Monday, February 25, 2019

Furman baseball gets needed win "for Deon"

Deon Sanders gives a baseball to a young fan earlier this season. Sanders was seriously
injured prior to Furman's 7-2 win over Gardner-Webb Monday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Ten days into any sports season is really too early for any "must win" situations, especially in baseball. But after a tumultuous start to the 2019 season thanks to inconsistency, injuries and just plain lousy weather, Furman really needed a win Monday for more than obvious reasons.

Monday's starter, David Dunlavey, served up that needed "W" in style. Dunlavey became the first Paladin since Will Gaddis to tally 10 strikeouts in a game as Furman handed Gardner-Webb its first loss of the season, 7-2, at Latham Stadium.

After losing starting third baseman Jake Crawford to injury well before the season, Furman recently lost starting leftfielder Jabari Richards for up to six weeks with an injury. Monday's lineup featured starting catcher Dax Roper limited to designated hitter duties due to a knee injury that forced him to leave Sunday's game and starting DH Trent Alley out with a nagging injury. Before Monday's game, the latest blow came when first baseman Deon Sanders suffered a horrific knee injury during pregame infield drills.

Sanders has hit some majestic home runs during his Paladin career despite being limited by injuries and splitting time with football where he played running back. He battled his way back from a torn knee in the football preseason of 2016, to play both sports again. Sanders recently wrapped up his last season of football this past fall to concentrate on his first full spring with the baseball team this year.

"We've had a lot of adversity and we're banged up right now. Seeing Deon Sanders get hurt in the pregame was one of the tougher things I've seen right before a game starts," Furman coach Brett Harker said after Monday's win. "It was emotional and everybody was real down. I just said, 'man, this is why this team's different. We've got to pull together and play for Deon.'
"That's one of the most complete games I've seen out of our ball club in awhile."

While the win improved Furman to 2-3 this season, Monday marked the first time the Paladins left the ballpark coming off a win. The other victory came in the first game of a doubleheader against Morehead State last Saturday.

Like Sanders, Dunlavey knows all about coming back from a serious injury. The Spartanburg native was expected to challenge for a starting spot in the weekend rotation last year after transferring in from USC Lancaster. That changed after a torn UCL in the fall of 2017 led to him sitting out last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.

After his own error proved costly in a loss in his Paladin debut last Saturday, Dunlavey (1-1) enjoyed greater command Monday. He allowed two runs - on a pair of solo home runs - on four hits in six innings, to go along with two walks and 10 strikeouts. The last time a Furman pitcher fanned 10 batter came in 2017 by Gaddis against Mercer.

"That's what we were looking forward to seeing last season before his injury," Harker said. "He's technically a redshirt junior, so you think he's experienced, but he's really not - especially in this stadium with this uniform on. To see him have that type of game in just his second game kind of lets you know how special he can be."

With fellow weekend starter Matt Lazzaro available out of the bullpen, it wasn't clear if Dunlavey would start the sixth. But in a 2-2 game, Harker sent Dunlavey back out there and he delivered a 1-2-3 inning with a pair of strikeouts to end it.

Furman's offense then put Dunlavey in position for the win. After Sterling Turmon led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk, there were two quick outs before Jordan Starkes singled. Banks Griffith followed with a roped double to left-center to score Turmon and Starkes. Roper provided some cushion when he crushed a pitch down the left field line for a two-run homer. Logan Taplett provided more breathing room in the seventh when he led off with his first career homer.

That was more than enough for Lazzaro and Rob Hughes out of the bullpen. The last 14 Gardner-Webb batters were retired to end the game, as Lazzaro struck out two in two perfect innings and Hughes had one strikeout in a perfect ninth. That pitching wrapped the game up in a tidy two hours and 15 minutes.

"As a pitching guy, that's my kinda game right there," Harker said. "They all really threw the ball well."

Roper had three of Furman's 12 hits, while Griffith went 2-for-5 and Bret Huebner was 2-for-4. In his Furman debut, Turmon - a former St. Joseph's and Eastside High standout who transferred from Spartanburg Methodist - went 2-for-3.

"What a huge day for (Turmon)," Harker said. "You don't know in life how many times you're going to get that opportunity (to start), and boy did he make the most of it."

Furman returns to action Wednesday, hosting UNC Asheville at 6 p.m.

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