After a 2018 season that included a 24-18 start and a 1-12 finish, the question stands: Which Kennesaw State team will emerge in 2019?
With the season just over a week from starting, the questions remains unanswered. In the Atlantic Sun preseason coaches poll, the Owls were picked to finish fifth of nine teams.
“We were playing so well throughout the beginning and middle parts of the season, so it was a complete shock that we just fell off like that. It was almost like somebody flipped a switch,” junior outfielder Terence Norman said of last season’s collapse.
Norman and infielder Tyler Simon represent a strong young core in the Owls’ lineup. Last year, Norman led KSU and finished fourth in the A-Sun with a .333 batting average, while Simon hit .311. They are the Owls’ two representatives in the preseason all-conference team.
KSU will have to deal with the losses of a few key seniors. Infielder Grant Williams was an iron man, starting all 55 games, batting .307 and leading the team with 37 RBIs. The other big loss in the lineup was outfielder LaDonis Bryant, who ranked fourth on the team with a .294 batting average.
AJ Moore is the only starter who graduated, but he leaves large shoes to fill. The senior ace tallied the best ERA (3.24) and the most starts (14), wins (5) and strikeouts (87) of any starter last season.
Despite the loss of Moore, coach Mike Sansing believes pitching depth will be the strong point of the Owls this season, pointing to workhorses Jake Rothwell, Brooks Buckler and Jake McLinskey as difference-makers on the mound.
This season, Sansing will have a new field to navigate as Liberty and North Alabama join a realigned A-Sun. South Carolina-Upstate was the lone team to leave the league. Liberty was voted third in the preseason poll, so they will be a new challenge along with familiar giants Stetson and Jacksonville.
Sansing ranks ninth among NCAA coaches in active wins, with 1,092. He thinks that his team should have won more games last season, but suggested that a lack of focus contributed to the slide in May. He stressed to his team the importance of every play in hopes of avoiding a similar fate this year.
“As I tell them, everything matters. The first inning at-bat matters as much as the sixth inning. The play in the first inning is as important as the play in the ninth,” Sansing said.
Using that nine-inning theory as a metaphor for the season, KSU batted well the first few times through the order last season, but needed a better closer in the ninth.
Now, that game is over, and the Owls must look to the next matchup. Opening day is Friday, as West Virginia comes to Kennesaw for the first game of the 2019 season.