Entering his third year as Augusta State’s baseball coach, Chris Cooper is turning to new faces in the lineup to compete in the tough Peach Belt Conference.
Coming off a 13-win season in 2012, Cooper turned over a large portion of the roster, especially on offense, in order to improve.
“We could virtually see a completely different team this year,” he said. “I think the guys last year played as hard as they could, and worked as hard as they could. We just brought in some more talent this year that will hopefully step up and give us a better chance to compete in our league.”
The core of the Jaguars offense will be a combination of new bats from transfers and freshmen. Cooper said former Greenbrier star Hunter Boose will start at shortstop and bat cleanup as a freshman.
“Hunter has done a lot of good things defensively that we think he can step in right away and play there,” Cooper said. “I like the way he swings the bat. I just think that’s where he fits in the lineup.”
Expected to support Boose are Nate Crown, an outfield transfer from East Georgia, and Lance Mangrum, a freshman right fielder from Statesboro.
Last year’s offensive core, consisting of Curtis Parker, Seth Foster and Jeff Rice, will hit behind Boose in the lineup.
Rice, a 5-foot-9 second baseman, led the Jaguars in home runs last season with six, while Parker hit five.
On the mound, Augusta State has more familiar faces expected to contribute. Kip Custer, a junior left-hander who made eight starts and 13 total appearances for the Jaguars last season, will be Friday’s starter in the season opener. Cooper said Josh Barks, who was in the rotation throughout last season, is expected to be a key arm. Cooper is expecting junior Clint Echols to provide more value as a starter after throwing 21 relief innings last season.
Having other arms step up will be crucial for the Jaguars as they begin the season without their top starter, Scott Shipman. The senior threw just 21⅓ innings last season due to injury, while recording a 1.80 ERA in 95 innings in 2011.
“Scott is still rehabbing a little tenderness from last year,” Cooper said.
“It may be a couple weeks before he does a whole lot for us.”
Augusta State will open its season with a three-game series Friday and Saturday against Carson-Newman at Lake Olmstead Stadium. Friday’s game starts at 2 p.m., and Saturday’s doubleheader begins at noon.