The Blue Raiders are set to begin their 2017 campaign with a three-game series against Georgia Southern beginning Friday at 5:30 p.m. at J.I. Clements Stadium in Statesboro, Ga.
This is the first time the two teams have met in their history. Georgia Southern joined the Sun Belt in 2014, the same year MT left for Conference USA.
Middle Tennessee looks to bounce back from 2016, as MT returns its top nine hitters from a year ago. The Blue Raiders return a wealth of experience with 417 of 495 game starts returning to the lineup in 2017.
The veteran lineup includes senior shortstop Riley Delgado who comes into 2017 as the No. 26 rated shortstop in the country, according to D1Baseball.com. Delgado had a stellar first year with MT, after transferring from Columbia State CC, leading the team in batting average at .388, good enough for second in Conference USA and 19th nationally. Delgado was named First-Team All-Conference in 2016, along with being a semifinalist for the Brooks Wallace Award (nation’s best shortstop).
2016 Freshman All-American Blake Benefield is another Blue Raider bat that will be key in 2017. Benefield led the team with eight home runs, 32 RBI, and 15 doubles last season.
Sophomore Austin Dennis has had a solid fall and winter, the utility man will play a vital role for the Blue Raiders this season. As a freshman, Dennis was one of three Blue Raiders to start all 55 games. The Rockledge, Fla. native was third on the team in batting average (.290) and second in doubles (11) and RBI (29) last season.
Senior Brad Jarreau will anchor the outfield for MT. The Knoxville native ranked second on the team in several categories last season, including batting average (.298), hits (65), and RBI (27).
A guy to watch is two-way player Devin Conn. Conn redshirted last season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. The redshirt freshman has been impressive throughout the fall and winter, showing that he is one the best athletes on the team. Conn hit .485 during the fall while also throwing solid innings on the mound.
On the mound, Jake Wyrick will get the nod Friday night. The southpaw made his way into the weekend rotation last season after being a mid-week starter during the beginning of 2016. The junior lefty threw 56-1/3 innings last season in 15 appearances (13 starts), while striking out a team-high 51.
Junior college transfer Tyler Hasper will start Saturday afternoon. Hasper ranked atop the junior college ranks in 2016. Hasper went 10-1, with a 1.41 ERA (second nationally), and 92 strikeouts (14th nationally), with Heartland CC.
Sophomore Carson Lester is projected to get his first career start Sunday. Lester came out of the bullpen last year, making 22 appearances while compiling a 3-0 record. The Siegel HS product has looked excellent over the last couple of scrimmages.
Georgia Southern will throw all right handers for the series. Sophomore Brian Eichhorn will start Friday night, senior Jacob Condra-Bogan will start Saturday after transferring from Wofford, and sophomore Chase Cohen will get the nod Sunday.
Audio broadcast will be available on cusa.tv/raidervision and on the radio (92.3 WMOT 2). Follow live tweets on Twitter (@MT_Baseball).