|Furman freshman Rob Hughes (2-0, 1 save; 0.00 ERA) is scheduled to make|
his first collegiate start Saturday at Charleston. Photo courtesy of Furman
Among the misadventures this year were a series with LaSalle getting completely replaced by a series against Gardner-Webb, traveling to Wake Forest for a Friday game that was rained out then traveling back to Wake Forest two days later for a doubleheader that was originally supposed to be a single game against the Demon Deacons at Fluor Field. That was one of three games at the home of the Greenville Drive that Furman has had wiped out.
"It's been the strangest season. You never know when your playing or how much water you're going to have to squeegee off the field," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "It's been very hard to get in any kind of groove."
Along with the weather, the Paladins (5-9) have dealt with injuries to Jabari Richards, Deon Sanders and Dax Roper. Weather and injuries are things all teams have to deal with, but it certainly hasn't helped this young Furman team develop consistency.
Winning helps and Furman is coming off its first consecutive victories of the season. The first of those two wins came Monday in improbable fashion. The Paladins trailed 10-8 going into the ninth, then were down to their last out still trailing by one. David Webel hit a grounder to short and beat the throw to first allowing M.J. Sasapan to come home with the tying run. An inning later, John Michael Boswell cranked a walk-off home run.
John Michael Bertrand continued to be solid in his role as Furman's midweek starter as the Paladins won at USC Upstate, 7-4, on Wednesday. Two bright spots from that victory for Furman were the confidence boosts it undoubtedly gave reliever Jordan Beatson and outfielder David Webel. In his first game in the leadoff spot this year, Webel went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two runs scored. Beatson gave up one run on three hits over the final three innings for his first save.
"We started four freshman on the road and won a game. I don't know the last time Furman has done something like that," Harker said following Wednesday's win. "We're taking baby steps to get better.
Of course, I'd love us firing on cylinders from day one. That was the game plan, but obviously we weren't there yet. We're getting better and we're getting healthier though.
"We can't grow and get better unless we're playing. That's why we've gone to such extents to make sure we get games in."
So far this young season, the Paladins appear to have more power at the plate and on the mound. While not the end-all, be-all for offense or pitching, respectively, home runs and strikeouts certainly don't hurt either category. After hitting 40 homers in 52 games last season - including a stretch of 82 2/3 consecutive innings without one, Furman has 13 long balls in 14 games this year. After last year's pitching staff posted 328 strikeouts in 450 innings, Paladin pitchers have 110 in 123 innings this year.
Freshman Rob Hughes (2-0, 1 save, 0.00 ERA) has led the way for Furman pitching this season. He's allowed one unearned run on four hits in 15 innings out of the bullpen, to go along with five walks and 22 strikeouts. Those performances have earned Hughes his first collegiate start, set for Saturday at Charleston.
"He's thrived every time we've given him the ball in what was a great challenge for him. He's been a starter his whole life," Harker said. "I was very handcuffed early on, because I felt like Rob was the one who could handle that pressure on the back end (of games). Now that we have other guys like Beatson and Eric Taylor stepping up, it opens up this chance."
Boswell (.358/3/10; .566 slugging) and Logan Taplett (.286/3/10; .595 slugging) have led Furman's power surge, along with Spartanburg Methodist transfer Sterling Turmon. The injury to Richards opened a door for Turmon, and he has blasted through. Turmon, who played high school ball at St. Joseph's then Eastside, is hitting .344 with three doubles, a homer and five RBIs.
"We really weren't sure what we were going to do when Jabari Richards went down. Sterling got the nod and has taken advantage of it," Harker said. "What's been impressive about him is if he has a bad night, he seems to bounce back really well the next day."
After winning three of its last four, the Paladins will look to keep building momentum this weekend at College of Charleston. It's the final series before Southern Conference play begins next weekend at Samford. It will be a special road trip for Harker, who played on some incredible Charleston teams and holds the school record for career saves (29).
"It's a little weird being in the third base dugout and there's a completely different coaching staff. Heck, it's a different logo that the one I played with. So there's a lot of changes there, but obviously that place means a great deal to me," Harker said. "I have so many memories there. ... I'd love to go down there and play our best baseball for sure."