Posted February 2, 2018 10:41 am

Augusta, USC Aiken open season at home

The Division II season is upon us with Augusta University and USC Aiken starting today.

West Georgia at Augusta
Lake Olmstead Stadium
Friday: 3 p.m.
Saturday: noon, 3 (DH)

Augusta enters with a lot of new faces from high schools, junior colleges, within the Peach Belt Conference and even Division I. The Jaguars are a bit of a wild card because of this. The talent level is better and they’ve improved upon their depth, but it’s a large group coming together from many backgrounds and levels. That’s a challenge for coach Chris Howell and his staff to get them on the same page. Credit to the staff for putting together a roster with more ceiling talent capable of playing above expectations.

“We’re more physical,” Howell said. “I think we’re going to have a chance to play defense, take care of it a little bit. We’re real athletic in the outfield. We’ve got some quality arms. We’re excited about the arms. You’ve just got to get them all ticking at the same time. It’s a good group. We got to pitch better than we did last year. We played pretty good defense last year, about middle of the pack. We have to hit. It’s going to be a great league.”

Cody Pugh is slated to start the opener Friday for Augusta. The senior right-hander had a 4.67 ERA with 33 strikeouts to 19 walks in 34.2 innings spanning two starts and 17 total appearances last season as a junior transfer from Georgia. He’s expected to carry a much larger role in his final season.

Matt Meeks is scheduled to start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, with the second starter to be determined. Meeks is a senior transfer from Armstrong State who was its Friday starter and totaled a 3.16 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 82.2 innings last season. Meeks is one of the most accomplished starters in the Peach Belt right now and was a tremendous get for Augusta.

West Georgia, under the direction of former Augusta coach Skip Fite, makes the annual trek across the state for the opening series. The Wolves went 17-30 last year, including 8-24 in the Gulf South Conference.

Infielder Ben Utley returns as a senior leader and the top hitter from last season, logging a .332 average and team-high .460 slugging percentage. He led or was near the top in most hitting categories while playing multiple infield positions. Christopher Michals returns for his senior year after transferring from Augusta. The Greenbrier product offers athleticism and some pop. Senior outfielder Bradley Felkel and junior outfielder Cade Marlowe are also worth watching. The same applies to sophomore right-hander Ryan Parker.

Lincoln Memorial at USC Aiken
Roberto Hernandez Stadium
Friday: 4 p.m.
Saturday: 2
Sunday: 1

USC Aiken is flying under the radar a bit despite going 17-7 in the conference and 40-15 overall last year. Some key pieces left but many return, including catcher/first baseman Brian Parreira and outfielders Jose Bonilla and Nile Goings. The pitching staff is expected to be deep to allow coach Kenny Thomas the option of another deep bullpen.

Lincoln Memorial went 35-19 last year, including 18-6 in its conference, and it always gives USC Aiken a good test early in the season. Senior outfielder Logan Augustine is a preseason All-American, while junior infielder Seth Hunt and senior Timmy Wages return as impact bats.

Other notable series:
Georgia College opens at home against Paine at 5 p.m. today. The Bobcats are tied atop the Peach Belt preseason poll with UNC Pembroke and enter with high expectations under former Augusta coach Jason Eller.

North Georgia opens at home against Florida Tech at 4 p.m. today.