In my previous column, I mentioned that USC Aiken's baseball team is loaded with Columbia County players. Well, I feel it is only fair to recognize the Columbia County products whostayed even closer to home, and now play for Augusta State University.
One of the Jags' top returnees is senior pitcher Justin Walker. The former Evans star came to ASU four years ago expecting to be a reserve infielder who could pitch a little. He quickly established himself as one of ASU's "go-to" starters. He finished his freshman campaign with a 6-4 record and a conference-best 2.26 ERA. He followed that with a solid sophomore season in 2004.
That season, Walker posted a 7-5 with a 3.02 ERA. He also proved to be a workhorse, leading the team with 91 innings pitched.
The 2005 season was a tough one for Walker. He managed only two wins in 15 appearances. He finished 2-5 with an uncharacteristically high 7.35 ERA. The 6-0, 180-pound right-hander will be counted on heavily to bounce back for the Jags this season.
Also returning is sophomore catcher Jeremy Armstrong. The 5-8, 172-pound former Greenbrier star was a pleasant surprise for Coach Skip Fite and his staff. Armstrong hit .312 with 18 RBI in 30 games last season. He also finished second on the team with a .402 slugging percentage.
Another veteran returner for ASU is former Lakeside standout Preston Crews. Crews has been a valuable asset off the bench for the Jags during his career. Last season, in addition to his work at the plate and in the field, Crews took the mound for ASU. He proved to be a bulldog at times for the Jags, posting a 3.92 ERA in 20 innings. He also hit .250 with a .341 slugging percentage at the plate a year ago.
Joining the squad this season at ASU is former Greenbrier southpaw Ben Dukes. Dukes had a stellar four-year varsity career for the Wolfpack. He is tough as nails. Don't let the 5-10, 155-pound frame fool you; Dukes is crafty and fearless on the mound and should give ASU immediate help this season.
ASU is coming off a 28-25-1 season a year ago, but they have high expectations with some key returners back this season. The Jags open the season Feb. 3 with a three-game series at home vs. Carson-Newman.
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