2018 @ASUNBSB Season Preview: USC Upstate Spartans

LakePoint, Ga. - Opening day for ASUN Baseball is around the corner and with first pitch looming ever closer, it's time to preview all eight conference squads competing in 2018. Coming in seventh overall in the ASUN Preseason Coaches Poll, USC Upstate is next on our preview countdown.

The Spartans feature another strong home schedule as they will begin the 2018 season with eight-straight contests at Harley Park, including a two-game series with Kentucky. 20 of the Spartans 24 victories last year came at Harley Park, where the team hit .302 compared to just .229 on the road. USC Upstate ranked second in the conference in triples with 15, while producing 21 sac flies as a team, also good for second in the conference. The Spartans picked up two conference series wins as they defeated North Florida and NJIT last season. The Spartans look to make it back to the ASUN Championship after missing last year's contest by two games. 

Charlie Carpenter was voted ASUN Preseason Player of the Year, just the second for USC Upstate in program history. The senior catcher was outstanding at the plate, leading the team in batting average (.357), home runs (11) and RBI (46). His 11 long balls ranked third in the league, while he finished second in batting average. The Spartans also return their number two and three run producers from a year ago, as J.J. Shimko (35 RBI) and Russell Schwertfeger (28) are back for USC Upstate in 2018. Most of USC Upstate's rotation is back as well with Blake Whitney and Kevin Hickey combining for 28 starts. Both starters pitched over 70 innings on the mound last season. 

A total of 10 freshmen will be on the Spartans roster this season as the team looks to make that jump back into the ASUN Championship for the first time since 2013. The last time USC Upstate won 30 games in a single season was in 2012, which is a mark this year's team hopes to get back to. First pitch of the 2018 season is set for February 16th at home against Dayton.

USC Upstate Team Quick Facts
2017 Record:
 24-31 (7-14) 
Best Single-Season Record in ASUN: 33-20; (16-10) - 2012
ASUN Championships: None
Best ASUN Regular Season Finish: 2nd; 2012
NCAA Division I Tournament Appearances: None
2018 Season Notes: USC Upstate looks to continue its excellent home form as the Spartans won 20 games at Harley Park in 2017. Preseason Player of the Year Charlie Carpenter leads a lineup that returns its top-three hitters. The Spartans ranked fourth in batting average last season hitting .283, while sitting in fifth in the conference with 40 total stolen bases. 
Season Opener: vs. Dayton; 2/16/18 - 4 PM
ASUN Opener: vs. Kennesaw State; 3/29/18 - 6 PM
ASUN Home Opener: vs. Kennesaw State; 3/29/18 - 6 PM

Coaching Staff
Head Coach:
 Matt Fincher
Career Record (Years): 451-638 (21st Year)
USC Upstate Record (Years): Same
Staff: Tim Brown, Tyler Cook, Kyle Floyd

Key Returners
- Charlie Carpenter, Sr., C: The 2018 ASUN Preseason Player of the Year slashed .357/.441/.592 which were all career-highs for the senior. He was drafed by the Atlanta Braves in the 2017 MLB Draft, but decided to return for his senior season in Spartanburg. His 11 homers last season ranked him third in the conference, while he finished second in the league in batting average. Behind the plate, Carpenter threw out a league-high 21 base runners, and only committed four errors defensively all season. 
- Russell Schwertfeger, Sr., OF: The senior from Bethany, W.Va. was part of a dynamic outfield duo with J.J. Shimko last season. Schwertfeger played in 50 games and totaled 54 hits. He led the team in triples with four and finished with 28 RBI. He also was dynamic on the base paths, stealing a team-high 12 bases. Six of those stolen bases came in conference play, which ranked him fifth in the ASUN.  
- Devon Ortiz, Jr., UTIL:
 After an outstanding freshman season, Ortiz didn't show any signs of a sophomore slump in his second season with the Spartans. The utility player ranked 10th in the ASUN in runs scored with 41, while sitting 15th with 62 total hits. He finished the 2017 season with 11 doubles and two triples, while hitting .291 on the campaign. 

Top Returning Pitchers 
- Blake Whitney, Sr., RHP: In 13 starts last season, Whitney posted a team-best 82 strikeouts for the Spartans. His five victories on the year were the most by any Spartan pitcher, and he posted an impressive 10.02 K/9 ratio a year ago. His 82 Ks ranked him eighth in the conference and he looks to add to that total in his senior campaign.  
- Kevin Hickey, Sr., RHP:
 The rising senior made an impact on the mound for the Spartans last season. Hickey tied Whitney for the most starts on the team with 13, while posting a 4-7 record. He struck out 48 batters in 70.1 innings of work, both single-season highs for Hickey with the Spartans. The Fairfield, Conn. native posted a 4.73 ERA, while only allowing 25 walks in those 70 plus innings of work.
- Trey Van Der Weide, So., LHP: Coming off an injury that cost him all of 2016, Van der Weide came back to post a 2-2 record for the Spartans last season. He struckout 28 batters in 35.2 innings of work, while finishing with a 7.07 K/9 ration last season. He will look to make an even greater impact on a pitching staff that finished seventh in team ERA last season in the ASUN.

Impact Newcomer 
- Jordan Marks, Fr., RHP: Marks is a freshman right-handed pitcher from Bright's Grove, Ontario who looks to make an impact with the Spartans this season. He threw 79 innings over the summer in 2017 and struck out 66 batters in the Canadian Premier Baseball League. He finished the summer with an 1.40 ERA and was praised by the Upstate coaches for having excellent command of his fastball and secondary pitches.  

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