Last year, the upperclassmen for the Augusta University baseball program set goals of posting a winning season and making the Peach Belt Conference Baseball Championship, something that had not been done since 2016.
The team was able to meet those expectations, and this year, they have upped the ante.
Head coach Chris Howell, who is entering his eighth year at the helm of the program, knows he has the pieces in place to take that next step.
“We’ve done a nice job internally of setting our goals higher,” Howell said. “Last year’s group strived to make the conference tournament and make some noise. This year’s group have extended those goals, but we have been honest and upfront with what we have to do to get to that point. These guys are ready to go.”
The team doesn’t have to wait long to see how they stack up as the season begins Feb. 2 with a home series at Jaguar Field against West Georgia. Eleven of the first 16 games will be played at home, and the Jaguars will also have the opportunity to shine under the lights for the first time in program history with 10 night games slated during the season.
Last season, the Jaguars hit .293 as a team with 498 hits while scoring 350 runs. Howell said he’s excited about bringing back a lot of last year’s hitters that improved as the season went on while also gaining valuable experience in the Peach Belt Conference.
The pitching staff was the focal point of improvement during the offseason, where Howell brought in 19 players to help a unit that posted a 6.51 ERA while giving up 357 runs and allowing a .299 opponents’ batting average.
“We brought in 19 arms, from JUCO transfers to talented freshmen, to come in and build the base of this program. We’re excited about their projectability and what they bring to the table. We have 23 pitchers on staff, and we’re excited about what they each can do,” Howell said.
Howell’s squad will feature Kyle Lodise, the 2023 PBC Freshman of the Year and a second team all-conference selection. The Jaguars’ shortstop started all 50 games and hit .333 while leading the team in hits (72), runs scored (59) and stolen bases (20), and was tied for the team lead with nine home runs.
Second baseman Koby Ayala, first baseman Jordan Wilkie and outfielder Harrison Aulds are all expected to provide senior leadership this season. Ayala, who was named to the PBC Preseason All-Conference Team, led the team with a .355 average with 34 RBIs, while Wilkie hit .292 with 33 RBIs. Aulds, named a second team all-conference selection last season, has played in all 98 games during his time with the Jaguars, amassing a .325 career batting average with 111 total hits.
Howell said he’s looking for his seniors and graduate students to continue to help raise expectations within the program while also looking toward the future.
“We’re excited for this season. We want to be humble in the approach but be competitive and win our ballgames. We’re wanting to go piece by piece, enjoying the process of getting better every day.”