The “ping” of aluminum bats will be ringing at Richard Gray Sports Complex in Hardeeville starting Friday, when the USCB baseball and softball teams open their 2019 season.
The Sand Shark baseball team begins its third season under coach Jeremy Christian with a doubleheader against visiting Milligan (Tenn.) beginning at 1 p.m. Friday, followed by a single game at noon Saturday.
The softball team will make its debut under new coach Bailey Wigness with a doubleheader against Columbia (S.C.) College at 2 p.m. Friday and a twinbill against Montreat (N.C.) at noon Saturday.
In lieu of charging admission this weekend, USCB is encouraging guests to bring new socks, underwear, pajamas, and blankets to donate to Undercover Heroes — a drive that benefits the children of Jasper County. If guests are unable to bring items, the usual $5 admission will be accepted and used toward purchasing those items.
Christian’s squad is hoping to rebound from a disappointing 2018 campaign in which the Sand Sharks finished 20-30 overall and 5-19 in Sun Conference play.
Slugger Bobby Wenthe is back in the middle of the lineup after sitting out last season. Wenthe slashed .374/.450/.731 with a school-record 13 home runs and 63 RBIs in 2017, and his return will offset the loss of Alex Murphy (.347/.484/.618, 9 HR, 39 RBI in 2018). Infielder Chris Vazquez (.364/.446/.473, 13 SB) and outfielder Noah Matthews (.312/.396/.420) also return, and the lineup should be bolstered by a number of transfers, including infielders Steven Mojica and Tavaris Terrell, outfielders Rob McKinney and Jack Slavin and the versatile Bragg Eastin.
Ace left-hander Nick Constan returns after an injury-shortened season a year ago in which he was 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 25 innings before being shutdown. Transfers Eamonn Collins and Tanner Davis will be called upon to solidify a pitching staff that struggled last season.
Wigness takes over an experienced squad that boasts eight seniors, seven juniors, seven sophomores and six freshmen. Among the returners are three-time All-Sun Conference pitcher Abby Pac, who is 47-33 with a 2.10 ERA in her career, and outfielder Kayla Boyle, who has a career .328/.369/.441 slash line with six home runs, 35 doubles, and 99 RBIs.
Slappers Rachel Frankhouser (.333/.436/.351, 22 SB) and Taylor Boykin (.364/.432/.439, 9 SB) and catcher Natassja Hatcher (.362/.452/.594, 4 HR, 23 RBI) also return, along with starting infielders Alexa Moore, Kaitlyn O’Hearn, Kylie Kelly, and Melina Martinez.
Pac anchors a deep pitching staff that includes returners Canyon Crosby (10-4, 3.36 ERA) and Maria Molloseau (8-6, 2.23, 4 saves) and newcomers Sloan Ducey, Kinsey Sords, and Katelyn Mangum.