13. LANDER BEARCATS (35-16)

LANDER BEARCATS (35-16)
The Bearcats had one of the strongest starts to the season last year, punctuated by sweeping the reigning national champion West Chester Golden Rams the second week of the year. However a late season swoon doomed the Bearcats who also went 1-2 in the Peach Belt Tournament and had their season end without an invite to the NCAAs despite being highly ranked the majority of the season. Head Coach Kermit Smith will field another competitive team this season; however unlike last year the Bearcats final out won’t likely occur outside of the regionals and could possibly take place in Cary, North Carolina.

Lander returns its leading hitter in Patrick Grady who was voted to the NCBWA and Daktronics All American teams. Grady led the team with a .380 average and posted a .536 slugging percentage with 13 stole bases and earned All PBC honors for the second year in a row. Connor Lewis, who hit .340 with a team leading eight home runs and paced the club with 60 RBI will also be back in the middle of the lineup. Impressively, Lewis made tremendous strides over the offseason and Coach Smith believes that the talented slugger could also be the Bearcats’ most improved player headed into 2014. Also back on the diamond will be Graham Ramos who batted .326 with 32 extra base hits and topped the team in total bases.

If pitching wins championships, then the Bearcats should be in a good position to contend. Dylan Wolchick went 10-1 last season with a 2.71 ERA and Logan Pemberton was 7-1 with a 3.38 ERA and 50 K’s in just 53.1 innings on the mound. They’ll be rejoined by Chess Malone who was 8-4 with a 4.12 ERA and paced the team with 98.1 innings to give the team three experienced starters.  Kyle Tate and Ryan Jones give the team depth in the bullpen as the pair combined for over 80 innings. Each will be counted upon to get the final outs and if either can elevate their game to be a dominating closer LU could have the final piece of the championship puzzle. Taylor Alvarez, a transfer from the College of Charleston, could also be a major contributor this spring after impressing in limited action last year as he had a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 innings for the Cougars.