to him and he's immediately impacting the hitters in a positive way."

GSC kicks off the 2020 season on Saturday, February 1, when Central Alabama Community College comes to Barnesville for a 3 p.m. ET contest.  GSC and Central Alabama play again on Sunday, February 2, in Alexander City, Ala., with first pitch set for 2 p.m. ET.