After struggling last season to go 5-10 and finish sixth in the South Piedmont Conference, Jay M. Robinson has turned it around.
"We definitely under-achieved last year," said senior outfielder Logan Austin. "We were kind of young, but that helped us build a brotherhood, which has helped a lot this year - we have much better chemistry."
The most notable improvement for the Bulldogs has been on the defensive side, said Bulldogs' baseball coach Jason Sarvis, but their strong suit remains pitching.
With junior Brody Koerner and sophomore Philip Perry pitching in top form, the team has gotten off to a 9-5 start, including a 7-2 record in the SPC (as of April 7). With their performance, the Bulldogs were in second place in the conference, one game behind Northwest Cabarrus, the only team that had defeated the Bulldogs in conference play heading into Friday's game against Cox Mill.
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Koerner, a right-hander who already has committed to play baseball at Clemson, has led the way for Robinson with a 1.69 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 33 innings.
"He's been a stud," said Austin, a lefty who's also seen some time as pitcher. "Any time he steps on the mound, we know we're probably going to win. There's no doubt in our minds."
Senior Dillon Ashburn, the team's closer, has also played quality innings for Robinson.
"He's been big for us," said Sarvis.
What may be more important to the team than its pitching is the returning experience on its roster. With eight seniors, the Bulldogs return almost the entire starting lineup from last season.
"A lot of the guys are just a year more experienced," said Sarvis. "Having seven of our starting positions filled by seniors helps out a lot."
Playing together for at least the last year has allowed the team to take a more care-free approach during game situations, especially for the seniors.
"We're more relaxed, knowing how each other plays, having played with each other for four years," said Austin. "It's become second-nature to us this year."
Ashburn agreed: "We just have fun out there," he said.
In addition to Austin and Ashburn, who had a combined 21 RBIs before the game against the Chargers, fellow seniors Justin Lee, Daniel Federici, Shawn Weber and Blaine Hill have also played key roles in Robinson's success.
"Everybody's stepping up and playing well," said Austin.
Austin said he hasn't been surprised with the turnaround the team has made.
"We kind of expected it," said Austin. "We knew we had the talent to compete for a conference championship and now that's our ultimate goal from here on out."
He said that, to close out the year strong, Robinson will need to stay consistent.
"We all have to get hot at the same time - some people are hot some weeks and sometimes not, so it's been one person carrying the team," he said.
Ashburn, also the team's first baseman, said the team is capable of winning the SPC title.
"We just have to keep swinging our bats and pitch well," he said. "I think we can do it."
To accomplish that, the Bulldogs will need the help from another conference team in taking down the Trojans, having lost both of their games to Northwest Cabarrus in late March.
But Sarvis doesn't want to put too much emphasis on that, having key games against Mount Pleasant and Hickory Ridge in the next week.
"We're doing our best to stay as near the top as we can and keep playing well," said Sarvis. "As long as we take care and worry about what we can control, then that's all I can ask for."