Baseball team ends season without postseason play

by Sports Editor Dustin Pollard

The promising start to the season did not end well for the baseball team.

For the first time since 2009, the UNA Lions will not be competing in the Gulf South Conference Tournament. The Lions finished its season April 26 with a doubleheader against Shorter University, which it split with a 5-4 loss and a 2-0 victory.

“It’s hard that we didn’t do what we wanted to do, what we set out to do, what we were in position to do,” said head coach Mike Keehn. “I have to figure out what went wrong and the direction it went.”

UNA (27-16, 15-14) finished the season with one more win and nine less losses than last year, but it was not enough for the Lions to reach the No. 6 seed in the conference standings and make the tournament for the sixth straight year.

The Lions went on an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the season to bring its record to 21-5, 10-4 heading into a three-game series with the University of Alabama-Huntsville starting March 28.

The Lions scored only four runs in three games against UAH.

UNA was then swept by the Chargers, starting a five-game losing streak as the Lions limped to a 6-11 finish to the season.

“I think losing that series really hurt our confidence,” said senior first baseman and pitcher Kyle Conkle. “The UAH series was built up a lot and when we lost it we just didn’t recognize we were still sitting in a good spot.”

Hitting was not a strong suit for the Lions this season, as the team finished the year seventh in the conference in hits (394), eighth in home runs (11) and sixth in runs (264).

In a three-game series against Lee University, the Lions only crossed the plate twice.

The Lions did end the year with 69 stolen bases, which was the second most in the conference but the small ball strategy was not as successful due to the inability to move runners around, Keehn said.

Keehn took responsibility for the team’s inability to hit the ball.

“I’m supposed to coach them up,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to get them ready to win games and I didn’t do it.”

Conkle said the team just had a hard time getting hits with runners in scoring position.

“We had some really good hitters on the team, but we just never got the hits when we needed to,” Conkle said.

Conkle finished the season with a 3.62 ERA in 10 starts.

The pitching and defense was the team’s strength, Keehn said.

“We have some real quality starters and our bullpen was very deep,” he said.

The Lions gave up 192 runs, which is the fourth least amount in the GSC and the defense had the least amount of errors with 40.

Conkle is one of seven seniors to suit up in a Lions uniform for the last time.

“It was special because I’ve never been on a team that cared for each other so much,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it.”

Other Lions who played their last game: second leading hitter Brett Guzay, who finished the season with a .342 batting average, third baseman and team leader in home runs (6) Dylan Boston, .306 hitter and outfielder Jake Smith, No. 1 pitcher Brantley Claunch, who finished the year with 87.2 innings pitched and a 3.49 ERA, reliever Jacob Westerhouse, who threw 42.1 innings with an 1.49 ERA and starting pitcher Kyle Stephenson.