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Instant Peay Play: APSU Governors Baseball opens new season, new era this week

Instant Peay Play - APSU SportsClarksville, TN – Austin Peay State University’s baseball team will not only open its 80th regular season, February 19th at Raymond C. Hand Park versus Bradley University, but also open a new era in the program’s history.

For the first time since the 1988 season the Governors will be led by a new head coach, with Travis Janssen taking the reins from Gary McClure; who resigned in August after 28 seasons and 847 wins.

APSU Raymond C. Hand Park. (Austin Peay State University)
APSU Raymond C. Hand Park. (Austin Peay State University)

Janssen comes into the season with 19 years of college coaching experience, including four years as head coach of Northeastern State, in Oklahoma.

But while Janssen will be a new face in the dugout, a vast majority of the 2015 roster returns from its 25-26 season – 15-15 in Ohio Valley Conference play – with 23 letter winners back for the 2016 campaign.

Among that number is all 15 offensive players and nine pitchers – including three out of four pitchers that got at least three starts in 2015.

APSU Baseball's Logan GrayWith all of that returning firepower, the Govs offense should one again be among one of the best in the OVC — and the nation – after APSU finished in the top four in the conference in batting average, doubles, home runs, on-base percentage, runs scored and slugging percentage; which were also ranked no lower than 14th in the NCAA national rankings in 2015.

What could be even more impressive about the Govs offense in 2016 is that all of those numbers Austin Peay put up in 2015 they came with the team suffering two major injuries to key threats at the plate in Logan Gray – who missed 13 games with a hand injury – but still managed to hit 14 home runs and drive in 39 in just 38 games.

APSU Baseball's Clayton SmithsonShortstop Clayton Smithson was the other big injury for the Govs offense last season, as he missed five weeks during the season, and never got back into a grove at the plate seeing his batting average drop from .279 before the injury to a final .241 mark at the season’s end.

With those two back and healthy and adding returnees Alex Robles, Ridge Smith, Dre Gleason, Garrett Copeland, Cayce Bredlau, Patrick Massoni and Josh Wilson the Govs should pack a punch up and down their lineup.

On the mound, Robles will lead a trio of starting pitchers – including Jared Carkuff and Caleb Powell – who accounted for 16 of the 25 wins recorded by APSU in 2015.

Josh Rye, Michael Costanzo and John Sparks should also battle for starts in the mid-week, as well as fighting for one of the three weekend starting slots.

If there is a question tied to the Govs pitching staff in 2016, it is who will step up and be the closer for the team.

Costanzo spent most of the year last season coming out of the pen, while Carkuff could also be in the mix – if not in one of the weekend starting slots. Only time will answer who will fill that spot.

The Govs roster will also be bolstered by 10 new players on the squad, headed by infielders Parker Phillips and T.J. Conroy, along with utility player Brett Newberg and pitcher Cody O’Brien.

APSU Baseball's Alex RoblesWith all the talent returning and several newcomers that should add to that, it’s no surprise the Govs are picked to be near the top of the OVC standings at season end.

Southeast Missouri, the winner of the last two regular-season tiles in the OVC, is the prohibitive favorite to repeat once again, but Austin Peay is picked to finish third in the OVC preseason poll (only one point back of second-place Jacksonville State) and by Collegiate Baseball – while being picked to finish in second place by D1Baseball.com’s preseason poll.

So while a new era begins this Friday, it looks like this year’s Govs team may return to the years of old, as a contender for the OVC championship.

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