ANDERSON, S.C. – After taking two-of-three away from then-league leading Lincoln Memorial last week, Anderson University baseball jumps back into nonconference action on Wednesday when it looks to avenge an earlier season setback to nationally-ranked Lander. First pitch from Dolny Stadium is scheduled for 6 p.m.
With its two victories over LMU last weekend, AU improved to 18-26 overall, but moved up to sixth place in the South Atlantic Conference standings, which would secure a spot into next week’s Food Lion SAC Tournament. With three games remaining on the conference slate and being two games ahead of seventh-place Carson-Newman, the Trojans would need a win and an Eagle loss to earn their first berth into the SAC Tournament in program history.
On a conference level, the Black and Gold leads the SAC in doubles (83), hits (442) and home runs (41). Nationally, the Trojans are one of four teams in the country with 40 or more home runs for the year, ranking fourth and joining three other teams from the Southeast Region to lead the nation. The Trojans are averaging just under a home run a game at 0.93, which is the sixth highest percentage nationally.
A major contribution to AU’s success with the long ball is senior outfielder Nathan Galliford who is tied for the nation’s lead with 15 home runs of the year. Galliford blasted three home runs for the three-game set at Lincoln Memorial last weekend, highlighted by a two-home run game on Friday, leading AU to a 13-5 rout to open the SAC series. The senior needs one more home run to break the program’s highest total since Casey Fouts hit 15 home runs in 2000.
Ranking 26th nationally in home runs is sophomore first baseman Steven Cooper with eight for the year. Cooper is tied with Galliford for the conference’s lead in RBI with 46, while also leading the league in hits (63) and total bases (108). This season, Cooper has 20 multi-hit games with a .614 slugging percentage and a .429 on-base percentage. The sophomore is currently hitting .358 with a league-high 17 doubles and 39 runs scored (fourth in SAC).
Defensively, junior right-hander Landon Beck ranks second in the SAC and 10th nationally with 75 strikeouts for the year. With his 61.2 innings pitched this season, Beck’s 10.95 strikeouts per nine innings average leads the SAC and ranks 20th nationally. The right-hander earned his fifth win of the season in the final game of the series with the Railsplitters, tossing five innings and striking out seven hitters.
Wednesday’s matchup will feature two of the top-five most powerful teams in Division II this season, as Lander (35-6) is the only team in the country with more than 50 home runs on the year, leading the country with 55. To go along with their power, the Bearcats take advantage of pitching miscues, leading the country in walks (229) and hit batsmen (88).
The Bearcats have been nationally-ranked as high as No. 2, as it entered last week as No. 3 in the latest Collegiate Baseball’s national poll. Lander enters Wednesday on a five-game winning streak, headlined by a three-game sweep over Peach Belt Conference opponent Georgia College last weekend. With the wins, the Bearcats are 21-6 in the PBC and sit in second place in the league standings.
Joining Galliford at the top of the nation’s home run list is senior first baseman Connor Lewis, who has matched Galliford’s home run total of 15 for the season. Lewis is the only player in the PBC with double figure homers as he holds the highest home run per game average in the country at 0.37. In the first game against GC on Friday, Lewis went 5-for-6 with two runs scored and an RBI. Currently, the senior has tallied a hit in 13 of his last 14 contests.
Senior Patrick Grady has also gained national attention as he leads the nation in runs scored with 68 for the year. His .447 average leads the Peach Belt as he has recorded 24 multi-hit games on the campaign.
Reliever Brandon White is ninth nationally in saves with nine, while starters Mason McCullough and Dylan Wolchik rank ninth and 10th, respectively, in the PBC in strikeouts with 58 and 57. As a staff, Lander holds a 4.05 team ERA while holding hitters to a .255 batting average.
Lander took the first game between the teams this season on April 8 at Anderson Memorial Stadium. Despite out-hitting the Bearcats 8-6, the Trojans left seven runners on base in the game, dropping the nonconference contest. Last season, AU defeated Lander at Minor League Baseball’s Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive, 4-1, giving Anderson its last win over a nationally-ranked opponent.