Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Paladins fall in SoCon championship

After staving off elimination early Sunday afternoon, the Furman baseball team finally ran out of steam in the Southern Conference Tournament championship finale. Playing its fourth game in 30 hours, Furman fell to UNC Greensboro 13-1 in seven innings as the Spartans punched their first ticket to the NCAA Tournament since 1997.
Furman defeated UNCG 6-4 to open Sunday's tournament play at Fluor Field. The winner-take-all rematch was shaping up to be another close contest for much of the game.
Trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth, the Paladins loaded the bases with one out. After a strikeout, Jason Costa hammered a line drive to left field where UNCG standout outfielder Ben Spitznagel tracked it down to end the threat.
That seemingly took all the air out of Furman's balloon. The Spartans (35-22) sent 14 men to the plate in the seventh, and scored nine runs on four hits, four walks, a hit batter, a wild pitch and two errors. UNCG retired the Paladins (33-28) in order in the bottom of the seventh to complete the mercy rule victory.
In the bottom of the second, it appeared that Jason Costa got Furman on the scoreboard with a two-run home run. His long drive down the left-field line landed in the seats atop the Green Monster. With there being no seats in foul territory there, it was thought to be a two-run homer but was ruled foul. The play was reviewed and the foul call was confirmed.
The Spartans got a lift from unexpected sources to capture the SoCon title. Jake Lewis, who entered with a 6.33 ERA and having allowed 25 hits in 21 1/3 innings, worked a career-long 5 1/3 innings. Lewis (2-2) gave up one run on four hits with two walks and four strikeouts. Dan Loats, who threw 104 pitches in his start against Furman the day before, worked the final 1 2/3 innings for his second save.
UNCG's Ryne Sigmon, who entered Sunday batting .220 with two home runs, blasted a pair of homers in the game two win. SoCon Tournament Most Outstanding Player Tripp Shelton drove in four runs for the Spartans, as did Michael Goss.
Game 1 - Furman 6, UNCG 4
Costa went 3-for-3 and Sky Overton had three hits, including his sixth home run, as Furman rallied to stay alive in the opening game Sunday.
Trailing 4-3 through seven innings, Jabari Richards got Furman's rally started with a double leading off the eighth. After a pair of groundouts, Cameron Whitehead delivered a game-tying RBI-single. Costa followed with a high pop up on the infield that landed in between UNCG's catcher and first baseman. That allowed Whitehead to come home with the go-ahead run.
Overton provided a big insurance run in the ninth with a two-out homer to left-centerfield.
Furman ace Will Gaddis, who's seemingly done everything on the hill in his three years with the Paladins, added something new to the list. In likely his last appearance in a Furman uniform, Gaddis went the final 1 1/3 innings for the first save of his career.
Sunday wrapped up an amazing run by Furman over the second half of the season. Seven weeks to the day earlier, the Paladins were 1-8 in the SoCon after getting swept at UNCG. Furman, which went 3-17 during that stretch of the season, ended up tying the school's record for wins after going 22-8 over its final 30 games.
All-Tournament honors: Whitehead, Overton and starting pitcher Grant Schuermann made the SoCon All-Touranment team. Schuermann allowed one unearned run in Furman's big 6-1 win over top-seeded Mercer on Thursday.
Whitehead went 8-for-20 with two homers and eight RBIs. Overton tied a tournament record with 14 hits in 26 at-bats, and alos had eight RBIs.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Paladins outlast ETSU, advance to SoCon championship


The perfect script that Furman's baseball team enjoyed over the first few days of the Southern Conference Tournament took an unwanted plot twist Saturday afternoon. However, late Saturday night the Paladins clinched a spot in the final chapter. While a daunting task awaits Sunday, it could set up quite a storybook finish.
Fourth-seeded Furman held on for an 8-6 win over No. 7 seed ETSU in an elimination game Saturday night at Fluor Field. The Paladins (32-27) advance to Sunday's championship against No. 3 seed UNC Greensboro at noon. Furman, which lost to UNCG 12-8 Saturday afternoon, will have to beat the Spartans twice Sunday to claim its first SoCon Tournament title since 2005.
"After that game (earlier Saturday) didn't go our way, we just said 'boys, let's figure out a way to play for a championship,' " Furman coach Brett Harker said. "We just kept grinding and grinding ... and we're playing for a championship on Sunday.
"It's not going to be easy, but I'll take our 27 guys."
Things were tense Saturday night as the teams battled through six innings of a 3-3 tie. The Paladins then rattled a bit with back-to-back errors to begin the seventh. While Heath Hawkins induced a ground ball double play from ETSU's .349-hitting leadoff man Chris Cook, the Buccaneers still made Furman pay for its earlier miscues. Aaron Maher hit an RBI-double and Hagen Owenby followed with an RBI-single as ETSU took a 5-3 lead.
The Paladins answered in the bottom of the seventh. Logan Taplett, who started at third with Jake Crawford on the mound, drew a leadoff walk and Sky Overton followed with a double. Jabari Richards then lined a two-run single up the middle to tie the game. Richards later scored on a wild pitch and Cameron Whitehead capped the four-run inning with an RBI-double to give Furman a 7-5 lead.
After ETSU (30-29) sliced the lead to one in the top of the eighth, Furman again responded in the bottom half with another run-scoring single up the middle by Richards.
In the ninth, Cook led off with a single before Billy Greenfield retired ETSU's No. 2, 3 and 4 hitters to secure the win. Greenfield, who came on in the eighth with a man on and nobody out, worked two scoreless innings for his third save.
Hawkins (3-3) allowed three runs, one earned, on three hits in two innings for the win. Crawford made his best pitching start of the season, allowing three runs, two earned, on six hits in five innings. The trio combined for eight strikeouts and one walk.
"Jake Crawford stepped up and gave us big innings and our relievers pitched well," Harker said. "I can't say enough about Billy Greenfield. That's some of the biggest outs in 10 or 15 years for Furman baseball."
Overton, Richards and Bret Huebner had two hits apiece to account for 75 percent of Furman's hits.
Moving forward to Sunday, the question becomes who takes the hill for Furman. Through the Paladins first four tournament games, only Greenfield, Hawkins, Nolan Mullen and starting ace Will Gaddis have pitched in relief. While there are fresh arms available, many are inexperienced. At least one or two possibly unexpected pitchers could have to step up against UNCG's formidable lineup.
"I've got to sit down, regroup ... and figure out what we have available," Harker said. "But I'll tell you, if we've got 15 guys that can pitch on our roster, all 15 guys want the ball tomorrow."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

UNC Greensboro outslugs Furman at SoCon Tournament


In the first two days of the Southern Conference Baseball Tournament, Furman jumped on top early in recording a pair of wins. In a winner's bracket game Saturday, UNC Greensboro turned the tables on the Paladins. The Spartans led 6-0 after two innings and held on for a 12-8 win to take the wheel of the tournament driver's seat.
The victory advanced third-seeded UNCG (34-21) to Sunday's championship. Furman will have to play again Saturday night to try to stay alive and set up a rematch with UNCG. The Paladins (31-27) will face the survivor of a loser's bracket game between sixth-seeded Samford and seventh-seeded ETSU.
UNCG leadoff man Ben Spitznagel, who's tortured Furman throughout his career, lined Matthew Quarles' first pitch to right for a single. Tripp Shelton deposited the next pitch over the left-centerfield wall and the Spartans led 2-0 two pitches in.
UNCG sent eight men to the plate in the next inning. Shelton capped the four-run frame with a two-run single.
Furman began to chip away in the middle innings. Jason Costa hit a two-run homer in the fourth, and Cameron Whitehead got a wind-assisted two-run homer in the fifth to cut the lead to 6-4.
The wind was blowing the same way in the bottom of the fifth though, and helped UNCG answer on a two-run homer by Andrew Moritz. Billy Greenfield came on in relief of Quarles later in the inning and allowed a run-scoring hit off the Green Monster. Carter Grote threw out Caleb Webster trying to stretch it into a double to end the inning.
A four-run seventh got the Paladins right back in it. Sky Overton had a run-scoring bunt single, Carter Grote walked with the bases loaded, Landon Kay had a run-scoring groundout and a bases-loaded passed ball cut UNCG's lead to 9-8.
After pulling to within one, Furman turned the ball over to ace pitcher Will Gaddis. Gaddis, who threw just 57 pitches in his start Wednesday, held the Spartans in check until a three-run eighth inning. UNCG got a bases-loaded groundout for one run and two more runs thanks to an error on a grounder that would've ended the inning.
Furman's best chance to score after the sixth came in the eighth when the Paladins loaded the bases. UNCG reliever Jack Maynard struck out Jason Costa though to end the threat. Maynard allowed just one single and no runs in the final 3 2/3 innings to record his third save.
Quarles (6-5) allowed nine earned runs on 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings to suffer the loss.
Jake Crawford had three hits to lead Furman, which collected 13 hits pushing its tournament total to 47 hits in three games.
Spitznagel, Shelton and Webster each had three hits for the Spartans.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Schuermann pitches Furman past top-seeded Mercer


The Southern Conference's best one-two punch over the final month of the regular season doesn't appear to be slowing down in the postseason. Furman left-hander Grant Schuermann held the SoCon regular season champions to one unearned run over eight innings as the Paladins defeated Mercer 6-1 Thursday in the SoCon Tournament at Fluor Field.
With its second victory in as many days, fourth-seeded Furman doesn't play again until noon Saturday. The Paladins will face the winner of Friday's noon game between No. 3 seed UNC Greensboro and No. 7 seed ETSU.
The day after Will Gaddis won for the seventh time in his last seven appearances, Schuermann extended his streak of not an allowing an earned run to 26 consecutive innings. It was a gutsy performance by Schuermann, who threw a career-high 121 pitches. He scattered nine hits over his eight innings and worked out of several jams to keep the top-seeded Bears (39-16) in check.
"He's got a knack for making a big pitch at a big time for us. None bigger than how he did tonight," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "That's the best outing of his career. ... It was a lot of fun to watch.
"I'm proud of our boys. That's one of the biggest games we've had at Furman in quite some time."
For the second day in a row, a Paladin starter had a nice early cushion to work with as Furman scored four runs in the top of the second. Landon Kay led off the frame with a no-doubt home run, his 11th this season.
One out later, the Paladins (31-26) strung together five consecutive singles. Jake Crawford bounced a groundball past second to score two runs before Sky Overton's groundball single to left made it 4-0 Furman.
Mercer reliever Carter Varga came on in the fourth and struck out the first two hitters before the Paladins got three singles in a row, capped by Carter Grote's run-scoring hit to push the lead to 5-0.
The Bears lone run came in the fifth on a run-scoring groundout that would've been the third out if not for Furman's only error, which opened the inning.
Much like in the fourth, the first two Furman batters in the seventh struck out before three consecutive singles and Mercer's lone error sent home the final run.
Clutch hitting proved to be a key storyline in the game. Furman went 10-for-19 batting with two outs, while Mercer was 1-of-9. With runners in scoring position, the Paladins were 5-for-14, while the Bears went 1-for-12.
Overton and Jason Costa each had three hits to lead Furman, which put up 17 hits and now has 34 in 15 innings at-bat at the tournament.
"I can live with us getting 17 hits every night," Harker said.
Schuermann (7-4) allowed no walks and had five strikeouts. He has 40 strikeouts and one walk over his last seven starts. Over his last five starts, Schuermann has allowed three earned runs in 38 innings (0.71 ERA).
"He's went seven outings with one walk combined and when you do that, you're going to make guys earn every single run they score," Harker said. "If Gaddis is A1, he's A2. ... He's just been special."
As a result of the two wins, Furman gets a day off Friday. Thanks to outstanding starting pitching and hitting, the Paladins have only used three relievers thus far and those three have only worked one inning apiece.
"We feel like we're in a good position. We've got (Matthew) Quarles going Saturday and we feel really good about him," Harker said. "And Gaddis threw 57 pitches (Wednesday), so we feel really good about him (pitching again) as well."

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Paladins roll over Wofford in SoCon Tournament opener


Furman ace pitcher Will Gaddis has played a starring role in quite a few two-hour baseball games during his college career. But Wednesday's game, which lasted just 1:58, took a different course.
Instead of a tight pitching duel, Gaddis got plenty of offensive support as the fourth-seeded Paladins defeated No. 5 seed Wofford 13-3 in the opening round of the Southern Conference Tournament at Fluor Field. The game went just seven innings as the SoCon Tournament's mercy rule came into play.
Furman advances to face top-seeded Mercer at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, while Wofford is scheduled to face VMI in an elimination game at 12:30 p.m.
Wednesday's game could not have been scripted any better for the Paladins (30-26). Furman did all of its scoring in the first four innings giving coach Brett Harker the peace of mind to pull Gaddis after just five innings.
"We knew we wanted Will out there for five (innings), to get the win. Then it became 'how do I manage his pitch count for a potential championship game,' " Harker said. "That was just another average Will outing, and his average is pretty good."
Gaddis needed just 57 pitches, including 42 strikes, to get through those five innings and he should be good to go if the Paladins reach Sunday's final. Gaddis (9-3) allowed one run on three hits, with no walks and four strikeouts.
It was a different story for Wofford ace Adam Scott (6-6), who allowed just two runs in seven innings of work in his start against Furman in the regular season.
Harker tweaked the Paladins' lineup a bit Wednesday and it immediately paid off. New leadoff man Sky Overton singled to open the first inning. After a Carter Grote single, Landon Kay doubled to right to put Furman ahead 1-0. Cameron Whitehead then hit a majestic home run that landed on the awning just underneath the G and R of the "GREENVILLE DRIVE" sign atop the brick building beyond the Green Monster in left field. Whitehead's shot, estimated at 440 feet, made it 4-0. It's the ninth homer in the last 24 games for Whitehead, who leads the team with 12 total.
"I think that was the best (home run) I've ever had and probably in one of the bigger situations," Whitehead said. "Guys were hitting them up on that roof during last year's tournament and I was thinking, 'wow, how did they do that?' Now I've got one too, so that's pretty cool."
An inning later, Carter Grote just missed a home run as his drive hit near the top of the Green Monster. His RBI-double pushed the lead to 5-0.
Smallball lead to big numbers in the fourth as Furman put the game out of reach with an eight-run inning. Jake Crawford had a swinging bunt to lead off the inning before Overton and Jabari Richards followed with bunt singles. A run-scoring error and RBI-singles by Grote and Kay chased Scott.
Sims Griffith had an RBI-bunt single with the bases loaded before Bret Huebner hit an RBI-single and another run came home on a wild pitch. Overton capped the offensive uprising with his second hit of the inning, a two-single to make it 13-1.
Overton and Grote each went 3-for-3 to lead the Paladins, who piled up 17 hits in their six innings of batting.
Kody Ruedisili went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and McClain Bradley hit a two-run homer, his eighth, to lead the Terriers (28-29).

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Grote epitomizes how baseball should be played

Furman's Carter Grote makes a diving catch.
Photo courtesy: Furman University
I don't think I could have a proper Furman baseball blog without writing something about senior leftfielder Carter Grote. I figured a prelude to the Southern Conference Tournament would be as good a time as any.
My friend and former Greenville News' colleague Manie Robinson beat me to it though:
http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/sports/college/furman/2017/05/22/college-baseball-socon-tournament-greenville-furman-paladins/335698001/
Manie's terrific story offers insight from Grote and coach Brett Harker about what even casual Furman baseball fans the past few years have noticed - whether it's batting, fielding or running the bases, Grote plays the game the way it's meant to be played.
More on that in a minute.
There's been plenty of fun things to see for fans of the Paladins (29-26) this season as the team went 18-6 in their last 24 regular season games to secure a winning record in Harker's first year.
Brandon Elmy came back from an injury-shortened 2016 season to hit .341 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs. After hitting .212 last season, Landon Kay leads Furman with a .344 average to go along with 10 homers and 33 RBIs.
Senior catcher Cameron Whitehead is the third Paladin with double figure homers (11). Whitehead has been on fire down the stretch to raise his average to .300, and he's driven in 30 runs. Meanwhile, opposing baserunners continue to try to run on Whitehead for some reason. He's thrown out 16 of 37 runners trying to steal after throwing out 14 of 25 last season.
Starting pitching has excelled in the second half, led by junior Will Gaddis. After winning 2016 SoCon Pitcher of the Year honors with a 3.45 ERA last season, Gaddis has posted a 1.88 ERA this year. Among pitchers who've thrown at least 88 innings this season, Gaddis' ERA ranks seventh-best in Division I.
Left-handed starter Grant Schuermann has put up an 0.90 ERA over his last four starts and a 35-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last six.
Then there's Grote.
Sure, he's batting .336 with eight home runs, while leading the team in doubles (15), triples (5), RBIs (52), total bases (125), walks (26), on-base percentage (.425), fielding (0 errors) and outfield assists (6). He's also the only Paladin who's started all 55 games.
But it's the way Grote's gone about amassing those numbers that is truly special. In nearly 40 years of following Furman athletics, I can't recall anyone in any sport that's played harder than Grote has every time he's on the field.
One play this season perfectly sums up the effort Grote always puts forth.
On April 29, Furman trailed Citadel 1-0 with one out in the first when Grote hit a routine groundball to short. I never noticed the slightest bobble the Citadel shortstop had fielding it, but I did see Grote fly down the line to barely beat the throw to first. After what should've been the third out, Elmy and Kay hit back-to-back singles and Grote came home with the first of Furman's 19 runs that day.
What's all the more remarkable about what Grote has accomplished in his four seasons is the humble entrance he made into college baseball. I'll never forget the way former coach Ron Smith talked about Grote during his freshman season.
After Greg Harrison, Furman's top hitter in 2014, was suspended along with Smith for a game following an ejection the night before, Grote entered the starting lineup for a Saturday game at then-first place Western Carolina. Grote went 4-for-5 with three RBIs in the Paladins' 9-6 win, including an RBI-single in a three-run ninth inning.
This was what Smith said about Grote following that series' win:
“He had gotten two at-bats on Friday and hit the ball hard twice. On Sunday, we  got him out there in left field and he went 1-for-3 and hit the ball hard one other time. He made two sparkling defensive plays, so he really gave us a lift this weekend.
“This from a guy who was an absolute walk-on tryout. He just hit his way onto the team in the fall and has worked very, very hard.”
Grote is living proof that hard work pays off, sometimes in unimaginable ways.
On March 15, 2016, Grote played a big part of one of the most historic nights in Furman sports history. Nobody knew what was to come that night when the Furman men's basketball team hosted Louisiana-Monroe in the CIT, while the Paladins' baseball team hosted College of Charleston.
After Daniel Fowler hit an off-balance, buzzer-beating jumper in the basketball team's 58-57 win, I left Timmons Arena and made my way across campus to Latham Stadium.
I got there just as Charleston scored in the top of the ninth to snap a 6-6 tie. In the bottom of the ninth, Sims Griffith and Jabari Richards reached before Grote deposited a 1-2 pitch over the left-centerfield fence for a walk-off homer in Furman's 9-7 win.
The next morning, replays of Fowler and Grote's heroics were shown on ESPN. After the highlights, there was Fowler and Grote live on my television screen being interviewed by ESPN anchors about their feats the night before.
I have a six-year-old son and my dream is that some day he's drafted by the Cleveland Indians - preferably high enough to buy his mommy and daddy a new house immediately after signing. But I digress. I don't want to be one of "those" parents.
No matter what dream my son decides to pursue someday, I simply hope that he will chase it just as Carter Grote would.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Gaddis, Elmy, Grote and Love earn All-Socon honors

Four Paladins Garner All-SoCon Honors: Four Furman Paladins have been named All-Southern Conference in voting by league head coaches and media, it was announced today.