Division II weekend preview
Gulf South, Lone Star Conference tournaments headline action
North Alabama is going to play baseball again Friday, opening the Gulf South Conference tournament against Delta State at 9:30 a.m. at USA Stadium in Millington, Tenn.
The Lions haven’t played a game since April 23, and while they have continued to work hard in practice, they have also learned a few life lessons as well after deadly storms ripped through the South last month.
“We were able to go out and help the tornado victims in our area and it really put things into perspective,” UNA head coach Mike Keehn said. “We are trying to have a high concentration in practices, but mainly trying to work on our execution and keeping our pitchers’ arms in shape.”
UNA (34-10) and DSU (29-17) split a doubleheader during the regular season. The Lions come in ranked 16th in the nation and third in the South region. The Statesman, gunning for their 12th tournament title, are seventh in the region.
The Lions have won their last nine games and have been solid offensively. Junior JP LaMunyon is batting .410 and has tallied 66 hits and 35 RBI. Freshman Josh Carpenter has been tough to slow down as well. He is hitting .377 with 49 hits and 21 RBI.
Senior Trey Mitchell has been the ace of the Lions’ pitching staff, forging a 10-2 record on the mound and a 2.55 ERA. In 91 2/3 innings pitched, Mitchell has allowed just 94 hits and has struck out 73.
Chad Boughner has held his own on the hill as well. The sophomore is 8-1 with a 3.09 ERA. He has 52 strikeouts on the year.
“The consistency of our pitching staff has been a key to our success,” Keehn said. “Other than a little slide, our defense has improved and has eliminated big innings.”
DSU has thrived on defense as well. The Statesman have committed only 57 errors and own a .964 fielding percentage.
Redshirt senior Kellen Bozeman, a candidate for the Tino Martinez Award, which is given to the best DII player in the country, is batting .377 and has hit 23 doubles this season to lead the way for the Statesman. He has also driven in 56 runs.
Sophomore pitcher Josh Branstetter, also in the running for player of the year honors in DII, has been on a role since overcoming a broken foot. He is 7-2 with a 2.26 ERA.
Ultimately, the Lions will have to be at their best to slow down the Statesman.
“The team that makes the fewest mistakes will have the best chance to be successful,” Keehn said.
Championship: May 10
Lone Star Conference Tournament
Incarnate Word has made quite a first impression. The Cardinals are the Lone Star Conference champions in their first season in the league, finishing 24-9 in conference play, and they will be the No. 1 seed for the LSC tournament this weekend at Crutcher Scott Field in Abilene.
Their opponent will be Texas A&M-Kingsville, the sixth seed in the tourney. The interesting thing is that the last time the Javelinas went into the tourney seeded sixth (2008), they won the championship.
Matt Roohan has played a pivotal role in the Cardinals’ success. The senior owns a .440 batting average and has knocked in 59 runs. He has also tallied 16 doubles and has belted seven home runs for the Cardinals (33-14), who are ranked 19th in the nation and fifth in the South Central Region.
Sophomore John Zule is batting .426 and has driven in 39 runs. The Cardinals are hitting .353 as a team and their pitching staff is anchored by juniors Jorge Guarneres (9-1, 2.89 ERA, 70 strikeouts) and Kirk Jewasko (11-1, 94 strikeouts, five complete games).
Jerry Rodriguez will be a player to watch for the Javelinas. The senior is hitting .361 and has scored 40 runs while sophomore Chris Ballou is batting .348 with 32 RBI. Tim Jones has been one of the most consistent pitchers for the Javelinas this season, ringing up 61 strikeouts and going 6-3 with a 2.52 ERA.
Championship: May 10
Peach Belt Conference Tournament
First round action will get underway in the Peach Belt Conference tournament on Sunday at Golden Park in Columbus, Ga. Columbus State will enter the tourney as the top seed and will face Lander at 4 p.m. Sunday. The Cougars (32-15) closed out the regular season with a sweep of Lander. Georgia College, ranked No. 1 in the nation at one point this season, will be the second seed.
Lander (28-22) is making its first appearance in the tourney since 1998 and will be up against a CSU team that has won its last three games and is currently ranked third in the Southeast Region.
Junior Ryan Lewis has paved the way for the Cougars, hitting .359 with eight home runs. Senior Bruce Alter has been a power hitter for CSU as well. He has smashed 10 home runs and owns a .326 batting average. He has tallied 41 RBI this season for the 12th-ranked team in the country.
Sophomore Brodie Leibrandt and senior Thomas Campbell are both seven-game winners for the Cougars and have each given up 76 hits. Campbell leads the team in strikeouts with 83.
Championship: May 12