Saturday, September 22, 2018

LIONS BASEBALL: Pitching staff looking for shut-down ace

Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2018 | Views: 1106

LIONS BASEBALL: Pitching staff looking for shut-down ace
HAMMOND---Southeastern Louisiana did not lose many pitchers off its 2017 staff, but what coach Matt Riser heads into 2018 trying to identify is that ever-important Friday-night guy.

Gone is staff ace Mac Sceroler, signing with the Cincinnati Reds after being drafted in the fifth round this past summer.

“This is where we’re going to need to do a good job early, relying on experienced arms,” Riser said. “From a numbers standpoint it’s the most limited staff we’ve had overall, but definitely the most talented staff we’ve had to date. To be able to have guys back fully healthy, like Josh Green and Kade Granier, is going to be huge for us.”

Riser is looking for someone to step up to the challenge of shutting down the opponent’s bats.

“We’re going to attempt to move Green out of the closer’s role and into the starting rotation,” Riser said. “A big part of that is he has done an outstanding job building the repertoire, the breaking ball and changeup, to be a three-pitch mix guy and not just a one-pitch pony. Also, he can get us deep into ballgames with his mentality, makeup and the early, soft contact he can get.”

Considered one of the Southland Conference’s top pitching prospects by both Baseball America and D1Baseball, Green was a shut-down pitcher this past summer in the prestigious Alaska Baseball League. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native earned All-Alaska League honors after compiling a 1-1 record to go along with nine saves and a 0.00 ERA. Green did not allow an earned run in 22.1 innings of work for the league-champion Mat Su Miners.

D1Baseball called Green “a rising premier prospect and arm” with “big-time sink on a 90-93 and up to 94 mph fastball.”

Another reliever vying for a starting job is redshirt-junior Kade Granier. The 2016 Southland Conference Relief Pitcher of the Year was shut down for the season last year in early March, having made just five starts.

“Having Granier back, we’re going to monitor his situation early and try to save the bullets for later in the year as he continues to build his strength back,” Riser said. “Just to have him back, after being the Southland’s Relief Pitcher of the Year, is huge. After losing him last year, I don’t think we realized at the time how vital that was to have him in the rotation. We had to make some unconventional moves we didn’t want to, making some bullpen guys into starters.”

D1Baseball called Granier “a consistent strike thrower who has experience and will sit 87-90 and up to 91 with his fastball.”

Not to be overshadowed are returning experienced arms Corey Gaconi and Carlisle Koestler.

Gaconi earned preseason All-Southland Conference honors after compiling a 7-5 record in 2017 to go along with a 3.08 ERA in 108 innings of work, the second most in the conference last season.

Koestler earned praise from D1Baseball, who tabbed the redshirt junior “an interesting arm who will sit 88-91 and up to 92 with sinking action on his fastball, along with a good changeup and 83-86 power slider that continues to develop.”

Rounding out the list of perspective starters is a transfer with an impressive pedigree.

“The one we haven’t had a chance to talk about is Mason Knopp,” Riser said. “A junior college kid coming in, he’s been a winner his entire life. He has great fastball command, great fastball life and does a fantastic job of competing his tail off. He broke former Lion Jake Johnson’s wins record at Neosho County.”

Johnson also led the Southland with 10 wins in 2015, his lone season at Southeastern.

“Those five guys are going to make my job tough,” Riser said. “I’ll enjoy it if the decision I have to make is how to get them all in during the weekend. If not, it puts us in great shape from a starting rotation standpoint.”

The back-end of games will belong to a veteran arm.

“Evan Hileman is coming back as our closer,” Riser said. “He has ice water in his veins and does a fantastic job of filling the strike zone up with his fastball command. I’m excited to see Hileman a year better. He’s got the breaking ball going now, so he’s got two pitches.”

In middle relief will be a mixture of experience and a couple of promising freshmen.

“We have experience coming back in Bryce Tassin,” Riser said. “We’ll mix Drew Avans in there as well. Other guys have emerged for us, like Will Warren and Trey Shaffer, and we have Payton Robinson with the experience from the left side.”

A couple of members of Mississippi’s Dandy Dozen last year, Warren led Jackson Prep to a state title and was named MAIS Player of the Year, while Shaffer was a Max Preps’ All-American and the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year.

“Warren embodies that mentality we talk about, the quick tempo and ability to dominate the strike zone,” Riser said. “Shaffer will probably be a spot starter for us and work his way into some relief roles from the left side.”

Others contributing significant innings will be veteran Gage Pickett along with transfers Jared Biddy, Peyton Lee and Jace Nini.

Southeastern's 2018 regular-season schedule begins Friday with a 6 p.m. game against SIU-Edwardsville, kicking off a nine-game homestand at Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field that includes games with No. 18-ranked UL Lafayette, UConn and LSU.

Single game tickets can be purchased online at All home games are available except the matchup with No. 9-ranked LSU. Tickets to that game will only be available for purchase by Diamond Club members and current baseball season ticket holders until Feb. 21.

Fans interested in joining the Diamond Club can do so by contacting the Lion Athletics Association at (985) 549-5091.

Season tickets, available for as little as $103 at baseball, remain on sale until Thursday at 5 p.m. For more information on purchasing Southeastern season or single-game tickets, contact the Southeastern Athletics Ticket Office at (985) 549-5466.

Fans are encouraged to follow @Lions_Baseball on Twitter, @SLU_LionsBaseball on Instagram, like /SLUathletics on Facebook and subscribe to the SLUathletics YouTube channel to keep up with the latest on Southeastern baseball.