Undoubtedly, the biggest sports story to come out of Union in 2017 is the baseball team’s rise from being the cellar-dwellers of the Gulf South Conference to being one of its powerhouses. The team will compete in its first Gulf South Tournament this weekend, and, if they play well enough, they could advance to the South Regional Tournament.
The tournament field is split into two pools, and after threes days of round-robin play, the winner of each pool moves onto the championship game on Tuesday, May 9.
The Bulldogs will be in Pool A with Valdosta State, Alabama Huntsville, and the #1 seed and reigning Gulf South champs, Delta State.
The matchup between Union and Valdosta State is set to be one of the best games in the whole tournament. Any four-seed vs. five-seed matchup is fun, and this one will be no different. The Bulldogs went 2-1 against the Blazers in the regular season, and the best game was when Hunter Jones was on the mount for Valdosta, as he is expected to be Saturday.
Union won that game 2-1, but Jones handled the Bulldog lineup one through nine, including striking out fellow First Team All-Gulf South Conference Nolen Milton three times.
“[Jones] had my number when we played,” Milton said. “So I’m looking forward to getting back at him.”
Union’s second game this weekend will be against Delta State, who has been the best team in the Gulf South for as long as anyone can remember. Union is capable of beating this powerhouse– they proved that in an incredible 10-4 win back in early March. The Bulldogs also have an incredible record of 18-5 on the road, so the fact that Delta State hosts this tournament could actually help Union more than it hurts them.
Head coach Lee Driggers will have a choice to make heading into Saturday as to whether he wants to pitch his ace, JR Miller in the first game or save him for the hard-hitting bats of Delta State in the second. The advantage to pitching Miller on Saturday would be that he could come back off of short rest to pitch in the championship game, should Union advance. As any baseball coach will tell you, the most important thing is advancing; you can figure who will pitch after that.
At least in my mind, Delta State’s options are much more clear. Since Delta State is the 1-seed, they have the advantage of playing the 8-seed (Huntsville) on day one and will be able to see what happens in the likely more competitive Union-Valdosta game before deciding who starts the next two days. If I’m coaching Delta State, I’d save dominant ace Seth Birdsong and pitch him against whoever wins the game between the Bulldogs and the Blazers.
Alabama Huntsville could be a bit of a trap game psychologically if Union can manage two wins in the first two days, but unless Chargers’ head coach Hunter Royer does something unexpected, the Bulldogs shouldn’t have too much trouble swinging the bats. Ace Will Myers is the only UAH pitcher with a sub-5.5 ERA, so Union should be able to score a lot of runs against anyone else on the mound.
“If UAH burns [Meyers] early in the tournament, our odds are going to be good in that game,” Union outfielder Zach Phillips said.
UAH will almost certainly pitch Myers in game one. There are really two rules on choosing who starts in a postseason game: (1) Always start your best pitcher first, (2) unless you can start him against the best team. UAH will get to do both this postseason.
All 17 games of the tournament will be held at Delta State from Saturday, May 6, to Tuesday, May 9. The Gulf South Conference championship game will be on Tuesday night at 6:00, and all games can be streamed live via gscsports.org.