ANDERSON, S.C. – Turning its focus to the postseason, Anderson University baseball enters the 2014 Food Lion South Atlantic Conference Tournament with high hopes as the lowest seeded team in the six-team field. The Trojans begin their tournament campaign on Thursday when they meet regular season co-conference champion and top-seeded Catawba at McNair Field in Forest City, N.C. at noon.
AU closed the regular season unable to achieve its goal of a winning record, but with some key conference wins throughout the year, the Trojans earned a berth in the SAC Tournament for the first time in the program’s history. Despite closing the league slate with a 13-16 record, Anderson finished two games ahead of Mars Hill for sixth-place and sealed the final spot into the annual postseason tournament.
The Trojans polished off the year as the league’s leaders in home runs (41), doubles (91) and total bases (712) and ranked second in RBI (268). As a team, AU accumulated a .296 batting average and a .431 slugging percentage, which ranked third in the SAC. Nationally, Anderson’s 41 home runs ranked sixth in the latest statistical release on April 20.
A key contribution to the team’s home run total has been the slugging of first-team All-SAC honoree Nathan Galliford, who needs one more homer to break the program’s all-time home run record which is held by Casey Fouts (2000). Currently, Galliford is tied for the nation’s lead with Lander’s Connor Lewis and is one of three players in the SAC with double figure round-trippers on the year.
Galliford, who has knocked in 47 runs this season, is an RBI behind the conference leader, fellow all-SAC first team honoree, Steven Cooper. Cooper leads the SAC with 48 RBI, 68 hits, 18 doubles and 114 total bases. The Galliford and Cooper tandem is responsible for 35.3 percent of the team’s RBI this season, while the first baseman is hitting .349, while slugging .585.
Perhaps the hottest hitting Trojan entering the tournament is senior catcher Jonathan Zalud, who was the only AU player to be named to the SAC first team and to the Gold Glove list, becoming the first Anderson catcher to receive the SAC Gold Glove Award. In Zalud’s last eight contests, he is hitting .485 (16-for-33) with five doubles, four RBI, while slugging .636. Zalud has crossed the plate seven times and been given four free passes in the span.
On the mound, junior right-hander Landon Beck ranks eighth nationally and second in the SAC in strikeouts with 84 for the season. With five more punch-outs, Beck would tie the program’s all-time season leader, Casey Martin, with 89, set in 1995.
Catawba closed the season with a 28-16 overall record and tied Wingate for the regular season championship with identical 20-7 mark. The Indians earned the top seed by defeating the Bulldogs twice during the regular season in a three-game series on March 28-30. After taking the only game of a rain-shortened series with Carson-Newman last weekend, the Indians are currently on a three-game winning streak.
The regular season co-champions ranked just behind Anderson in home runs (39) and in total bases (678) for the season, while hitting .311 as a team and driving in 266 runs. On the bases, the Indians have swiped 61 bases with Blake Houston tying for third in the SAC with 17. Leading Catawba at the plate, senior first baseman Paul Kronenfeld ranks second in the conference in average with a .383 clip and third in on-base percentage at .462.
The Catawba pitching staff has held opponents to a .264 average as the tournament’s top seed has the league leaders in ERA, strikeouts, wins and saves. Right-hander Craig Brooks paces the SAC in strikeouts (86) and wins as the only pitcher with double digit wins on the year with 10. Brooks has held hitters to a .178 average with bringing in a 2.28 ERA into the postseason.
Senior right-hander Ryan McClintock is tied for the league lead with SAC Player of the Year Josh Coker of Lincoln Memorial in saves with eight for the year. McClintock has posted 28 strikeouts in 32.1 innings pitched, while boasting a 1.39 ERA. Leading the conference in ERA is redshirt freshman Shaefer Shepard with a 1.32 mark in 47.2 innings pitched. His 39 strikeouts in 24th in the SAC, while his two complete games in ninth-most in the conference.
Joining Catawba at the top of the league standings was Wingate, which closed the year with a 28-14 overall record and a matching 20-7 mark in the conference. The Bulldogs will meet fifth-seeded Tusculum in the opening round on Thursday, as the Pioneers closed their conference schedule with an even 14-14 mark. In the final opening round game, third-seeded Lincoln Memorial looks to defend its tournament champion crowd as it begins its tournament campaign against fourth-seeded Newberry.
Newberry, which took all three games from Anderson last weekend, enters the SAC Tournament with the league’s longest current winning streak of nine straight games. The Wolves closed the season with a 17-13 conference mark.
2014 Food Lion SAC Baseball Championship Schedule
Thursday, April 24
No. 1 Catawba vs. No. 6 Anderson, noon
No. 2 Wingate vs. No. 5 Tusculum, 3:45 p.m.
No. 3 Lincoln Memorial vs. No. 4 Newberry, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, April 25
Gm. 1 loser vs. Gm. 2 loser, noon
Gm. 1 winner vs. Gm. 3 loser, 3:45 p.m.
Gm. 2 winner vs. Gm. 3 winner, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 26
Gm. 5 winner vs. Gm. 6 winner, noon
Gm. 6 loser vs. Gm. 4 winner, 3:45 p.m.
Gm. 7 loser vs. Gm. 8 winner, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 27
Championship game, 1 p.m.
If necessary, 4 p.m.