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Deeper, more experienced Grizzlies thrilled to open season at home

LAWRENCEVILLE — Georgia Gwinnett Colllege’s baseball team started last season, it’s first, with 22 road games.

It didn’t keep the Grizzlies from racking up the wins, but they will absolutely benefit from having their field ready from the get-go.

“There’s no question it was a tremendous task,” head coach Brad Stromdahl said of last year’s schedule being affected by the construction of the new facilities. “But I think the guys who are here that did that, appreciate the fact now we have 37 home games this season.

“Being able to play the majority of your games at home, is a tremendous advantage for us.”

It begins at 4 p.m. today against Shawnee State, the first of three games between the two teams on the GGC campus in Lawrenceville.

The Grizzlies got off to a strong 20-6 start last year despite the challenge of playing on the road. An increasingly tough schedule combined with a short bench and GGC finished with a 30-25 record. Which is nothing to sneeze at, but Stromdahl is excited about the much deeper roster — and a year of experience for the program.

“We finished the season with 18 players total,” he said. “We had seven pitchers only. It’s a testament to those guys and their abilities on the field and willingness to compete, just to give us 30 wins.

“That goes into this year. Last year’s guys are going to be aware that we did that with 18 guys. What can we do with 33 or 34?”

GGC has 17 seniors on the team, including 10 who helped build the foundation for the program a year ago. The team features 21 total players who will make their Grizzly debuts after transferring in or redshirting a season ago. But the Grizzlies also return all of their top statistical leaders, including batting average and runs-scored leader Phillip Bates. The Central Gwinnett grad, a senior outfielder, batted .387 with 56 runs.

Also back are RBI leader Robbie Payne (44, senior infielder), slugging-percentage leader Christian Van Camp (.532, senior outfielder) and stolen-bases leader Antonio Allen (32, senior infielder).

The Grizzlies return their strikeouts leader Tyler Carpenter (68, senior RHP), wins leaders Sheldon Connor and Drew Riley, and saves leader Austin Smith.

“We really were short on the mound and the guys who were with us last year did a tremendous job getting us there,” Stromdahl said. “But now we have depth.”

Many of GGC’s newest additions are expected to step in and make an immediate impact.

Senior infielders Zach Alvord (former Atlanta Braves draft pick and 2013 Division II champion at the University of Tampa) and Garitt Church (Division I transfer from Georgia State) highlight the new additions up the middle, along with new Shiloh grad Marcus McCorkle.

“Overall we just have a great team unit where everyone has a role,” Stromdahl said. “Really we just need to start playing. We’ve done our preparation all fall and into the spring.”

The other big change is the Grizzlies are playoff eligible now.

“We are going about our business the same way,” Stromdahl said. “Everything is the same — other than the fact that at the end of this year, we are going to be able to participate in the postseason. With that comes an element of importance on each game.

“That’s what we’ve been talking about all fall and into the spring — every game matters. Every pitch matters. Every at-bat matters. How are you going to help the team win that game, win that moment?”

GGC 2014 BASEBALL SCHEDULE

Jan. 31 vs. Shawnee State, 4 p.m.

Feb. 1 vs. Shawnee State, 2 p.m. (DH)

Feb. 7 vs. Southern Polytechnic, 5 p.m.

Feb. 8 at Southern Polytechnic, 2 p.m.

Feb. 9 Southern Polytechnic, 2 p.m.

Feb. 11. at Truett-McConnell, 2 p.m.

Feb. 14 vs. Bryan, 6 p.m.

Feb. 15 vs. Bryan, 2 p.m. (DH)

Feb. 18 vs. Cumberland (Tenn.), 4 p.m.

Feb. 19 at Truett-McConnell, 3 p.m.

Feb. 21 vs. Vorhees, 7 p.m.

Feb. 22 vs. Vorhees, 1 p.m. (DH)

Feb. 24 at Loyola, 6 p.m.

Feb. 25 at Loyola, 3 p.m.

Feb. 26 vs. Toccoa Falls, 7 p.m.

Feb. 28 vs. USC-Beaufort, 7 p.m.

March 1 vs. USC-Beaufort, noon (DH)

March 4 at Southern Polytechnic, 2 p.m.

March 7 vs. St. Francis (Ind.), 7 p.m.

March 8 vs. St. Francis (Ind.), 7 p.m.

March 9 vs. St. Francis (Ind.), 2 p.m.

March 13 vs. Ohio State-Lima, 7 p.m.

March 14 vs. Ohio State-Lima, 4 p.m. (DH)

March 15 vs. Ohio State-Lima, 2 p.m.

March 18 vs. Tennessee Wesleyan, 6 p.m.

March 19 vs. Faulkner, 6 p.m.

March 21 vs. Hiwassee, 6 p.m.

March 22 at Hiwassee, 2 p.m.

March 23 vs. Hiwassee, 2 p.m.

March 25 vs. Truett-McConnell, 7 p.m.

March 26 at North Georgia, 7 p.m.

March 28 vs. Emmanuel, 6 p.m.

March 29 at Emmanuel, 1 p.m. (DH)

April 1 at Hiwassee, 2 p.m.

April 4 vs. LSU Alexandria, 7 p.m.

April 5 vs. LSU Alexandria, 1 p.m. (DH)

April 8 at Cumberland (Tenn.), 3 p.m.

April 11 at LSU Alexandria, 7 p.m.

April 12 at LSU Alexandria, 7 p.m.

April 13 at LSU Alexandria, 1 p.m.

April 15 at Faulkner, 6 p.m.

April 18 vs. Emory, 7 p.m.

April 19 at Emory, 2 p.m.

April 22 at Tennessee Wesleyan, 2 p.m.

April 23 vs. North Georgia, 7 p.m.

April 25 at Toccoa Falls, 2 p.m.

April 26 at Toccoa Falls, 2 p.m. (DH)

May 2-5 AII Tournament