Baseball on top at midway point

by Baseball Beat Writer Nick Griffin

The North Alabama baseball team is nearly halfway through the 2017 season, and the Lions are prime contenders for a conference championship as they sit atop the Gulf South Conference standings.

The Lions are 16-10 overall and 11-4 in conference play after finishing last season barely over .500 with a 25-22 record and an eighth place finish in the GSC.

One of the highlights for the team in the first half of the season has been its pitching staff. The Lions rank first in the conference in ERA, due in large part to two-time GSC pitcher of the week, Tyler Joyner.

The junior right-hander is 7-0 on the season and is among the best of the GSC in both strikeouts (59) and ERA (2.60).

However, head coach Mike Keehn said he does not want to get too wrapped up in statistics.

“Right now, that’s just one of those early things you can’t really look into and see what it is,” Keehn said. “It’s how you build throughout the year. I give coach (Matt) Hancock a lot of credit. He’s worked really hard with the pitching staff. They’ve really bought in, and there’s a lot of competition. They’re a very competitive group of guys, and right now they’re pitching well.”

Junior catcher Logan Carter said he also likes the way the year is shaping up for himself and his teammates. Carter bats third for the Lions and is second on the team in RBI’s with 24 behind junior Kyle Hubbach.

“I like this team,” Carter said. “We have a lot of chemistry, and that’s why I think we’re going to make a run for the GSC tournament. I don’t think we’ve been there in quite a while, but I have a good feeling about this team, and I think we can come out on top.”

Another key piece in the Lions’ lineup is leadoff hitter and junior center fielder T.J. Lockett. Lockett has reached base in all but one of UNA’s games this season and is second on the team with a minimum of 20 games played in on base percentage at .441.

“As the leadoff guy I’m just trying to find a pitch that I can handle and do whatever I can to get on base,” he said. “I think the big thing we need to work on is getting the big hits in the big moments when we need to get them. For the most part we’re on the right track.”

The Lions will defend their top spot in the GSC standings when they travel to Delta State March 25-26 to take on the number two team in the standings. They then host Miles for a mid-week double-header March 28.