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Friday, March 27, 2009The Lipscomb Bisons baseball team spent part of the day Thursday on airplanes and part of the day as tourists in San Francisco.
But after checking out Fisherman’s Wharf and getting a long distance look of Alcatraz in the bay, the Bisons are ready to get down to business with a four-game series beginning Friday night at 8:05 against Fresno State, the defending College World Series Champions at Pete Beiden Field.
“It was a long day of travel,” said Bisons coach Jeff Forehand. “We had four or five hours of flying and four or five hours of driving. “We were going to try to take a tour of Alcatraz, but the last tour boat left before we could get there.”
Forehand met with his team early Friday afternoon to discuss how to approach playing Fresno State. The Bulldogs are 10-9 this season. The Bisons, leading the Atlantic Sun Conference with an 8-1 record heading into this weekend, are 12-10 overall.
“I don’t think we are in awe of Fresno State,” said Forehand. “A couple of years ago when we started to travel and play some teams I think that was one of the factors, but I don’t think that is the case now.
“They go into this series with the utmost respect that they have the opportunity to play the national champion. At the beginning I would think there would be some anxiety, but hopefully once the game starts that will go away and we will be able to attack Fresno State like anybody else.”
The fact that Fresno State was the College World Series Champion made the series more desirable for Forehand to place on the schedule.
“That was the whole reason we wanted to do this,” said Forehand. “When you have a non-conference weekend in the middle of your season it is hard to get your team motivated to play and it is hard to get excited about because it is a non-conference game.
“I think all of that changes when you have the chance to play what was the best team in the country last year and to take a great trip like this. I think they are excited about it. It is sunny with a slight breeze and 80 degrees. We have about 50 fans here. It should be a great atmosphere.”
Reliever Kyle Tognazzini, a resident of near-by Paso Robles, Calif., is expecting approximately 20 friends and relatives to attend the series.
Forehand is concerned overall about what Fresno State has to offer, but he has told his pitchers to be ready to face three tough batters in Danny Muno, Steve Detwiler and Tom Mendonca. Muno is batting a team-leading .389. Detwiler is hitting. 274 and Mendonca is batting .292, but leads the team in home runs with eight and runs batted in with 22.
“ Mendonca and Detwiler are in the middle and had unbelievable runs in the College World Series and Muno, their lead-off hitter is strong,” said Forehand. “But all of their guys are above average player s and above average hitters that you have to be concerned about.”
The Bisons will start junior left-hander Rex Brothers (4-1, 2.60) Friday. Senior right-hander Brandon McClurg (2-1, 2.12) will start game one Saturday. Junior right-hander Josh Smith (3-0, 2.97) will start game two. The Bisons will close out the series Sunday with senior right-hander Charles Williams (1-4, 8.06).
Brothers, McClurg and Smith have all made five appearances, all starts this season. Williams has made seven appearances, four as a starter. Brothers. McClurg and Smith are three of the top pitchers in the Atlantic Sun Conference in several categories, but the hitting of the Bisons in their past few games is giving Forehand a strong reason for optimism.
First baseman-designated hitter Justin Sanders leads the Bisons in almost every offensive category. He leads the team in home runs with five and leads in doubles with eight. He also leads in runs batted in with 22.
Sanders leads the Bisons with a .420 batting average. He also leads the Bisons in hits (34), runs scored (21), on base percentage (.484), total bases (63) and slugging percentage (.778).
He is fourth overall in the Atlantic Sun Conference in batting, first in slugging percentage, tied for third in triples, sixth in on base percentage and fifth in total bases.
“It always helps to have the offense working,” said Forehand. “It took us a little longer than we thought to get everybody somewhat clicking on offense and to find the right formula with some of the younger guys.
“Hopefully, we can keep on hitting the ball like we did last weekend and Tuesday against Middle Tennessee. That’s a positive because the pitchers don’t have to walk a tight rope. If we score a few runs then our pitchers can go out and pitch loose and not have to worry about a one or two run game.”
Game times for the rest of the series are 4:05 and 6:35 Saturday and 3:05 Sunday. All times are CDT.