Jackson, Tenn. - 4/11/2002 - The Union University baseball program is ranked No. 4 in the nation and has been in the top 10 for three straight weeks. For Union, this is the highest ranking since 2000 when the Bulldogs were No. 4 at the same point in the season. Union finished that year ranked No. 9. The last time Union was ranked higher than No. 4 was at the end of the 1983 season. This season, the Bulldogs are 31-11 and are sitting a top the TranSouth Conference standings with an 11-4 record.
Union began the season ranked No. 24 in the preseason polls and started off by winning their first 10 games. In that stretch, the Bulldogs defeated the No. 5, No. 7, and No. 9 teams at that time. Two of those, Auburn-Montgomery and St. Thomas are still in the top 10. Union is 9-4 versus NAIA Top 25 opponents, 6-2 vs. top 20 teams in the current polls. The Bulldogs have defeated No. 3 Auburn-Montgomery, No. 8 Flagler, No. 10 Faulkner, No. 17 Missouri Baptist, No. 22 Flagler, and have two wins apiece over No. 16 Spalding and No. 24 Lee. Union’s only Top 25 losses have come to Auburn-Montgomery, No. 18 Lambuth, and two losses to No. 24 Lee. Each of the four losses were by two runs or less in each of those games.
After Union’s hot start at 10-0, two key injuries hit Coach Rushing’s squad. Sophomore centerfielder, Joel Hysmith, and senior second baseman, Doug Taylor, both went down with injuries in the 11th game of the season. Union would lose that game and for the next 18 games, would play only .500 baseball at 9-9. During that stretch, Union had trouble scoring runs with their All-Conference leadoff hitter, Hysmith, on the bench. In those nine loses, four to top 25 opponents, Union averaged just over one run per game. Also early in the season, Union’s All-American pitcher Blake Allen underwent minor surgery and missed about three weeks of starts during that time.
However, since March 22, Union has all starters back and healthy, including Allen, who is back to almost full strength on the mound. Union has won 12 of their last 14 games, the only losses being 4-0 and 9-7 to NCAA Div. II opponent North Alabama. The Bulldogs have rattled off 12 straight wins versus NAIA opponents and seven in a row in the TranSouth Conference.
Union has three pitchers with six wins, one with four, and two more with three. Pitching Coach Brent Fronabarger says, “After our four starters, we have a deep bullpen that we haven’t had in recent years.” Fronabarger goes on to say, “Senior starters Talley and Washburn are showing great leadership by setting good examples to all the other pitchers. They don’t let the other guys slide at all. These guys give their all, even when they don’t have their best stuff. They give us a chance to win every time out.” Both Washburn and Talley are 6-2 on the season. Washburn, from McKenzie, Tennessee, leads the Bulldogs with a 2.58 ERA and has 56 strikeouts in 52.1 innings pitched. Talley, from Henderson, Tennessee, leads Union with 60 strikeouts and has a 3.94 ERA in 48.0 innings pitched. Freshman starter, Matt Gibbs, sports a 6-2 record with a 3.18 in 45.1 innings pitched. Jackson natives Nash Powell and Jeff Wyatt are having solid seasons in relief and spot starts. Powell has a 4-1 record with a 2.89 ERA and Wyatt has a 3-1 record with a 3.94 ERA. Wyatt has made 14 relief appearances this season for the Bulldogs and has three saves, team lead in both categories.
On the offensive side, Union has four players hitting over .350 including two guys over .400. Sophomore catcher Marc Glass is hitting .405 (30-74) with 17 RBI and Jackson State transfer Chip Briggs is hitting .400 with a team leading 56 hits. Briggs also has stolen 12 of 15 bases this season and has a team leading 20 walks. Two Jackson locals are also having outstanding seasons at the plate. Junior catcher/first baseman Roger Cook is hitting .394 14 doubles, four homeruns, and 38 RBI. His 14 doubles is leading the team. Senior third baseman and relief pitcher Jeff Wyatt is at .385 with 11 double, five triples, seven homeruns, and 41 RBI. Wyatt’s triples and RBI total are good for the team lead in each category.
This year’s squad seems to have put it all together for the time being. As a team, the Bulldogs are hitting .328 and have a team ERA of 3.55. This might be the time for Union to emerge and not only make the NAIA Region XI Tournament for the fourth straight season, but to advance into the sub-regions and world series for the first time since the 1983 season.
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