Home run-happy Georgia State heads to Sun Belt Tournament

Georgia State's Max Ryerson set a school record with 22 home runs in 2022. (Photo: Dale Zanine)

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Georgia State's Max Ryerson set a school record with 22 home runs in 2022. (Photo: Dale Zanine)

The Georgia State baseball team has made great strides over the last three seasons.

The Panthers won 30 games for the first time since 2015 and qualified for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament for the second straight year. And with power in the lineup and a deep pitching staff, the program is on the verge of becoming a perennial contender.

“We’re continuing to take steps forward, not only within our organization but within the Sun Belt,” third-year coach Brad Stromdahl said. “We had a top-50 strength of schedule this year and to be able to put up 30 wins is really a great accomplishment.”

Georgia State (30-26) has wins over Georgia Tech, Clemson and Kennesaw State. But they were swept at home last weekend by No. 1-seed Texas State – losing three tough one-run decisions – which dropped the Panthers into the play-in round of the Sun Belt Tournament.

“We had a top-50 strength of schedule this year and to be able to put up 30 wins is really a great accomplishment."

- third-year coach Brad Stromdahl

Georgia State will open the tournament with a single-elimination game against Louisiana-Monroe on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, Ala. (TV- ESPN+; audio at GeorgiaStateSports.com)

If they win, the Panthers move into the double-elimination phase against either Texas State or No. 2-seed Georgia Southern.

Georgia State lost two of three to Louisiana-Monroe on the road in March. The Panthers beat ULM in the first round of the tournament in 2020.

“Unfortunately, we’re in a winner-take-all game, but we’ll use our bullets and do everything we need to do to win that game and get us into the double-elimination part of the tournament,” Stromdahl said.

The Panthers have thrived with the long ball. They have 74 home runs, second best in the Sun Belt and the third-highest total in program history.

The boppers are led by designated hitter Max Ryerson, a junior college transfer who has a school-record 22 home runs, which leads the conference and is tied for eighth in Division I. Fifth-year senior shortstop Griffin Cheney is hitting .358 and has 16 homers and first baseman Luke Boynton has 11 homers, giving GSU three players in double digits for the first time since 2014.

“(Ryerson) has taken advantage of our ballpark and really grown as a hitter,” Stromdahl said. “You combine him with Griffin and some other guys with six and seven homers and it’s really a great thing. Didn’t really see it coming, but knew we had some power and really happy that those guys are putting up the numbers like that.”

Ryerson was named national player of the week three times by Collegiate Baseball. He is batting .358, has 16 doubles and 61 RBIs and leads the Sun Belt with a school-record 156 total bases. He is very likely to be selected in the MLB draft in July.

Right fielder Cameron Jones is a two-way standout. He leads the team in hitting at .369 with 31 RBIs and also has the lowest ERA (2.57) in 15 appearances and owns five saves.

The staff is led by right-hander Trey Horton, who is 2-1 with a 3.06 ERA in seven starts since moving into the rotation. Ryan Watson is third in the conference with nine saves, one shy of matching the school record. Starters Mason Patel (2-3, 3.54) and Brandon Kaminer (1-1, 3.74) and reliever Chad Treadway (3.31 ERA in 21 appearances) have been solid. The pitching staff set a school record with 495 strikeouts, including a record 19 against Mercer.

The strength is in the depth. Fifteen pitchers worked in at least 10 games.

“The pitching has been the anchor of our program throughout the year,” Stromdahl said. “A lot of teams are built with three really good starting pitchers and three relievers, and once you get past that, they don’t really have very much. We are the opposite of that.”

Stromdahl continues to set high goals for the program. He inherited a team that had gone 15-41 and won only six conference games and has built the program with young players, primarily from Georgia.

“The difference from two or three years ago is culture,” he said. “It’s the tradition of winning, the expectation to win. As we continue to go, the expectation is going to be greater and greater with a top-25 program. If you’re not setting your sights high, then you’re not going to really get anything out of it. Our expectations are to be a top-25 program, win the Sun Belt, go to regionals and see what happens after that.”