Members of Troy University’s athletics staff made a stop at the Columbus Marriott on Tuesday as part of their annual Trojan Tour, sharing excitement about recent successes in baseball as well as lofty expectations for the future of all its sports.
Trojans baseball coach Bobby Pierce said his team, which advanced to an NCAA regional final this season after defeating Alabama twice in its bracket, is at a point where just making the regional is no longer the expectation.
“We’ve been going to the regional tournaments, and when you first start that process, just getting there is a great thing,” he said. “But we’re to that point where winning one is the real goal. Winning those two games against Alabama was great, but winning the regional will continue to be our main goal.”
Troy lost two juniors and a signee to the Major League draft, but will rely on two Bi-City players, among others, to step in and continue to build a strong future for the program.
Russell County’s Jesse Nelson and Smiths Station’s Marc Skinner, both pitchers considered to be among the best players in the state, were a part of the Trojans’ early signing class.
“We’re really excited about those two guys as young players,” Pierce said. “They have been high-profile high school guys. Both have competed at a level that we think will allow them to come in and contribute early. With that said, the rest is up tot hem. They have to perform and work to earn those roles. For a freshman to walk in and be that man is a big challenge. They’re that type of player, but there’s a lot more to it than just physical talent.
BLAKENEY STILL WANTS TO PLAY ALABAMA, AUBURN: Troy football coach Larry Blakeney said at the event on Tuesday that he’d love for his team to play at Bryant-Denny or Jordan-Hare Stadium. That’s been his desire for a long time.
“It’s nothing new,” he said. “We’ve been wanting to play them since, you know, whenever. They play everyone in our league — both of them. They give them a million dollars or more, and we stay in close contact with both schools. I don’t think it has anything to do with a coach being worried about playing Troy.”
Blakeney said he thinks it has to do with teams being worried about giving money to an in-state team, but that’s a worry he doesn’t understand.
“They’re giving money to guys out of state, helping teams outside the state,” he said. “We’ve been to Georgia’s stadium, Florida’s, going to Ole Miss, we’ve been to Arkansas and Florida State. There’s just something there that keeps those people from saying this is a good thing for the state of Alabama.”
He said he thinks it will take someone to finally “take the bull by the horns and say ‘this is going to happen, and if you don’t like it, you don’t like it.’”
Still, he isn’t optimistic.
“It probably won’t happen in my lifetime,” he said. “Alabama had an opening that we could have filled for them (this year). We offered them and told them we’d take less money, but they paid $1.5 million to Colorado State. They could’ve gotten us a lot cheaper.”
TROY AD HARTWELL SAYS SCHOOL CAN BE LIKE BOISE STATE: Trojans athletic director John Hartwell said on Tuesday that he saw no reason his teams couldn’t match the success Boise State has in football.
“I discount people who say that Troy is in a small media market,” he said. “Boise, Idaho, is a small media market, too. If you build success, you’re going to become attractive.”
Speaking about the differences between the two schools, he said he didn’t think there was much. The main difference is in Troy’s favor, he said.
“You take a 200-mile radius around Troy, and the talent pool of athletes is better across the board in all sports,” he said. “There’s Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Tallahassee. Draw the same line around Boise, and there’s not a lot there. So I say, why not Troy? Why can’t we be the next Boise State in football, the next Gonzaga in basketball or the next Rice in baseball?”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.