Injury-riddled Eagles take on defending Sun Belt Champions

Colin Ritsick

Georgia Southern baseball travels to play the defending Sun Belt Champions, Louisiana-Lafayette, this weekend at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field. The Eagles are rounding out of an injury-plagued couple of weeks, but hope to be close to full-force this weekend.

GS ace RHP Evan Challenger, who did not start last Friday at Texas State because of elbow soreness, will be on the mound tomorrow night. Challenger tore the UCL in his elbow two years ago and had to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Head coach Rodney Hennon said he usually has some soreness after pitching, but after a week straight of discomfort Hennon decided not to pitch him last weekend.

“It was just prolonged through the week and we could have run him out there, but we didn’t want to take that chance and lose him for two or three starts,” Hennon said.

Challenger is 2-0 with four no decisions in six starts this season. His 1.02 ERA is the 12th lowest in the country.

After resting his arm, stretching and getting back to long-toss, Hennon said Challenger is good to go for tomorrow night.

RHP Ryan Frederick on the other hand, might not be. Frederick did not even make the trip to Texas State last weekend because of a hamstring injury. Hennon said his leg flared up against the Citadel and Frederick has not pitched since. He will make the trip to ULL.

“He’s going to go [to Lafayette] this weekend and he’s going to throw a bullpen when we get there and we’ll see how he feels,” Hennon said.

Frederick has appeared in nine games and holds a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings pitched.

Infielders Kent Rollins and Will Hudgins are also dealing with injuries. Hudgins has a slight tear in his UCL, the same injury that sidelined Challenger last season although it may not be as bad, and Rollins is dealing with an eye injury.

Hudgins will continue to play, but his days at third base are over for this season.

“He can’t play third base right now; he’s going to have to stay at first. He’s not in position to throw the ball across the infield,” Hennon said.

Rollins seems to be recovering well and is expected to play this weekend.

The good news is that while dealing with these injuries over the past two weeks, the Eagles still went 5-4 in nine games.

“I think the good thing at this stage of the year is we’ve fought through some of those injuries. That’s allowed us to get some guys out there in big situations and roles that they may not normally have been in if everybody were healthy,” Hennon said. “So I think it’s allowed us to have a lot more guys that are battle-tested heading into the second half.”

He thinks that the Eagles’ offense over the last five or six games was better than it’s been all season long.

Not counting the 11-3 loss to Texas State on Sunday, GS had a team batting average of .341 during that stretch. 1B Ryan Cleveland, who was struggling mightily at the beginning of the year, has had an excellent string of games recently.

Just two weeks ago, Cleveland had a .127 batting average after the game against The Citadel. He is riding a seven-game hitting streak, including three home runs, and has batted in at least one run in each of those games. His average now sits at .232.

“He’s swinging it a lot better. He’s getting some confidence back and that’s made everybody else better, too. It helps the other guys see more pitches,” Hennon said.

With Challenger back on the mound and the offense hitting like it is, Georgia Southern is in good position to fight for a series victory against Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Ragin’ Cajuns had one of the best records in all of baseball last year, winning nearly 60 games. They were 58-10 and hosted a NCAA regional, which they won before getting knocked out by Ole Miss in the NCAA Super Regionals.

However, they are 15-11 this season.

“I don’t know that they’re as explosive as they were last year. But they’re a good baseball team. There’s a reason they were picked first to win our league,” Hennon said.

Georgia Southern sits in the middle of the pack with a 7-5 conference record. Georgia State leads the league with an 8-2 record.