The West Georgia baseball team is off to a perfect start in their 2016 campaign. The Wolves are now 4-0 with a convincing win over Emmanuel College and a series sweep over Pfeiffer. Last season, the Wolves amassed 33 wins, their most since the Division II College World Series appearance in 1998. This season, the Wolves have a solid foundation to build off of as they return 26 guys to the roster.
Coming into the 1st game of this season, the Wolves were ranked 27th in the nation by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. They were ranked 29th in the nation by D2baseballnews.com. In 2015, the Wolves were led by a pitching staff that had the 3rd best ERA in the Gulf South Conference, at 3.12. Returning senior Matthew Norton will be the leader of the Wolves pitching staff in 2016.
Norton finished 2015 with an 8-2 record and a 3.17 ERA. His season was good enough for top ten Gulf South Conference Honors in both of those categories. He was also named an All-American from the South Region by The American Baseball Coaches Association’s NCAA Division II All-America Committee.
Some other notable returning guys are 2nd baseman Artemis Kadkhodaian and 1st baseman Dalton Rogers. Both of these guys can hit the ball tremendously as both had a batting average over .320 last year. Kadkhodaian led the team in stolen bases on the year with 14, while Rogers led the team in runs batted in with 43. The two combined for 22 doubles and 6 homeruns.
UWG fans should also have their eyes on senior right fielder Tyler Hutch and junior catcher Payton Mann this season. Mann started 46 of 48 games for UWG in 2015, and had 13 doubles while batting .276. He threw out 17-of-32 batters trying to steal on him. Tyler Hutch led the team in batting average last year with an astounding .358. His successful 2015 campaign earned him a spot on the All American Team with teammate, Matthew Norton. It also earned him a spot on the South Region Players to Watch List.
JUCO transfer Caleb Lopes will be starting at shortstop for UWG in 2016. Lopes was also named to the South Region Players to Watch List. He batted .348 at Faulkner State Community College while batting in 32 runs. He is a junior in terms of eligibility. This is his first year at UWG.
Emmanuel College Came into Cole Field Saturday January, 30th and left a couple hours later extremely disappointed. The Wolves beat the Lions 17-0 in the first game of the season. UWG totaled 16 hits on the day, 5 of those were doubles and 2 were home runs.
Senior Tyler Hutch started the scoring off for UWG with a lead-off home run in the bottom of the 1st. This would be the only scoring for the inning, as the two teams went into the top of the second with UWG leading 1-0. West Georgia left the bases loaded at the end of the 1st inning.
The top of the second inning was a quick one for the West Georgia defense as pitcher Matthew Norton got the lead-off guy to fly out to center, and then struck out the next 2 batters.
In the bottom of the second, UWG got a double from center fielder Drew Eady, but could not capitalize. They left 2 guys stranded on base heading into the top of the 3rd.
Norton forced two consecutive ground outs before hitting Trent Jones with a pitch. After that, he quickly regained his composure and forced another ground out. This led us to the bottom of the third inning.
This inning is where the UWG bats came alive as the guys had 5 hits and scored 10 runs. They faced three different pitchers throughout this inning.
The inning started with a single to center by senior Garrett Hayes, and then junior Caleb Lopes was hit by a pitch. Junior Payton Mann then struck out looking, giving Emmanuel its first out.
A new pitcher then came in and immediately hit sophomore Chase Waters with a pitch, which loaded the bases. Third baseman sophomore Ben Utley took advantage of the loaded bases, and doubled to center field, driving in two runs. This left Chase Waters on third base and Ben Utley on second.
A fielder’s choice then scored Chase Waters and put Drew Eady on 1st base. Tyler Hutch was then hit by a pitch, loading the bases for the second time in the inning. Again, for the second time in the inning, UWG took advantage.
Junior Artemis Kadkhodaian doubled down the left field line, scoring two more runs and leaving himself and Tyler Hutch on second and third base. The score was now 6-0 in favor of West Georgia. Senior Dalton Rogers then flied out to left field, scoring Tyler Hutch. Now, the score was 7-0 and Emmanuel had finally gotten their second out.
After a Garrett Hayes walk, Caleb Lopes singled to center, scoring Kadkhodaian. This moved Garrett Hayes to second and Lopes was now on 1st.
This was when Emmanuel brought in its third different pitcher of the inning, Alex Snider. Things did not start off well for Snider, as the first batter he faced, Payton Mann, hit a 3-run home run giving the Wolves an 11-0 lead. Snider did in fact strike out the next batter though, which ended the explosive inning for UWG.
West Georgia would not score again until the bottom of the 8th inning, where they found 6 more runs on 7 hits.
Hayes and Lopes got it started as they singled and then doubled, putting men on 3rd and 2nd. Payton Mann was then hit by a pitch, loading the bases again. Freshman Cade Marlowe then came in to pinch hit for Chase Waters, and singled to right, scoring two runs. As the right fielder threw home to try to get Lopes, Marlowe made the smart play of advancing to second. He is only credited with a single, but reached second on the play, which was his first ever collegiate at bat. This gave West Georgia a 13-0 lead.
Senior Keith Buckhault then came into pinch hit for Ben Utley. He flied out to left field, scoring a run and moving Marlowe to third. Drew Eady then singled to center, scoring Marlowe. This was followed by two consecutive singles by Kadkhodaian and Hutch. The second one, by Tyler Hutch, scored Drew Eady, giving UWG a 16-0 lead.
After advancing to third on a Dalton Rogers fly out, Tyler Hutch scored on a sophomore John Gaiter double. Lopes then grounded out to the short stop, ending the inning and the scoring for UWG. Neither team scored in the ninth inning, and West Georgia ended with its first win of the season, by a score of 17-0.
Matthew Norton was named GSC Pitcher of the Week for his performance against Emmanuel. In the first inning, he walked 2 and hit 1 batter with a pitch, but escaped the inning allowing no hits and no runs. Over the course of the next 3 innings, he struck out 3 more for a total of 4 on the day. He ended his first start in 2016 giving up no hits, no runs, striking out 4, and walking 2. This is now the 11th game in a row UWG has one when Norton gets the start.
Overall, the UWG pitchers gave up only 2 hits throughout the whole game, while striking out 9 batters. Brandon Goldsmith came in to relieve Norton. He pitched 3 innings and gave up the only 2 hits. He showed flashes of his potential during those three innings, as he struck out 5 of the 12 batters he faced.
Seniors Ethan Hunter and Tyler Gunnin finished off the game. Each pitcher pitched one inning and neither allowed a hit.
Plenty of guys contributed to the 17 runs for West Georgia. Tyler Hutch and Artemis Kadkhodaian finished the day 2-for-4, each with a walk. Hutch had 3 RBIs in the game and scored 3 times as well. Garrett Hayes finished 3-for-3, scoring twice and walking once. Caleb Lopes finished 2-for-5, scoring 3 times with 1 RBI. Drew Eady finished 2-for-5, scoring twice with 2 RBIs.
Despite shutting out Emmanuel and allowing only 2 hits, West Georgia fell one spot in the D2baseballnews.com poll. Before the Pfeiffer series, they were sitting at 30th.
This game vs Emmanuel was the first weekend of UWG baseball, as they continued the next weekend (February 6th and 7th) in a 3-game home series vs Pfeiffer.
The Pfeiffer series article I wrote can be found on the homepage of bwrightsports.com
***PICTURES WITH THE LOGO IN THE BOTTOM RIGHT CORNER WERE TAKEN BY ME, BRANDON WRIGHT. ANY PICTURE NOT WITH THE LOGO IN THE BOTTOM RIGHT I DID NOT TAKE. ALL OF THE PICTURES IN THIS SPECIFIC ARTICLE WERE TAKEN BY ME***