Lions use small ball to score runs

Junior catcher Kevin Hall runs to third base against the University of West Alabama Feb. 28. Despite having only one home run on the season, the Lions have scored by playing small ball. UNA leads the Gulf South Conference in stolen bases with 28.

by Staff Writer Kadin Pounders

Speed kills.

The UNA baseball team has just that – speed – and they use it often. The Lions are getting runners on base, laying bunts down the line and moving runners over.

The team is also throwing in the occasional hit-and-run and swiping a few bags.

The Lions are constantly causing havoc on the base paths and putting pressure on the opposing pitcher. Small ball is UNA’s forte.

“I think that we will definitely continue to play small ball,” said outfielder Dylan Calhoun. “That is the way we play.”

Calhoun leads the team in on-base percentage among players with at least 30 at-bats.

“We have a lot of speed guys like (Kyle) Crabtree, (Brandon) Pugh and (Brett) Guzay, so we use the small ball method to our advantage,” he said.

UNA (9-3, 3-2) leads the GSC in steals so far this season with 28 in the first 12 games.

Seven Lions have recorded a steal, and two others have attempted. Second baseman Heath Wood leads the team with 10 steals in 11 attempts. Outfielder Brandon Pugh is second on the team with eight steals in 10 attempts.

Wood is also tied for the conference lead in stolen bases.

While UNA’s speed is evident, a pitcher or a catcher with a cannon can quickly turn the green light red. Sacrifices must be made and, thankfully, in baseball, a hit-and-run is not a felony.

“We always look to steal, but a lot depends on the pitcher and the catcher of our opponents,” said head coach Mike Keehn. “If a pitcher is doing a good job of holding us on and the catcher has a good arm, then we will probably sac bunt more or hit-and-run to put players in motion.”

In a sacrifice situation, the pressure is on the hitter to lay down a good bunt. Even with two strikes on them, Keehn said he trusts his guys to do their jobs.

“It is their responsibility to get the bunt down,” Keehn said. “(The players) have three strikes to get the bunt down and we work on it every day and they know their job is to move the runner into scoring position.”

The players said they echo Keehn’s “do-your-job” philosophy.

“Coach Keehn is not afraid for us to bunt with two strikes,” Calhoun said. “He is a big fan of each person doing their job and if we can’t get it down the first two tries, we have to do it with two strikes and get the job done.”

As the Lions get deeper into their conference schedule, they face both pitchers and catchers with stronger arms, Keehn said.

“We did play a few teams where they did not hold us well at (second base)and we did take advantage,” he said. “The teams in the GSC know we like to run and do a decent job of holding our runners close.”

With its power bats struggling currently, UNA will stick with what helped the team offensively manufacture its nine wins this season.

The Lions are tied for the conference low in home runs with one.

Senior third baseman Dylan Boston is responsible for the team’s lone long ball.

“We will definitely keep our foot on the pedal as we continue to play conference (opponents),” Calhoun said. “With the speed we have and the mindset on the bases that Coach Keehn has taught us, it does not matter the opponent. We are going to play our game and be aggressive on the bases.”

The Lions return to conference play March 7 as they take on Valdosta State University in a double-header on the road. UNA wraps up the series March 8.

UNA’s next home game is March 10 against Trevecca Nazarene University.