ATHENS, GA (WSFA) - Troy baseball is now a day away from playing in its first NCAA regional game since the 2013 season. The Trojans (41-19) have been placed in the Athens Regional as a three seed and will play the No. 2 seed, and ranked No. 18 Duke Blue Devils (40-15) out of the Atlantic Coast Conference at Foley Field Friday.
"It was our goal to get to a regional and we did that. The first time in five years, so it's just really satisfying and I'm really glad I got the opportunity to do it," said senior outfielder Joey Denison.
The Trojans got the chance to get a feel for the layout of the ballpark Thursday as they hit the field for practice.
"I think it's extremely important ahead of this tournament to get out here and check the conditions and see how fast it is or slow or bumpy or smooth or how the park plays in the gaps, so we took advantage of that with a good bp session," said head coach Mark Smartt.
While his players are new to the NCAA Regional environment, they didn't seem that way at Thursday's practice.
"I thought our kids were loose and looked ready to go. It's a lot different today than it'll be tomorrow certainly at 2 o'clock when the game starts," Smartt said.
Maybe they were loose because they know their senior ace is getting the ball to open the tournament. Andrew Crane will take his 2.82 ERA to the mound to open things for the Trojans. Crane, himself, was excited to know he was getting the ball.
"I was excited. I mean, it's the regional, game one of the regional. Hadn't been here since '13, so give us a chance to get out here, and get game one under our belt and get a W, and move into the winner's bracket and keep this thing going. Give ourselves the best chance to win," said Crane.
"I'm comfortable he'll take the mound and do what he needs to do to give our team every chance to win," said Smartt. "I don't think the stage will be too big for him."
Another big part of Troy's success comes from their offense. The Trojans are one of the top teams in several categories, including batting average (25th), 2Bs (T-10th), hits (11th), runs (12th), stolen bases (T-6th) and triples (T-1st).
A big part of their run production is due to their All-American slugger Joey Denison. Denison came back for a fifth year after an injury last season. Denison's been a man on fire at the dish, driving in a school-record 74 RBIs runs on his way to being named an All-American.
"Well he certainly deserves that [All-American selection]. He has had a remarkable senior year. So proud of all that he's accomplished, [Sun Belt Conference] Player of the Year and now an All-American honor, there'll be more," said Smartt.
Smartt called Denison an important part of the Trojans' offense and they'll need that production as Duke boasts what coach Smartt calls an impressive bullpen.
"Their endgame pitching is really good. Their bullpen is lights out, so I think it's important for our team to get a lead and hold onto that lead so that we can maybe neutralize some of the strength they have at the end of the game," said Smartt.
The Blue Devils come off of their first 40-win season in school history according to their athletics department, and are making their fifth NCAA tournament appearance. The Blue Devils will run senior right-handed pitcher Ryan Day out to face the Trojans.
First pitch between these two teams is set for 1 p.m. Central Standard Time. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3. The winner advances in the winner's bracket and the loser will play the loser between No. 1 seed Georgia and No. 4 seed Campbell in an elimination game.
The winner of the Athens Regional will play the winner of the Lubbock Regional in the NCAA Super Regional.