Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Stronger Paladins open 2018 football practice

Furman senior noseguard Jaylan Reid is one of 15 returning
starters for the Paladins in 2018. Photo courtesy of Furman.
For more casual observers of the Furman football program, the biggest question entering the 2018 season is obvious - "who's the quarterback?" That question is a given following the graduation of P.J. Blazejowski, who led the Paladins' big-play offense to a Southern Conference-best average of 32.6 points per game last season.

But for head coach Clay Hendrix, his biggest question might be, "are the Paladins stronger this season?" Strength development was perhaps the biggest goal this past offseason as Hendrix said he felt his team was exposed at some points last season. He specifically pointed to that following Furman's season-ending loss at Wofford in the second round of last year's FCS playoffs. With his first full offseason as head coach under his belt, Hendrix is pleased with the Paladins' physical improvement.

"Our hard work in the offseason has paid off. We're a different looking group," Hendrix said following Furman's first practice of the fall season Monday night. "We just had a lot of immature bodies (last season).
"People talk about all the kids we've got coming back and we did have a lot of kids that played (last season), but we're still a really young football team. If we played tomorrow, we might only start three or four seniors."

Hendrix was particularly pleased to see the condition that his players were in after reporting back to campus on Sunday.

"We're in phenomenal condition. We had our kids here in June and they were in good shape, but then they leave and you don't really see them in July," Hendrix said. "We've got a couple guys that have to get with it, but we're in really good shape overall."

While the Paladins are stronger as a group, there's a difference between strength and football strength. The latter is part of what Furman's continuing to develop the rest August leading up to the season opener Sept. 1 at Clemson. Hendrix said Monday was a typical opening practice, which was welcomed.

"We had lots of energy and enthusiasm," Hendrix said. "I told them I've never been part of team that didn't have lots of enthusiasm on the first day of practice.
"We've just got to keep improving each day and creating a little bit of our identity."

Roster changes
Monday saw the opportunity for some Paladins to continue to work in what will be new roles for the 2018 season. Most notably is Dillon Vann, who's switched from the bandit linebacker spot to tight end. Furman got a taste of what Vann can do catching and running last year with a couple of nice interception returns. He's part of a group competing to replace Furman's top big-play threat in 2017 in Andy Schumpert.

Others on the move this season include DiMarcus Clay - from cornerback to safety, Davonta Porter - from safety to outside linebacker, Donavan Perryman - from outside to inside linebacker, 2017 Freshman All-American Reed Kroeber - from offensive guard to center and Jordan Harris - from defensive tackle to offensive guard.

Other changes from the spring roster include the departures of veteran linebacker/safety Joe Farrar, as well as offseason transfers Melton Brown and Cooper Hardin. Brown left school to pursue a career in law enforcement while Hardin had "some medical things that he needed to go take care of and he's trying to do that," according to Hendrix.

"I think if you ask any guy on our team, there's no doubt about what we expect. If you don't uphold those standards, you lose that privilege of being with us. It's pretty simple," Hendrix said. "Joe was a good player for us. The great thing about it is that he's taking care of business and needs only a couple of classes to graduate."

Practice schedule
Monday was the first of 15 preseason practices scheduled for this month before Furman goes into its weekly season mode. The preseason schedule is highlighted by a scrimmage at Paladin Stadium set for Saturday, Aug. 18 at 12:15 p.m. Later that same day, Furman's annual Fan Fest will be held at Fluor Field in downtown Greenville. The event will be held from 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.. preceding the Greenville Drive's game against the Hickory Crawdads at 7:05.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

ETSU ends another Furman season

Landon Kay went 2-for-4 with an RBI in Furman's 5-2 loss to ETSU
at the SoCon Tournament Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
A frustrating 2018 baseball season came to an end in a bizarrely fitting fashion for Furman Thursday afternoon in the Southern Conference Tournament at Fluor Field. The Paladins trailed ETSU 5-2 with two out in the ninth when Bret Huebner and Sims Griffith had consecutive singles that should've brought up Ben Anderson as the potential tying run.

But Furman's best player, who was due after a rough tournament, never made it to the plate. After Griffith's ball kicked off of ETSU leftfielder Ben Jackson, Huebner was waved around third and tagged out at home to end it.

The baseball team became the latest program whose season ended at the hands of the Buccaneers, joining men's basketball, men's tennis and softball. Furman went 2-5 against ETSU in SoCon tournaments this season, with the women's tennis and women's soccer teams accounting for the wins.

For the second game in a row, Furman's offense was held in check. ETSU starter Ryan Simpler (7-6), who entered with a 5.46 ERA and a loss during the Paladins' final series of the regular season, pitched a complete game. Simpler scattered 10 hits, had no walks and four strikeouts, and threw 95 of his 134 pitches for strikes.

Furman took an early lead on Landon Kay's RBI-single with two out in the first. The Bucs (28-24) came back in the third with three runs, all scored with two out. Jason Costa's two-out RBI-single in the fifth sliced ETSU's lead to 3-2. The Bucs added some insurance in the eighth on Cade Gilbert's two-run double.

Furman (24-28) finished the tournament with three extra-base hits - doubles by Landon Kay, Logan Taplett and Bret Huebner on Thursday, and no walks. After drawing three three-ball counts on Wednesday, Furman batters had only two Thursday. Anderson, who reached base via a hit, walk or hit by pitch in 47 of 50 regular season games including 32 consecutive to end the regular season, only reached base once in the tournament on an error.

In their final college game, Costa, Kay, Huebner and Griffith had two hits apiece to lead the Paladins.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Samford's 1-2 punch blanks Paladins

Furman senior left-hander Grant Schuermann.
Photo courtesy of Furman.
Senior left-hander Grant Schuermann gave Furman a fighting chance Wednesday, but Samford's 1-2 punch from two of the best pitchers in the Southern Conference was too much to overcome. Samuel Strickland and Wyatt Burns combined on four-hit shutout as the second-seeded Bulldogs beat the Paladins 4-0 in the opening round of the SoCon Tournament at Fluor Field.

No. 7 seed Furman (24-27) will face either Wofford or ETSU in an elimination game Thursday at approximately 12:30 p.m.

"We pitched so well and played such good defense, we just faced two of the top four arms in the conference," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "You can't ask anything more out of Grant Schuermann. He absolutely pitched his tail off.
"The bottom line is we just couldn't make enough adjustments."

Samford (33-24) took advantage of a scoring opportunity to take a first-inning lead. After Furman was unable to turn what should've been an inning-ending double play on Brooks Carlson's routine grounder to short, a wild pitch sent Carlson to second. He then came around to score on Ayrton Schafer's single.

The score remained 1-0 until the eighth. After Samford loaded the bases with nobody out, Tyler Kimbrell came on in relief of Schuermann. Carlson greeted Kimbrell with a two-run single and pinch-hitter Connor Burns followed with a sacrifice fly to push the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Furman never managed an offensive threat. After leadoff man Ben Anderson reached second on a Samford error to open the game, the Paladins didn't have a man reach scoring position the rest of the game.

Strickland, who inexplicably didn't win SoCon Freshman of the Year, allowed two hits over six scoreless innings lowering his season ERA to 1.89. He had no walks and 10 strikeouts Wednesday giving him 15 walks and 82 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings. Burns gave up two hits over the final three innings, lowering his ERA to 1.77, for his 11th save. The SoCon's active career leader in saves had no walks and three strikeouts, giving him nine walks and 73 Ks in 56 innings this year.

"They're really good, but we also expanded the zone big time tonight," Harker said. "Honestly, I don't know if I've ever seen somebody swing at fastballs that high. We just made (Strickland's) job a little too easy and just never got anything going offensively."

While technically reaching base in the first on the Samford miscue, Anderson saw his streak of reaching base in 32 consecutive games come to an end.

Nik Verbeke (5-4, 4.45 ERA) is Thursday's scheduled starter for Furman.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Furman women's golf takes aim at NCAA title

The seventh-ranked Furman women's golf team begins play at the
NCAA Championships in Stillwater, Okla. Friday afternoon.
In 2016, the Furman women's golf team played in the NCAA Championships for the first time in eight years and finished 20th. Last season, the Paladins returned to the NCAA Championships and finished 12th. Furman will wrap up this season by trying to continue climbing that ladder, with hopes of ascending to the top.

The No. 7-ranked Paladins open play at the 2018 NCAA Championships in Stillwater, Okla. today with a tee time of 2:21 p.m. Furman, which is paired with No. 8 Arizona and No. 9 Texas, will tee off in Saturday's second round at 9:36 a.m.

The Paladins advanced to the NCAA Championships with a third-place showing at the NCAA Tallahassee (Fla.) Regional last week. Furman shot an opening round 280 there to put itself in prime position to be among the six qualifiers for the nationals, then locked up its invitation with a final round 273. Furman was led by 2018 Southern Conference Player of the Year Natalie Srinivasan, who finished third with a 12-under 204. Teammate Jacqueline Bendrick placed ninth at 7-under.

"It got close there a little bit, but they really persevered at the end and made a lot of birdies," Furman coach Jeff Hull said afterwards. "I am especially proud of Natalie and Jacqueline for third and ninth place finishes, respectively. I am really excited to go to nationals and, hopefully, make it to match play with a chance to win a national championship."

Tallahassee marked the second consecutive outstanding regional for Srinivasan, a sophomore out of Spartanburg. At the 2017 Lubbock (Texas) Regional, she tied for fifth place. Srinivasan's showing in Lubbock came after she won the SoCon Tournament by four strokes over teammate Alice Chen. Hull said that SoCon showing "flipped a switch" for Srivasan, who went on to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Amateur following last year's NCAA Championships.

That momentum carried over into this season for Srinivasan, whose 72.08 average score over 32 rounds ranks among the best in the country. She added to her stellar season last week when she opened the Tallahassee Regional with a 65. In the storied history of the women's golf program, no Paladin has ever had a lower round as she tied a record set by Caroline Peek Blaylock in 1995.

"She has been really close to going low like this, so it was great to see her put it together," Hull said.

Srinivasan was honored to earn the SoCon's award as its top player. She said it was even more special simply because of the teammates she beat out for it.

"I had a really good year and was fortunate to play well in some big tournaments, but any of us on this team could win that," Srinivasan said.

There's plenty of truth behind Srinivasan's modesty. That was fully evident during a dominant display by Furman at this year's SoCon Championship. The Paladins had four of the top three finishers led by medalist Reona Hirai. Srinivasan was four back in second. Haylee Harford and Chen tied for third at five back, while Bendrick finished eighth. It all added up to a 34-stroke victory, the seventh-largest margin in SoCon history and largest since Furman's 38-stroke win in 1999.

All five Paladins made the All-SoCon team this season, while Madison Moosa made the All-Freshman team. Hull was SoCon Coach of the Year for the second time in as many years as head coach.

"We've proven that all five players can win a golf tournament," Hull said. "We've got the second-lowest drop score average in the country, meaning the score that doesn't count."

Furman's focus now turns towards trying to earn the prestigious program's first national championship since 1976. That season, World Golf Hall of Famers Betsy King and Beth Daniel led the Paladins to the AIAW national title.

At the NCAA Championships, the 24-team field that will have 54 holes of stroke play today through Sunday. The top 15 left will have one round on Monday. From there the top eight go into a single elimination match-play bracket. The finals will be Wednesday.

For Srinivasan, nothing would be greater than helping send the seniors (Bendrick, Chen, Hirai) out on top. While golf is in many ways the ultimate individual sport, that team mentality still permeates through the Paladins.

"I think about this being the seniors last shot all the time. It will definitely be different next year without them," Srinivasan said. "We just want to make them have the best last year possible.
 "Over the last couple of years, our team has been so deep. It's really cool that we're able to have such good players here. You don't really have to worry because you know if you don't play well, somebody else will."

For live scoring updates from the NCAA Championships, click here.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Paladins earn critical series win at ETSU

Ben Anderson had two hits, including his school-record seventh triple
this season, and three RBIs in Furman's 9-4 win at ETSU Sunday.
One good trend for Furman's baseball team stopped Friday at ETSU, but a not-so-good one also changed over the rest of the weekend. It added up to a huge series win for the Paladins. After getting hammered 15-2 in Friday's series opener, Furman came back with a 6-5 win on Saturday and a 9-4 win Sunday. Entering the weekend, the Paladins were 4-2 in opening games of SoCon series, but just 3-9 in the second and third games of series.

Reversing that scenario proved to be significant for Furman's place in the SoCon standings going into the final week of the regular season. Perhaps most importantly, the Paladins have assured themselves of not being in the No. 8 vs. 9 "play-in" game at the SoCon Tournament. The Citadel and Western Carolina have clinched eighth and ninth place, respectively.

While currently in seventh place in the SoCon, Furman (24-26, 9-12) could finish as high as fourth. The Paladins are a game behind ETSU and Mercer and hold the tie-breaker over both. Furman is two games back of VMI and doesn't have that tie-breaker. Coming up this week, Mercer hosts Citadel, ETSU plays at third-place Wofford and VMI is at second-place Samford. The Paladins host first-place UNC Greensboro, which has already clinched the top seed for the tournament.

On Sunday, the Paladins jumped out to an early lead and got a couple of strong pitching performances to make it hold up. Freshman left-hander John Michael Bertrand allowed four runs on five hits in six innings to get the win. Bertrand (5-3) had one walk and four strikeouts. Tyler Kimbrell worked three scoreless innings for his sixth save. Kimbrell gave up two hits and one walk and struck out five.

Furman took a 3-0 lead in the second on an RBI-single by Sims Griffith and a two-run triple by Ben Anderson. It was the seventh triple of the season for the freshman, which is a new Furman record. The lead grew to 5-0 in the fifth before ETSU got on the board on Jackson Greer's solo homer with two out.

The Buccaneers (26-21, 10-11) cut the lead to one in the seventh. After Caleb Longley hit the second pitch of the bottom of the seventh out for his SoCon-leading 14th homer, Aaron Maher hit a two-run shot five pitches later to make it 5-4 Furman. Kimbrell came on and blanked ETSU the rest of the way.

The Paladins gave Kimbrell some breathing room with a four-run eighth. Furman opened the inning with four consecutive hits, including an RBI-double by Jake Crawford and RBI-single by Logan Taplett. Ben Anderson and Jabari Richards had back-to-back RBI-singles to cap the inning.

Anderson, Crawford, Taplett and Bret Huebner each had two hits to lead Furman.

The Paladins wrap up non-conference play Tuesday, hosting Gardner-Webb at 6 p.m. The UNCG series begins Thursday at 6 p.m. at Latham Stadium.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Schuermann, Paladins earn gutsy win at ETSU

Furman left-hander Grant Schuermann tossed one of the most effective 13-hitters you'll ever see and the Paladins held on for a 6-5 win at ETSU Saturday. Schuermann's complete game effort evened the series heading into Sunday's rubber game.

Despite the 13 hits, Schuermann was able to go the distance on a total of 101 pitches. That was thanks to no walks, while the senior also posted a career-high eight strikeouts. After Christian Bailey's pinch-hit, three-run double cut Furman's lead to one with two outs in the ninth, Schuermann (4-7) got ETSU leadoff man Ben Jackson to pop out, securing his fourth career complete game.

Furman (23-26, 8-12 Southern Conference) staked Schuermann to an early 5-0 lead. Jabari Richards homered on the fifth pitch of the game in the first before the Paladins pushed four runs across in the second inning. The second began with four consecutive hits, including an RBI-single by Logan Taplett and RBI-double by Bret Huebner. The first out of the inning came on a squeeze bunt by Sims Griffith that made it 4-0. Ben Anderson followed with an RBI-single in running his streak of reaching base to 31 consecutive games.

Schuermann blanked the Bucs (26-20, 10-10) for six innings before they cut the Paladins lead to 5-2 in the seventh. Furman's Jason Costa provided what turned out to be a huge insurance run in the ninth with his team-leading ninth home run.

Taplett, Huebner, Anderson, Costa and Landon Kay each had two hits to lead the Paladins' 13-hit effort.

Sunday's final game of the series, which is Furman's final road game of the season, is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Six homers help ETSU hammer Paladins

Six of ETSU's 11 extra-base hits went for home runs Friday as the Buccaneers whipped Furman 15-2 in the opening game of a three-game series in Johnson City, Tenn. Every ETSU starter had at least one hit and one run, and eight of the nine had at least one RBI. The Bucs piled up 17 hits as a team.

The Paladins (22-26, 7-12 Southern Conference) actually led 2-1 in the fourth inning thanks to a two-run home run by Jason Costa in the third. However, ETSU rallied violently over the next three innings with four runs in the fourth, seven in the fifth and three in the sixth.

Furman starter Nik Verbeke appeared to have a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, but a two-out error kept the inning alive. The Bucs made the Paladins pay as Chris Cook capped the inning with a three-run homer to make it 5-2.

An inning later, ETSU got solo home runs from Aaron Maher and Ethan Rice ahead of a grand slam by Caleb Longley. It was Longley's second homer of the night and SoCon-leading 13th of the season. The Bucs' onslaught wrapped up in the sixth with a leadoff homer by Jackson Greer, followed by back-to-back triples that were both lost in the lights by Furman outfielders and a sac fly.

Longley had four hits to lead ETSU (26-19, 10-9). Bucs starter Micah Kaczor allowed all five of Furman's hits over his six innings of work. Kaczor (5-4) had two walks and eight strikeouts.

Game two of the series is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m.