Lions enjoying success despite inconsistency with bats

Junior second baseman Kyle Crabtree makes contact with the pitch against Christian Brothers University March 15. The Lions are (21-8, 10-7) this year and in fourth place in the Gulf South Conference.

The baseball team is enjoying a solid year as the Lions pass the midway point of the season. Through 29 games, UNA has a 21-8 overall record and a 10-7 record in the Gulf South Conference.

Excellent defense and great pitching is the key to the success for the Lions to this point.

The Lions have a .969 fielding percentage, good for fourth in the GSC, and have committed 31 errors which is also fourth best in the conference.

The UNA pitching staff owns a 3.36 ERA and has held opponents to a .268 batting average. Both of those numbers are good for third best in the conference.

The pitching staff is led by the Florence native and senior southpaw Brantley Claunch who is 4-2 in 8 starts. Claunch also has a 2.79 ERA, which is sixth best in the GSC among pitchers with at least 8 starts, and opponents are batting .282 against him.

Although the numbers do not necessarily back it up, starters Riley Sanderson, Kyle Stephenson, and Kyle Conkle have held their own on the mound. The three are 7-6 in 17 combined starts and Sanderson, Stephenson, and Conkle own 5.29, 4.24, and 4.01 ERAs, respectively.

“With the exception of a few games the pitching has been pretty well-rounded,” Claunch said. “And that is mostly in due respect to our pitching Coach Matt Hancock and all of the staff really being on the same page all the time and showing up at the field wanting to get better day in and day out.”

Unfortunately for the Lions, the guys on the mound have not received much run support from the guys holding the bats. A majority of UNA’s lineup is right handed but hitters have struggled against lefties this season batting a meager .220 against the southpaws.

“(The inconsistency has been)adjusting to the pitching and it has mainly been against left handed pitching for some reason,” said head coach Mike Keehn.

Although there are four guys hitting over .300 compared to just one from the previous season, the hitting has been inconsistent from game to game. However, Keehn said he tips his hat to opponents who pitched their best against his squad.

“We did have a good four game span where we swung the bats well, but good pitching can control hitting,” he said. “We faced a couple of pitchers that are having a good season.”

Dylan Calhoun, Brett Guzay, Jake Smith, and Taylor Hayes are the four guys with .300-plus averages this season. Guzay has continued his great play since coming back from a facial injury sustained against LeMoyne-Owen College early in the season batting .337 and Jake Smith seems to always find a way to get on base batting .345 and drawing 16 walks, the most on the team.

However, the most valuable player for the Lions to this point has been Calhoun who owns the best batting average and is UNA’s primary centerfielder, Keehn said.

“(Calhoun’s) numbers are the best on the team and he has played solid defense as well,” he said.

Keehn said Hayes has been the most improved player.

“(Hayes) did get a few starts in left and had a couple of big pinch hits,” he said. “We put him in the designated hitter spot against Union and he has done a solid job.”

Despite being swept at home this past weekend by UAH, Keehn says the team’s goals are still the same now as they were at the beginning of the season.

“We were all disappointed this past weekend, but our goals have not changed,” he said. “We have to play well in the next four conference series to stay in the top six and have a chance to play for a conference championship.”

The Lions are looking forward to the latter half and feel the only thing between them and success is themselves.

“We have to continue to adjust and step up to the challenges that each week brings,” said Keehn. “The obstacle is us, and to trust what the plan is and to play our game and continue to play hard and compete every game.”