2017 record: 25-32-0, 10-11 Atlantic Sun
Season opener: vs. Connecticut, 4 p.m. Friday
Here are three important issues heading into the season:
How they got here: Despite a lackluster record, KSU’s season wasn’t as bad as it appears.
The Owls finished third in the conference after a semifinals run in the ASUN postseason tournament. Coach Mike Sansing’s group is returning several key players, hoping that the run translates to more season-long success.
The schedule is a mixed bag with a few key matchups. KSU will face Georgia and Georgia Tech this season, in addition to Clemson and Jacksonville State. It also travels to Norman to face Oklahoma on March 16-18.
KSU will play 36 of 56 games at home, with 17 midweek contests. Simply put, it’ll need to do better than its 12-19 home mark in 2017.
Who’s back: The Owls return two key contributors in Grant Williams and Taylor Allum.
Williams, an infielder, was awarded with the conference’s defensive player-of-the-year honors in 2017. He also led the team with 23 multi-hit games and six multi-RBI games.
The first base-outfield hybrid Allum was a first-team conference selection for his potent bat. He ranked second in the league with 15 homers, tying KSU’s single-season record.
A.J. Moore will be an important part of the pitching staff, and he’ll need to improve on his 6.12 ERA a season ago. The Black vs. Gold game gave some positive signs, when he pitched three shutout innings and faced the minimum.
Infielder Jaylen Smith, who transferred to KSU last season, should get an opportunity. Two seasons ago, he helped Chattahoochee Valley Community College to the Junior College World Series while hitting .302 with 16 stolen bases. His blend of hitting for average, speed and steady defense would be a welcome addition.
Replacing who’s not: Expectations are modest. The Owls were picked fourth in the conference preseason coaches poll, trailing Stetson, FGCU and Jacksonville. But the cupboard isn’t bare despite an exodus of MLB talent.
The Owls have produced an MLB draft pick for 10 consecutive years, with last season hitting hard. The Owls saw Mason Ward, Austin Upshaw, Tony Dibrell and Gabe Friese get opportunities with a major league team.
Replacing Upshaw will be challenging. He hit .333, making a team-high 56 starts. He registered 22 multi-hit games, with 10 of those including three or more. He had two or more RBIs in 12 of those games.
But they’ll need to replace the departed players through multiple contributors rather than just plugging someone in.
Matt Mixon, Griffin Helms and Forrest Bramlett will carry much of the offensive burden, alongside Allum. Outfielder Jake Franklin taking another step forward would go a long way as well.