Sanderson leads conference with lowest ERA

Senior pitcher Riley Sanderson winds up for a pitch against West Georgia Feb. 20. Sanderson is off to the best start of his four-year career with a 1.29 ERA through five starts.

Senior right-handed pitcher Riley Sanderson is bringing the heat for the Lions in his final collegiate season.

Sanderson entered the game against West Florida March 6 with a 0.99 earned run average, the lowest in the Gulf South Conference. After giving up two runs in 7 2/3 innings against the Argonauts, Sanderson maintained his first place status with a 1.29 ERA.

The long-time Lion said there’s really no legitimate secret to his success.

“I just go out there and give it my all,” Sanderson said. “It’s hitting my spots and having a defense behind me that I can trust to handle the balls put in play.”

Leading the team with his career-low ERA and 42 strikeouts, Sanderson is off to the best statistical start of his four-year career. In 2013, his freshman year, he made nine appearances on the field with seven starts for the Lions. Since then, he has brought nothing but success to the clubhouse, said head coach Mike Keehn.

“He has always had a strong arm and great secondary pitches,” Keehn said. “Riley has really committed to working hard every day, and so far it has paid off.”

The Lions are off to an 11-5 overall start and are 6-3 in the GSC. Sanderson said he is confident in this year’s team because of everyone’s mentality, as he expects more success than last season.

Keehn said he has always seen competitiveness in Sanderson, but the senior from Owens Cross Roads continues progression on much more than his ambition this season.

“He is more focused for his senior season,” Keehn said. “Riley has become a team leader.”

On the field, he is a great competitor and gives everything he has for this team, said senior right-handed pitcher Blake Talley.

“Aside from baseball, Riley is an awesome guy and someone you can joke around with and have a good time with,” Talley said.

Sanderson has a talented throwing ability, but he brings more to the table than just his pitching, Talley said.

“Riley has taught me how to have fun at the field every day,” he said. “Between the long practices and games he does a great job of keeping things fun.”

Talley said Sanderson is one of the few players who have stayed in the program since day one, making him an impact player.

“Riley is a true leader on the mound,” he said. “He has been here at UNA longer than most everyone else. Having a guy with his experience and toughness throwing for us every weekend gives us a great chance to win.”

Sanderson said pitching on the college level teaches him many lessons.

“I’ve learned a lot of things, but the most important would be learning the true meaning of teamwork and work ethic,” he said. “I’ve also learned that you always get what you put into it.”

Sanderson said he credits assistant coach Matt Hancock for teaching him the fundamentals.

“Coming in as a freshman, I knew nothing about pitching,” he said. “He has also taught me the mental game of baseball.”

Sanderson said his association with Hancock goes beyond the diamond.

“Whether it be about baseball or just about life in general, his door is always open, and that is something you don’t find everywhere,” he said.

Sanderson and the Lions travel to Cleveland, Tennessee, for a three-game series with Lee University beginning March 12 at noon and game two at 3 p.m. The March 13 game also starts at noon.