Senior pitcher goes from walk-on to Lions No. 1 starter

by Staff Writer Kadin Pounders

ery team needs one. And the Lions said they have found their man in pitcher Brantley Claunch.

It is early in the season, but the southpaw is 2-0 in three games he started with a 2.89 ERA.

Last season, his first as a full-time starter, Claunch was 5-5 with a 3.18 ERA and led the team with 93.1 innings pitched.

Although Claunch is the Lions No. 1 guy this season, he had to work his way up from a reliever as a freshman and sophomore, head coach Mike Keehn said.

“My goal freshman year was to be a starter because coming from high school that is all I had known,” he said. “However, when I was told I was going to come out of the bullpen as a lefty specialist I took full advantage of it and was thankful to have an opportunity of any kind. Being named the No. 1 guy was an honor and one I do not take lightly.”

Claunch, a Florence native, was a walk-on but said choosing UNA was easy for him.

“Choosing UNA was a no-brainer once I got offered a spot to walk on for the baseball team,” he said. “Baseball is a passion of mine, and I just wanted to play. The fact that UNA was close to home and offered the type of school I wanted only further confirmed my decision. I love it here and have grown to love it more and more each year.”

Keehn said he is glad Claunch decided to stay close to home.

“Brantley was a good pitcher on a team that did not perform well and did not get a lot of exposure,” he said. “He was an invited walk-on that ended up winning seven games his freshman year. He earned his scholarship, and this will be the second season as our No. 1 pitcher on the staff.”

Keehn said Claunch is one of the hardest workers and competitors on the team.

“The biggest thing he brings to the team is his accountability and responsibility,” Keehn said. “Brantley goes over and beyond what is asked of him and looks around to see how he can help in other areas that are not part of his responsibility.”

The players and coaching staff selected Claunch as the recipient of the UNA Baseball Program Bob Stephenson Award last year. Winning the award is a testament to not only the kind of player Claunch is but also him as a person, Keehn said.

With the season in mid-swing, Claunch’s focus is on being the best pitcher he can be to help the team win.

“When I go out on the mound and out on the field for a day of practice it is like a warzone and I have my allies – my teammates – and then my enemies – my opponents,” he said. “This team will do everything in their power to remain successful and make a run for (a national championship). We go out on the field and push each other no matter what.”