Forehand's Bisons exceeded expectations in 2007 season
Thursday, May 31, 2007

May 31, 2007

Jeff Forehand wanted to lead the Lipscomb Bisons baseball team to the Atlantic Sun Conference title in his first season.

While admitting disappointment that the Bisons fell short of that goal, he admits he was more than pleased to guide the team to its first ever trip to the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.

The Bisons, the No. 6-seed, lost 4-3 to Stetson in the opening round of the tournament at Stetson. They then fell the next day 4-1 to No.5-seed Gardner-Webb. The losses are still fresh for Forehand, but he is able to put the entire season in perspective.

"I look back on it and I have never been so excited to finish sixth," Forehand said. "We set our goal to win the Atlantic Sun title. If we didn't make that goal we decided our next goal would be to make the conference tournament. We got that accomplished and that was a big thing for us and for our school.

"The season is still fresh on everyone's mind. We all wish we were still playing. But having been in the tournament will give us something to build on next season."

The Bisons finished the season with a 28-30 record, 12-15 in the A-Sun. They also had a 4-3 record against teams from the Southeastern Conference, winning two-out-of-three at Louisiana State and splitting 1-1 with Vanderbilt.

"We beat some very good SEC teams, but some weekends in our conference games we didn't play as well as we showed we could play," Forehand said. "That is always disappointing."

"But that's also what keeps us coming back and figuring out how we are going to return to the tournament and be eveb better next year."

The roster for the Bisons and the 2007 freshman class were set for Forehand before he joined the team after successful runs at Trevecca Nazarene University in the NAIA and on the high school level in Nashville. Forehand couldn't make any changes in his personnel so he decided to change their attitudes.

"I think this team exceeded expectations," Forehand said. "All coaches try to convince their teams they can beat anybody. You don't want to give your team a false sense of what they really are, but they need to grab hold of a confidence level.

"I told them they were an average team. And when they didn't play together and didn't try to execute what we work on everyday we were an average baseball team. If we weren't playing with a heightened level of enthusiasm, a heightened level of intensity and heightened level of playing as a team instead of worrying about individual play we weren't going to be the best team. We had to really push for that higher level of expectation and that higher level of intensity in every game."

Forehand stressed to his team that if they didn't play at their highest levels against teams like LSU, Vanderbilt and Auburn that the outcomes could be ugly.

"They convinced themselves that when they played that way they could beat anybody, but then we would go back and play teams in our league like Kennesaw State and Gardner-Webb and we played average. It's not that we played poorly against those teams, but when you stacked us up talent for talent we didn't compare."

Forehand is expecting every starter to return next season with the exception of center fielder Casey Bond, who transferred from Birmingham-Southern.

Sophomore catcher Caleb Joseph earned A-Sun First-Team All-Conference honors, leading the Bisons in seven offensive categories.

Rex Brothers was named Freshman of the Year and was also an All-Conference Second Team selection.

Pitcher Taylor Merry and first baseman Ryan Wilkins were both named to the A-Sun All-Freshman Team.

"Casey had a solid year and started every game in center," Forehand said. "We will lose his offensive punch in the top of the order."

The Bisons will lose a lot of experience on the pitching staff with Rob Smithson, John King and Matt Schnelly ending their college careers.

"Robby was the one that surprised a lot of people," Forehand said. "He really came on as a pitcher. In every game he pitched but one he gave us a chance to win. We will miss the experience he had on the pitching staff.

"We will have eight sophomore arms next year. And all of them have the potential to be pretty good. We may add a couple of more junior college pitchers to give us some more experience next year."

Forehand isn't worried about an encore. His team expects to be back in the A-Sun Tournament next season.

"We know we belong, but we have to go out and do it every year in the strong league we are in," Forehand said. "ETSU, at one point in the season, was tied for first. and in five weeks they went from being tied for first to not being in the tournament.

"We can't take it for granted. But our players know now that we belong. The conference tournament is something that we will expect to do every year and not hope to do."

Forehand also finds motivation in the fact that the A-Sun had two teams, Stetson and Jacksonville, received bids for the NCAA Tournament.

"We would like to put ourselves in a position that eventually if we get 35 to 40 wins we might turn some heads for a bid," Forehand said. "We are taking our blueprint from the teams that have had the most success. We can learn some things from teams like Vanderbilt, but we also can learn a lot of things from Stetson and Jacksonville."