Matt Fincher, USC Upstate Spartans

USC Upstate Spartans

The USC Upstate Spartans have yet to earn a spot in an NCAA Regional since joining the Division 1 ranks 11 years ago but have challenged at times for the ASUN title over the past decade. The program’s best season took place in 2012 when USC Upstate went 33-20 and 16-10 in the ASUN, with head coach Matt Fincher being named the ASUN Coach of the Year. After a difficult season in 2017, during which the team went 24-31 overall and 7-14 in the ASUN, Fincher is confident that his veteran returning lineup can make this season one to remember in Spartanburg.

The USC Upstate Spartans will be led by senior catcher Charlie Carpenter (.357/.441/.592). Drafted by the Atlanta Braves last year before deciding to return to school, Carpenter emerged as an intriguing hitting prospect while swatting 11 of the Spartans’ 21 home runs and leading the team in most hitting categories, including 46 RBIs. A trio of seniors also return in the outfield in JJ Shimko (.300/.417/.435), Russell Schwertfeger (.278/.322/.366), and Pat Raiff (.323./.447/.438). Shimko contributed 16 doubles and 35 RBIs to the USC Upstate cause, and Schwerfeger led the team with 12 steals and was third with 28 RBIs. Versatile junior Devon Ortiz (.291/.360/.362) will play in a variety of positions, including center field, while sophomore shortstop Jake Bourke (.287/.361/.333) will anchor the infield defense. Andres Kim is projected to start at second base after earning All-America honors at Pasadena Community College. Freshman Kyle Gensler impressed in fall practice and should see activity on the infield.

In order for the USC Upstate Spartans to challenge for the ASUN crown, the team will need more consistency from its pitching staff. Senior righthander Kevin Hickey (4-7, 4.73 ERA) is the team’s top returner on the mound. Hickey started 13 games last year, as did senior righthander Blake Whitney (5-6, 5.50 ERA), who struck out 82 batters in 73.2 innings. Sophomore lefthander Trey Van Der Weide (2-2, 6.06 ERA) started three of his 23 appearances in 2017. A pair of transfers, righthander Jacob Thiessen (Indian Hills Community College) and lefty Caleb Matthews (Kankakee Community College), and freshman righthander Jordan Marks from Bright’s Grove, Ontario, could have an immediate impact on the Spartans’ staff.

About the author, Bill

Bill Ballew has been involved with collegiate and professional baseball since 1983. He has been the Atlanta correspondent for Baseball America since 1991 and has served as the editorial content manager for Baseball The Magazine for more than five years. He is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).