They have played eight games so far this season. All of them count on the won-loss record. But Friday the Bisons open up defense of their Atlantic Sun Conference Championship when they play the first Atlantic Sun series of the season when they visit Mercer University’s Claude Field in Macon, Ga.
The Bisons are 3-5 after playing a three-game series at Georgia Tech to open the season followed by visits to Auburn and Vanderbilt. Sandwiched between the Auburn and Vanderbilt games was a three-game home series with Bradley.
Mercer is 4-4. Both teams enter the series having won three of their last four games.
“We have played eight games, and five of them were against bigger schools,” said Lipscomb coach Jeff Forehand. “The competition we go up against is really good. We want to play those teams that allow us to get prepared for conference weekends.
“Of the five games we lost, no one was looking at any of them as moral victories. Hopefully, we have learned some things by playing some talented teams. We can go into this series with a really good Mercer team at least knowing what is going to be expected of us.”
One of the concerns for the Bisons is the defensive effort so far this season. Left fielder Ryan Wilkins, center fielder Allen Bolden and shortstop Branden Cadavid are the only players who have started all eight games at the same position. The loss of catcher Caleb Joseph to the Major League draft was expected to have an effect on the offense, but it has also had an impact defensively as well.
“When you look at our defense just about every guy on our team is playing for the first time as a freshman or hasn’t played that spot on defense at the college level,” said Forehand. “We have guys rotating at second base. Those guys are older, but they haven’t logged a lot of innings.
“We have new guys at the catching position. We have lost a lot of innings there. We are going to take a few lumps and learn along the way. Hopefully that will pay off as we compete inside the conference.”
Justin Sanders, first baseman-designated hitter, is third in the Atlantic Sun with a .533 batting average. He is second in slugging percentage (.967). He is tied for second in doubles (six) and is first in triples (two). He is tied for sixth in hits with 16.
Sanders has hit safely in every game this season. He has recorded multiple hits in five games, tops on the team. He also leads the team with three multiple RBI games.
“Justin is swinging the bat pretty good,” said Forehand. “We just need to get a couple of guys on track ahead of him. I have confidence in all of the guys. I am excited about what is going to happen when all of it clicks together.”
The Bisons plan to start junior left-hander Rex Brothers (1-1, 2.31 ERA) Friday at 5 p.m. Senior right-hander Brandon McClurg (0-1, 5.62) will start Saturday at 3. Junior right-hander Josh Smith (1-0, 5.73) gets the starting nod Sunday at noon.
Mercer’s rotation will be Lath Guyer (0-1, 7.36 ERA), Dan April (1-0, 5.06 ERA) and Justin French (0-0, 4.72 ERA).
Brothers is tied for the conference lead in strikeouts with 17. Smith is tied for first in strikeouts when the batter was looking with eight. He is tied for ninth in strikeouts overall with 13.
“Mercer is always a very competitive team,” said Forehand. ‘They have the majority of their lineup back from last year. They beat us two-of-three games at home last year.
“Everybody in our league is pretty much all the same. They are all very competitive. Each game should be close.”
Every A-Sun is crucial, but this year every win carries an additional premium. Only seven teams are eligible for the Atlantic Sun Tournament. Only six teams will earn berths in the tournament.
“Our players, especially the older guys understand,” said Forehand. “We get excited about every game, but with conference games everybody knows there is something on the line.
“The Atlantic Sun is a tough conference. There is going to be a good team that is left out of the tournament. We want to make sure we do everything in our power to fight for that first spot.”