UNCG Baseball began their quest to defend their 2018 SoCon title last weekend with a two-game home series vs. Quinnipiac, taking both games. A third game scheduled for Sunday was cancelled due to rain.
The Spartans cruised in both games, winning 12-5 and 8-2, respectively. Phillip Sanderson earned the win in the opener on Friday, tossing six innings with six strikeouts and one earned run. Austin Embler and Jacquez Koonce led the Spartans with three hits apiece.
It was more of the same when the teams retook the field less than 24 hours later. Jeremiah Triplett secured the win, allowing only one earned run all afternoon. Preseason SoCon Player of the Year Caleb Webster led the Spartans by going 3-for-4 with a double.
The Carolinian discussed Webster’s expectations with assistant coaches Jerry Edwards and Joey Holcomb in an interview before the game.
“If you’re just an outsider and you just show up and watch him pregame, watch him take [batting practice], watch him take infield/outfield, you think that he’s a very, very talented and blessed player,” Holcomb said. “He is. He has all the tools that you could ask for, but the thing that takes him to the next level, when you play a three-game series against him on the weekend or you’re watching him play every single day, is how intelligent he is… his instincts, they just come natural to him. It’s on a different level.”
Webster will need to step up after the departures of slugger Cesar Trejo and 2018 SoCon Player of the Year Andrew Moritz. He’s done that early in 2019, as have a number of players that Edwards and Holcomb said had productive offseasons, namely catcher Ryan Caveness and infielder Greg Hardison. They both accounted for two hits and two RBI in Friday’s 12-5 victory.
The Spartans also lost some core pieces of their championship-winning pitching rotation, as well. 2018 starter Matt Frisbee and reliever Jack Maynard are now pursuing professional careers, leaving some big shoes to fill in the Spartan rotation. Senior right-handed pitcher Chad Sykes, who redshirted last year, is looking to answer the call.
“Chad Sykes is back,” Edwards said. “He redshirted last year. He’s back from Tommy John [surgery]. He was a very big contributor his freshman and sophomore years, and halfway through his junior year, he tore his UCL. So, having him back in the bullpen is going to be really good for us, gives us some stability.”
Sykes saw one inning of action on Saturday in his first appearance since 2017. He struck out the side in the top of the ninth, ending the game and helping secure the victory, though he was not credited with the win.
Looking ahead to the coming schedule, UNCG will host Virginia Tech this weekend then play one game at Wake Forest on Tuesday. Ivy Leaguers Penn and Princeton will be making weekend trips to UNCG Baseball Stadium in March, and the Spartans will play North Carolina in Chapel Hill on April 9. UNCG begins SoCon play on March 29.
“Outside of the conference play, you know, [Head] Coach [Link] Jarrett always tries to schedule some bigger weekends,” Holcomb said. “This year, we have Virginia Tech coming to us, so it’ll be a good test for us early. Second weekend of the year. Good test to see what we’re capable of. And, not to mention being in North Carolina, your Tuesday games, they can be tough. There are so many really good Division I baseball teams in this state.”
UNCG hopes to prove they belong among the best. The Spartans return to UNCG Baseball Stadium on Friday at 4 p.m. to play Virginia Tech.