The University of Lynchburg baseball team will always be able to say that in 2023, it was the Old Dominion Athletic Conference regular-season champion and tournament champion.
But the ODAC team that’s going to be remembered by followers of the conference for years to come is the one that can win two games this weekend.
Shenandoah University — ranked third in the D3baseball.com poll — will travel to No. 6 Lynchburg for an NCAA Division III Super Regional that will take place Friday and Saturday. Game 1 of the best-of-three series will take place at noon on Friday. Game 2 will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday. If Game 3 is needed, it will start at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Of the 16 teams that advanced to Super Regionals, SU is one of only two that lost its opening game, then won four straight elimination games to win its regional.
The winners of the eight Super Regional series will advance to the NCAA Division III College World Series in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. No ODAC team has made it since Randolph-Macon earned the conference’s third all-time berth in 2018. SU made the World Series in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010 as a member of the USA South Conference.
The Lynchburg Hornets (41-7) are 3-1 against the Shenandoah Hornets (42-8) this year, including a 2-0 mark in the ODAC Tournament two weeks ago that featured 13-5 and 11-9 wins. Previously, Lynchburg came to Bridgeforth Stadium on April 23 and beat SU 3-2 in 10 innings in Game 1 and lost 6-4 in Game 2.
SU coach Kevin Anderson, in his 20th season, said he has a lot of respect for Lynchburg, one of nine NCAA Tournament teams and three Super Regional teams (No. 2 Salisbury and Misericordia are the others) that SU has played this year.
“They execute their plan offensively,” Anderson said. “They have three outstanding [starting pitchers] who are going to be 88 to 91 [miles per hour] with plus breaking balls. They have good middle relief. And the [ODAC] Pitcher of the Year is their closer. They play real good outfield defense and they’re solid behind the plate. They have no weaknesses. They’re one of the best teams we’ve played all year.”
The ODAC Pitcher of the Year is senior Jack Bachmore, the star of a pitching staff that ranks third in the country in ERA (3.23).
Bachmore has appeared in 25 of Lynchburg’s 48 games, and he’s made those appearances count with an 8-1 record and an ODAC-high 11 saves. In 71.1 innings, the left-hander has an ODAC-best 1.64 ERA with 85 strikeouts and 22 walks.
Some impressive performances against SU are part of those stats. He pitched 3.1 innings of two-hit, shutout relief in the win at Bridgeforth and earned a three-inning save in the ODAC championship game, though SU did get six hits, a walk and a run against him.
Bachmore is coming off a huge performance at the N.C. Wesleyan Regional. He pitched 1.2 shutout innings to close out Lynchburg’s 2-1, 10-inning win in the opener against Lebanon Valley. Then in the winner-takes-all championship game, he made his first start of the year and went six innings, allowing three earned runs, five hits and three walks while striking out nine batters in a 5-3 win over Lebanon Valley.
Anderson said Bachmore throws in the mid-80s, but it’s his curveball that truly makes a difference.
“It has tremendous spin rate and depth on it, and it just falls right down off the table,” Anderson said. “It’s completely different than any breaking ball we have seen all year. When it is on, it’s a Major League curveball.”
Zack Potts headlines Lynchburg’s starting pitchers. He’s 10-0 with a 2.30 ERA and 85 strikeouts and 23 walks in 98 innings, and he came in to get the last two outs of the championship win against Lebanon Valley after he tossed 8.1 innings of one-run ball in the 2-1 win in the opener.
SU did not see Potts in the ODAC Tournament, but he pitched 6.2 innings in a 3-2 win against SU in April and allowed two runs, eight hits and two walks and struck out three batters.
“What an intense competitor he is,” Anderson said. “He locates his fastball on both sides of the plate. He can throw a changeup to right-handed and left-handed hitters. He has an extremely tight slider that he has the ability to get ahead with, and then he can get a little extra, expand the zone and strike you out with it.”
Brandon Pond (2.85 ERA, 4-1, 44 strikeouts and 18 walks in 41 innings) is another starter for Lynchburg. Coming off Tommy John surgery, he was the ODAC Pitcher of the Year in 2021. SU did not see Pond in April but fared decently against the right-hander in the ODAC Tournament, with Pond departing after 4.2 innings after giving up three runs (all earned), four hits and four walks and striking out eight batters.
Senior Wesley Arrington (6-2, 4.43 ERA, 73 strikeouts and 21 walks in 69 innings) is another hard-throwing righty who has struggled in two starts against SU, allowing 11 earned runs, nine hits and six walks while striking out 10 batters in 9.2 innings.
SU leads the ODAC in batting average (.333) and on-base percentage (.420) and is second in slugging (.485).
SU’s offense is led by senior right fielder Gavin Horning (seven home runs, ODAC-high 59 RBIs, .414 batting average, 21 stolen bases), Sherando graduates and graduate students Pearce Bucher (.349, 46 RBIs), a first baseman, and Frankie Ritter (.341, 30 RBIs, 20 stolen bases), a shortstop, and junior designated hitter Colby Martin (.398, six home runs, 50 RBIs, ODAC-high 33 stolen bases). Center fielder and Mountain View Christian graduate Kooper Anderson is hitting .349 with 38 RBIs and 16 stolen bases and is coming off a Most Outstanding Player performance at the Winchester Regional in which he hit .500 (11 for 22) with nine RBIs in five games.
SU also got a big performance from catcher Brody Pickette in the regional. With Tyler Blittersdorf, who is still dealing with an injury, limited to two games, Pickette saw action in all five contests and hit .363 (4 for 11) with one home run, a double, three RBIs and two runs. Pickette came into the tournament batting .111 (3 for 27) with two RBIs.
“Brody, that was a huge bonus for us,” Anderson said. “Brody really stepped up in regionals.”
Lynchburg ranks sixth in the ODAC in batting (.298) and slugging (.430) but ranks second in OBP (.417). Lynchburg is led by senior outfielder Avery Neaves (.305, seven home runs, 52 RBIs, 24 stolen bases). Three other players have more than 30 RBIs.
“Neaves is a dual threat,” Anderson said. “He can hit for average and power and he leads their team in stolen bases. He’s a really good left fielder and plays the game the right way.”
Anderson said on Wednesday that SU would not decide on its starting rotation for the series until after Thursday’s practice. In the Winchester Regional, Anderson went with Jacob Bell (2.42 ERA, 8-1, 66 strikeouts, 20 walks in 81.2 innings) in Game 1, Jacob Faivre (3.66 ERA, 7-1, 92 strikeouts, 41 walks in 78.2 innings) in Game 2 and Michael Prosperi (4.82 ERA, 1-0, 15 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28 innings) in Game 3.
Of the three, Faivre is the only one who’s pitched against Lynchburg. He pitched six innings and allowed two runs (both earned), six hits and one walk while striking out eight batters against the Hornets in April. But in the ODAC Tournament, he was roughed up for seven runs (all earned), eight hits and one walk while striking out three batters in 3.1 innings.
It obviously took great effort from the players to get SU two wins from the College World Series, but also the coaches. Anderson praised his coaching staff at length after the second of two wins over Christopher Newport on Sunday at Bridgeforth Stadium.
Former SU player Wyatt Potter is in charge of the catchers and serves as the first base coach in games; former SU player Nick Sborz is the pitching coordinator and the head coach for the developmental program; James Wood graduate Matthew Copley is the pitching coach; associate head coach Bruce Cameron is the hitting instructor and outfield coach; and Chris Jenkins works with the corner infielders, assists with hitting, and is the assistant developmental coach.
“I really appreciate their loyalty, knowledge of the game, their interactions with our young men,” Anderson said. “All the coaches take great pride in their position. It’s a very cohesive staff. The way they do it, they are the head coach at their position. I just work with them a little bit on how we want to get it done. As a head coach, you’re only as good as your assistants. I’m very fortunate to have them. They take a lot of pride in their work.”
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