Friday, March 16, 2018

Furman splits doubleheader with Harvard

Ben Anderson and Bret Huebner had three hits apiece and Furman held on for a 7-6 win over Harvard to split a pair of seven-inning games Friday at Latham Stadium. After scoring 16 runs in the series opener on Thursday, the Paladins' bats were silenced in the first game Friday as Harvard won 6-2.

After four hits, five RBIs and a leadoff home run in Thursday's win, Anderson led off the second game Friday with his second career homer. On the next pitch, Sims Griffith hit his first homer of the season and Furman led 2-0 after one.

Anderson added an RBI-single in the second, then capped a three-run fourth with an RBI-double that pushed the lead to 6-0.

Furman starter Matt Lazzaro threw 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball before Harvard's Buddy Mrowka hit a three-run homer to cut the lead in half. The Paladins (12-7) added what turned out to be an important insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI-single by Huebner.

Trailing 7-3 in the seventh, the Crimson (7-10) greeted Furman reliever Austin Wood with back-to-back home runs. Tyler Kimbrell came in and allowed another run as Harvard cut the lead to 7-6. With the potential tying run at second, Kimbrell struck out Mrowka to end the game and earn his third save. Lazzaro (2-2) allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings. The freshman had two walks and four strikeouts.

In Friday's opener, Harvard starter Simon Rosenblum-Larson dominated the Paladins going all seven innings. Rosenblum-Larson (1-0) allowed two runs, one earned, on three hits. He had one walk and 11 strikeouts.

Matt Rotherburg led the Crimson offensively as he went 3-for-3 with a pair of home runs and three RBIs.

Brandon Elmy had two of Furman's three hits, along with a run scored and an RBI.

Paladin starter Grant Schuermann gave up six runs, four earned, on seven hits in six innings. He had two walks and seven strikeouts.

Furman will try to take the series win when the series wraps up Saturday at 1 p.m.

Paladins hammer Harvard in series opener

Furman's baseball game Friday wasn't exactly beautiful and it lasted longer than some relationships I've had, but the Paladins will always take a lopsided win. In a game that went over three-and-a-half hours, Furman overcame 10 walks in a 16-3 win over Harvard in the opener of a three-day, four-game series at Latham Stadium.

"That's what it's like to be a cricket coach I think. They say those last three and four days long." Furman coach Brett Harker said. "That's the least we've commanded the strike zone all year and that's very frustrating. But at the end of the day, that's a good team and we put up a ton of runs."

Ben Anderson kicked off his big night leading off the bottom of the first. The freshman hammered an 0-2 pitch that sliced into a stiff wind and escaped over the centerfield wall for the first home run of his career. The Paladins loaded the bases, but got no more in the first. Anderson made it 3-0 an inning later when he sent an 0-2 pitch up the middle for a two-run single. He later came around to score on a groundball by Jason Costa.

From that point on, Harvard starter Noah Zavolas settled in and shut out Furman over the next four innings. Zavolas (1-1) scattered 10 hits over his six innings of work, walked two and struck out eight.

Meanwhile, Furman starter Trent Alley cruised through four shutout innings and took a streak of five consecutive strikeouts into the fifth. But as it has in the past, the fifth inning proved to be a bit of a challenge for Alley. With two out and nobody on, Harvard's Ben Skinner doubled, Devan Peterson walked and Patrick McColl hit a three-run home run to cut the lead to one. Alley (2-0) then got a groundout to end the inning and his pitching night.

"For the most part, Trent Alley was very good. That's the best his changeup has been," Harker said. "He's frustrated by (not going longer), but that's a good sign that he's not happy with that outing.
"I think it was a big mental block to get there (through five innings) because he didn't last week. He needed to prove to himself that he could get that out. That kid will hit a hurdle, figure out how to cross it and get a little better. I think you'll be able to see him work into the sixth and maybe even the seventh now that he got past that hurdle."

Heath Hawkins made his 2018 debut in relief of Alley to start the sixth. Hawkins, whose been perhaps Furman's biggest key reliever the past couple of years, worked two scoreless, hitless innings. In his first game back from an arm problem that he's dealt with since the preseason, Hawkins overcame four walks.

"The biggest positive of the night is that Heath Hawkins is back. Was he at his best? No, but he put up two big zeros for us," Harker said. "We're really excited that he's healthy and got his feet wet."

After Hawkins protected the one-run lead for two innings, Furman took command with a five-run seventh. Jake Crawford homered on the first pitch of the inning. Later, Bret Huebner had a two-run double, Jabari Richards hit an RBI-triple and Anderson capped the inning with an RBI-double.

The Paladins (11-6) removed any doubt with a seven-run eighth in which 12 Paladins batted. The big blows came on Brandon Elmy's two-run triple - the first of his career - and Logan Taplett's two-run double.

Anderson went 4-for-5 with two runs and five RBIs to lead the Paladins, while Huebner was 3-for-5 with three runs and two RBIs. Furman racked up a total of 17 hits and drew seven walks.

"Everybody was sitting there saying 'that ball's gone,' and I was going 'not today,' but sure enough he rode it out of here," Harker said of Anderson's leadoff homer. "The kid's really good and he seems to play exceptionally well at home."

No one had more than one hit for the Crimson (6-9), who totaled five as a team.

The teams will play the second and third games of the series Friday with a pair of seven-inning games. The doubleheader is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Paladins pass on CIT, CBI invites, look ahead

Jordan Lyons will be one of the key returning leaders
to Furman next season. Photo courtesy of Furman.
The Furman men's basketball team has picked up plenty of postseason experience the past two seasons with five games combined over the last two Tournaments. For the 2017-18 Paladins, it's only postseason destination would either be the NCAA or NIT. Furman declined invitations from the CIT and CBI tournaments over the weekend, wrapping up another record-breaking season with a mark of 23-10.

The Paladins tied the school record for wins in a season for the second year in a row. The only other Furman teams with 23 wins came in the 1979-80 (23-7) and 2016-17 (23-12) seasons. Despite going 11-22 as freshmen in the 2014-15 season, this year's senior class finished as the second-winningest in school history at 76-59. Only the senior class of 1980 (80-37) finished with more victories.

"When this group of seniors set out their goals for this season, they obviously wanted to go play in the NCAA Tournament. Either do that or win a league (regular season) championship, which would allow us to play in the NIT," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "A lot of people have opted out besides us, teams like ETSU, Belmont and Northeastern. In the pay-for-play format, it's not quite as appealing for this group as it has been in years past when we were building it."

While these lesser tournaments are a way to somewhat prepare for the future, they can also hold things up. When Furman advanced to the CIT semifinals last year, that game was played the Wednesday before the Final Four.

"It almost knocks out your whole spring by the time you get back," Richey said. "After these two weeks off (since the SoCon Tournament), we're going to get things cranked back up on Monday with a five-week individual development plan. I think that's going to bode well for this group as opposed to continuing to practice.
"Investing in their development and individual growth and making sure we finish strong in the spring will springboard us into summer when we have our whole team here."

After what Furman fans have witnessed the past four years, it's going to be strange next season to not see Geoff Beans, John Davis III, Daniel Fowler and Devin Sibley out there. While those seniors helped massively change the culture of the program, it's going to be fun to see what the next chapter brings.

There's quite a few players returning who've been key parts of past success. Junior Matt Rafferty will be the leading returning scorer (11.2 points per game) next year. He also led this year's team in shooting (59.8 percent), rebounds (7.2 per game), assists (2.8 per game), steals (54) and blocked shots (21).

Leading 3-point shooter (43.3 percent) Andrew Brown, who hit his stride at the end of the regular season following what was feared to be a season-ending injury, and sophomore Jordan Lyons, who joined the starting lineup down the stretch, return. Brown and Lyons averaged 8.6 and 8.3 points per game, respectively. Lyons, who earned a spot on the All-SoCon Tournament team after 15- and 17-point showings in Asheville, figures to likely make the biggest jump in scoring next season.

It will also be interesting to see the improvement of younger players such as sophomore Jalen Williams, and freshmen Alex Hunter and Clay Mounce. Williams was often a solid backup for Rafferty, highlighted by a showing against South Carolina State in which he had 14 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 19 minutes off the bench. Hunter displayed the protection of the ball that Furman counts on with a 37-14 assist-to-turnover ratio, while Mounce shot 57 percent from the floor - thanks in part to several highlight-reel dunks.

"I'm really excited because we have great people in the program, but it's going to be a different team in a lot of ways," Richey said. "It's going to be a team that's longer and we're going to be able to do some different things defensively. Who knows who's going to start, but I think it's safe to say we're going to have a lot of guys that will be playing.
"We've got a lot of guys that are ready, with a great spring and summer, to really take that next step."

There will also be the four incoming freshman, guards Mike Bothwell, Jaylon Pugh, Andrew Taylor and forward Jalen Slawson, who each signed back in November. All of them have helped lead their teams to their respective high school playoffs.

"Bothwell's deep into the Ohio playoffs and I'm headed up to see him tonight. Taylor's playing in Rupp (Arena) tomorrow. They (Kentucky) still just have one classification and the top 16 teams all go to Rupp," Richey said Tuesday. "Pugh's team made it to the (Georgia) Elite 8 and Slawson's made it to the (SCISA) semifinals. We've got some guys coming in that understand winning."

There will be a lot more to replace than numbers when it comes to this year's senior class. Lyons, who's displayed a fearless, confident playing style, is looking forward to the challenge of taking on more of a leadership role next season.

"These four have done a great job of setting the standard and the expectations for us," Lyons said in the press conference following the Paladins' SoCon semifinal loss. "I'm excited to take on a role where I can fill those shoes and be there for the underclassmen. I promised the seniors that I'm going to do everything I can to keep the culture where it's at."

While the pain of his college career being over was evident, Fowler sat stoically alongside Lyons and Richey at that press conference. Without being questioned by the media, Fowler added his own thoughts to Lyons' comments.

"I don't think he's stepping into a leadership role. He's already been a leader on this team," Fowler said. "Ever since Jordan first got here I thought he was a leader, and he's just grown tremendously in that these past two years."

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Freshmen toss Furman to win at Winthrop

Furman's John Michael Bertrand pitched so well in seven relief appearances this season, that he earned a start Tuesday night at Winthrop. While the freshman left-hander scattered nine hits and two walks over five innings, he allowed just three runs, and the Paladins rallied for an 8-3 win. It's the seventh win in the last nine games for Furman (10-6).

The Paladins trailed 3-0 through five innings before the offense came to life in the sixth. Furman's Jake Crawford, Jason Costa and Brandon Elmy led off the inning with consecutive walks off Winthrop reliever Turner Scruggs. After Macklin Ohs relieved Scruggs, Landon Kay drove his second pitch into left-center for a two-run double. Three pitches later, Logan Taplett gave the Paladins another two-run double to left-center.

With a 4-3 lead, Furman handed the ball to freshman Jordan Beatson and he delivered four dominant innings of shutout relief. Beatson allowed just two singles, no walks and had four strikeouts in earning his first collegiate save. He retired each of Winthrop's final seven batters.

"I'm so proud of the way they threw the ball. Bertrand really battled ... and just kept us in the game," Furman coach Brett Harker told Dan Scott afterwards. "That was Beatson's coming out party. ... The whole game plan was to get us to the eighth, so we can go to T.K. (Tyler Kimbrell) ... and (Beatson) went ahead and finished for us."

The Paladins gave Beatson plenty of support by following up the four-run sixth inning with a four-run seventh. Elmy had an RBI-double, Taplett had an RBI-single and Jabari Richards capped the seventh with a two-run single.

Costa and Taplett each had two hits accounting for half of the Paladins' hit total for the game.

"I'm so excited about the culture of this program," Harker said. "Winning these midweek games is becoming a regular thing."

Winthrop starter Riley Arnone allowed two hits and three walks, with two strikeouts, in five scoreless innings. Leadoff man Mitch Spires went 3-for-5 with two RBIs to lead the Eagles (5-12).

The pitching performances by Bertrand and Beatson were all the more important given Furman's upcoming four-game, three-day series against Harvard. The Paladins host the Crimson in game one of the series Thursday at 6 p.m.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Illinois cruises over Paladins

Illinois topped Furman 14-5 Saturday at Fluor Field.
A day after shutting down Michigan State, Furman found Illinois to be an entirely different Big Ten beast Saturday. Illinois batters collected 15 hits and seven walks in a 14-5 win over the Paladins in the annual First Pitch Invitational at Fluor Field.

Illinois (8-3) scored in all but the first and fourth innings. The Illini led 6-1 in the seventh when Furman tried to mount a comeback. With one out, Bret Huebner and Ben Anderson singled ahead of Sims Griffith's RBI-double. After Jake Crawford's groundout plated another run, Jason Costa added an RBI-single to cut the lead to 6-4.

Illinois responded in a big way with a four-run eighth and added four more runs in the ninth to remove all doubt. Ben Troike finished a double away from hitting for the cycle for the Illini, while Doran Turchin also had three hits. Troike and Jack Yalowitz drove in three runs apiece for Illinois, while Bren Spillane and Grant Van Scoy each had two RBIs.

Andy Fisher (1-0) allowed one unearned run on two hits in 5 2/3 innings to get the win. He had three walks and five strikeouts. Furman's Grant Schuermann (2-2) gave up five runs on eight hits in six innings, with three walks and two strikeouts.

Costa was the lone Paladin with multiple hits as he went 2-for-3 with his fifth double. Anderson's single in the seventh extended his hitting streak to eight consecutive games.

Furman returns to action Tuesday at Winthrop. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lazzaro hurls Paladins past Michigan State

Furman freshman Matt Lazzaro allowed one run in seven innings
Friday for his first collegiate win. Photo courtesy of Furman.
During Furman's current run of excellent baseball, freshman Ben Anderson has led the way offensively. On Friday night at Fluor Field, another freshman stole the show. Left-hander Matt Lazzaro had the kind of pitching performance that earned him a spot in the weekend rotation as the Paladins defeated Michigan State 3-2 in the annual First Pitch Invitational at Fluor Field in downtown Greenville.

Lazzaro, who entered Friday's game with a 7.31 ERA in 16 innings over three starts, allowed one run on four hits in seven innings for his first collegiate win. Lazzaro (1-2) had no walks and eight strikeouts, doubling his season total for Ks to 16, as the Paladins won for the sixth time in their last seven games.

"I said in the pregame show that Matt Lazzaro was doing everything we wanted him to do, his numbers just aren't showing. The kid's going to be special, just like I've said about Ben Anderson," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "I said he was going to have a breakout game and what better place than this venue.
"That was a dominant performance and one of the best I've seen. It reminded me of (Grant) Schuermann's outing as a freshman at Gardner-Webb. That's the last time I've seen a freshman look that good."

Michigan State starter Ethan Landon entered the game with a 3.63 ERA, one walk and 21 strikeouts in 17 innings this season. On Friday, Furman posted seven hits and five walks off Landon. While the Paladins let Landon (0-3) off the hook a bit, they were still able to push across three runs over his seven innings of work.

After Jason Costa and Brandon Elmy began the Furman second with singles, Landon Kay walked one out later to load the bases. Costa scored on a wild pitch to give the Paladins a 1-0 lead. In the fifth, Anderson's third triple of the season was followed by a Sims Griffith single to push the lead to 2-0.

Furman (9-5) added its final run an inning later. Singles by Elmy and Kay put runners on the corners. With two outs, Bret Huebner's hopper up the middle got in between the Spartans' shortstop and second baseman, who each pulled up and looked at each other as the ball neared.

"They threw some power arms at us, but we had some opportunities," Harker said. "I felt like we had control the whole game. We got a little sloppy there, but we made the plays when the game was on the line."

The Spartans (3-10) got on the board in the seventh and threatened for more with runners on second and third. However, Lazzaro got a ground ball to second to end the inning and wrap up his terrific outing.

Michigan State sliced the lead to 3-2 in the eighth and put the tying run in scoring position, but Furman reliever Tyler Kimbrell got a strikeout to end the inning. Kimbrell tossed a 1-2-3 ninth, ending the game with his third strikeout, for his second save. Kimbrell has 21 strikeouts and three walks in 12 1/3 innings of relief this season.

"It's nice to have someone on the back end where I can sit there and say, 'if you beat us with him out there, I can sleep at night,' " Harker said. "He just pounds the (strike) zone. He's a 6-foot-8 intimidating dude, who's mean as a snake out there.
"If we want to wear rings we've got to play well at Fluor and that was a heck of a start to playing here this season."

The First Pitch Invitational continues Saturday when Furman takes on Illinois for just the second time in school history. First pitch at Fluor Field is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Verbeke helps Paladins sweep Penn

Furman junior right-hander Nik Verbeke tossed seven strong innings and won for the third time this season as the Paladins defeated Penn, 4-1, Wednesday at Latham Stadium. The two-game series sweep gives Furman (8-5) wins in five of its last six games.

Verbeke (3-1) allowed one run on six hits in seven innings. He had no walks and six strikeouts. Fellow Spartanburg Methodist alum Tyler Kimbrell worked the final two innings for his first save. Kimbrell allowed no runs, one hit, no walks and three strikeouts. The Paladins used just four pitchers in the midweek series and they combined for 17 strikeouts and five walks.

"That's the best Nik has pitched in a Furman uniform. He just looked so confident and relaxed out there," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "He got a lot of weak contact on 2-0 and 3-0 counts, so even when he was behind his fastball had late movement on it to get poor swings. As much as you preach pitching ahead, obviously sometimes you do fall behind and it's a lot better to see that kind of contact rather than balls flying over the trees."

For the second day in a row, Ben Anderson led off the game with a hit and came around to score to give Furman an early lead. On Wednesday, Anderson doubled and scored on Jake Crawford's single.

With two outs and nobody on in the fifth, the Paladins got consecutive singles by Bret Huebner, Anderson, Sims Griffith and Crawford to push the lead to 3-0.

After being picked off of third base in the second inning, Jabari Richards made up for it in a big way the rest of the game. In the third inning, Furman's junior leftfielder threw out a Penn runner at home. In the sixth, Richards belted his second home run of the season the opposite way.

Anderson and Crawford each went 3-for-4 to lead the Paladins' 13-hit effort. Anderson is batting .541 during his current six-game hitting streak. The freshman has also scored 11 runs over that span.

"Ben Anderson just continues to set the tone. Out of a freshman, that's incredible to see," Harker said. "I feel like the boys are just learning what it takes to win on a consistent basis.
"In order to get to the next level, we've got to learn how to win midweek games, whether it's at South Carolina or two midweeks at home. We've checked off two of those now. I'm pretty sure we hadn't won (both games of) a Tuesday-Wednesday midweek in my four years here. That tells you we're getting the arms in here to do that, but we're also getting that confidence from learning how to win those games."

Brendan Bean went 2-for-3 with an RBI to lead the Quakers (1-7).

Furman will be back in action this weekend with a pair of games at its downtown Greenville home of Fluor Field. The Paladins will face Michigan State at 6 p.m. Friday and Illinois at 1 p.m. Sunday.