College baseball: Lipscomb's Smith locked into Friday night role

Friday, April 9, 2010 at 12:30am

With his team having lost twice as many games as it has won overall having dropped two of three in each of its first two Atlantic Sun Conference series’, Lipscomb coach Jeff Forehand decided to shuffle his starting rotation for this weekend’s series against Kennesaw State.

Make that part of the rotation. The top – senior Josh Smith – remains unchanged.

Smith has pitched complete games and struck out 15 in each of his last two starts. Both were victories – 9-4 against East Tennessee State and 5-3 over Illinois State.

“You never really go out there and think, ‘I’m going to strike out 15 guys two weeks in a row,’” Smith said. “You just go out there and try to make every pitch, take one pitch at a time and at the end of the game it’s just happened to work out for me.”

The first-year senior right-hander will see if he can make it three straight when the Bisons (10-20, 2-4 in the A-Sun) open a three-game series with Kennesaw State (13-18, 4-5), 6 p.m. Friday at Ken Dugan Field. Sophomore Davey Hackett and freshman Chris Nunn will start Games 2 and 3, which will be a Saturday doubleheader that starts at 1 p.m.

Hackett has been the No. 3 starter and Nunn has thrown just 15.2 innings in seven appearances.

Smith (5-1, 3.33 ERA) enters the weekend as the A-Sun’s leader in innings pitched (51.1) and second in strikeouts (59). His five wins are tied for the conference lead.

“I’ve been believing on each pitch, having the confidence that I can make the pitch in any location and trusting that my defense will make the plays,” Smith said. “I’m just going out there with confidence that it’s going to go my way.”

In fact, it’s been going much the same way it did in recent years when Rex Brothers was Lipscomb’s Friday night starter. Brothers was selected 34th overall by the Colorado Rockies in last June’s Major League Baseball draft.

“It’s an honor just to be mentioned as a Friday night guy,” Smith said. “When you think about a Friday night guy, you don’t get much better than Rex. He was up there as the best lefty in the country last year, and it was an honor just to play with him.

“This year it’s more of a challenge to step into that role and to be successful like he was.”

Southeastern Conference

• No. 20 Vanderbilt (25-6, 5-4) vs. No. 16 South Carolina (23-6, 7-2) – 6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Vanderbilt sophomore third baseman Jason Esposito had to home runs in a victory at Florida and has hit seven this season, already three more than he had in all of 2009.

Atlantic Sun Conference

• Belmont (16-15) at Arkansas-Little Rock (18-13) – 6 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday. Non-conference series.

Junior Derek Hamblen bated leadoff for the first time Wednesday and extended his current hitting streak to 18 games. His .362 batting average is second on the team.

TranSouth Athletic Conference

• Trevecca Nazarene (24-11, 4-2) vs. Cumberland (29-8, 4-2) – 2 p.m. Friday, noon Saturday (doubleheader).

First baseman Chris Hale had 10 hits (four extra-base hits), 10 runs and 11 RBIs last week as Trevecca went 5-0. This is a matchup of two of the three teams currently tied for first in the TranSouth Conference.

Sun Belt Conference

• Middle Tennessee State (18-11, 7-5) vs. Florida International (18-11, 5-4) – 6 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday, noon Sunday.

The Blue Raiders have allowed 10 runs or more in six of their last nine games.