Lions compliment solid pitching with explosive hitting

Freshman outfielder Conner Kiser advances on the base paths during UNA’s 12-1 win against Stillman College Feb. 7. The Lions outscored their opponents 43-6 through the first four games.

It appears the UNA baseball team came out swinging in 2016.

The Lions are 5-2 so far this season. In the first four games, UNA outscored its opponents 43-6, driving in numerous runs in a strong hitting performance while utilizing efficient pitching.

“There are a lot of factors that go into (the hot start),” said head coach Mike Keehn. “We had very good approaches (at the plate), took advantage of mistakes the other team was unable to do and most importantly, we hit very well with two outs. When you can do most of your damage with two outs, that’s really huge.”

UNA defeated Miles College in a double header Feb. 6, earning 6-1 and 8-2 victories. The following day, the Lions routed Stillman College 17-2 and 12-1.

The team suffered its first two losses in a double header in Mobile against Spring Hill Feb. 13, falling 6-3 and 6-5. UNA bounced back Sunday with a 7-4 win, improving to a 5-2 overall record.

In the opening moments of the season, it is important to stay focused, said senior left fielder Kevin Hall, who is one of the team’s seasoned veterans.

“We’ve been coming out trying to hit the ball hard,” Hall said. “We’re not doing too much at the plate, being patient and making the pitcher work the count and throw strikes.”

Following through with runners in scoring position can make the difference in winning and losing, which the Lions have done well so far. The team has 47 runs batted in so far, which ranks second in the Gulf South Conference.

With plenty of new faces on this year’s team, Hall said success would need to spark in the locker room.

“This is a whole different ball team than what we had last year,” Hall said. “Coming into the year, it’s important we come together and mesh as a team. That’s helped a lot. We’ve had good friendships, and we’re growing together.”

Riley Sanderson is the only true starting pitcher from last season. The senior struck out 10 hitters and gave up three hits in his first start, the nightcap game against Stillman.

Sanderson said veteran experience in approaching each practice and game helps him sustain a certain level of play throughout the season.

“You really just have to take it day-by-day,” he said. “Each day, you have to take seriously, and you have to work as hard as you did the day before.”

With conference games coming up soon, Keehn said the preparation does not change, but the magnitude of each game does.

“The difference between conference and nonconference is intensity,” he said. “Your season really stems from what you do in conference. No matter how well you do outside of conference, you have to have a really good conference record.”

A low eighth place ranking in the GSC preseason standings continues to linger in the UNA locker room.

“For me, it gives us a chip on our shoulder,” Hall said. “We all want to prove that we are better than that.”

Keehn said the underdog mentality makes no difference in the team’s performance against a talented conference.

“We can talk about proving everybody wrong, but we have to go out on the field and prove it,” he said.

The Lions begin conference play Feb. 19 at home against the West Georgia Wolves. UNA is 4-0 so far at Mike Lane Field.