Dayton, Tenn. – On Tuesday, May 16, the Bryan College Lions Baseball Team took to the field for the last time of the 2017 season after they fought off elimination in the day's opening game of the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round – Bartlettsville Bracket against No. 5 seed St. Ambrose University with a 12-2 final but eventually fell to No. 3 seed Midland University (Neb.) in a 20-10 slug fest.
Prior to traveling to Bartlettsville, Okla. where No. 1 seed Oklahoma Wesleyan University hosted Bryan for opening round action, the Lions fought their way through an extremely challenging schedule. Despite falling in the Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament sooner than anticipated, the Lions managed to piece together an impressive 35-16 overall regular-season record and went 17-10 in AAC play, which was good enough to earn their first-ever at-large bid for the National Tournament.
When the 2017 NAIA Baseball Coaches' Preseason Top 25 Poll was released, Bryan missed the cut but was receiving votes. Instead of getting their heads down, the Lions went to work and stole a pair of games against University of Rio Grande (Ohio), who was receiving votes, and then two games from 9th ranked Missouri Baptist University. The next series, Bryan hosted Madonna University (Mich.) and captured the series 3-1. Their loss to the Crusaders on Feb. 17 would be the last time Bryan would come up short until Mar. 17 in a home series versus then 10th ranked conference rival Tennessee Wesleyan University. Through the end of February and beginning of March, the Lions battled their way to a 16-game win streak. Other highlights in the final month of the regular-season included a 5-0 blanking of then 6th ranked Georgia Gwinnett College, notched 20 runs in a victory at Martin Methodist College (Tenn.), and strung together six consecutive wins mid-April. When poll No. 1 was announced on Mar. 7, Bryan jumped to the 14th spot and defended a place in the top-25 poll until the final poll was released on May 2, where the Lions fell back to receiving votes.
In one of their most impressive seasons at the plate, Bryan had numerous individual and team records broken. The Lions compiled 91 homeruns, which shatters the previous mark set at 63 in both the 2012 and 2010 seasons. Their 19 triples tops their 17 totaled in 2011, and their 118 doubles slides in at the No. 2 spot in the record book behind the 121 produced in 2014. The team's 603 hits are 2nd best in program history, .332 batting average ranks 2nd, and .568 slugging percentage outperforms the 2011 bar set at .499. The 457 runs scored and 419 runs batted in are also the new mark that future teams will aim at topping.
Justin Morhardt (JR/Winsted, Conn.), a native of Winsted, Conn., sits atop the list of best batting average in a season after hitting .439 this year, and now holds the record for most hits in a season with 86, sending Cody Rhinehart's and Grant Zawadski's 85 collected in 2014 to No. 2. He accomplished the feat while only getting just under 200 at bats. He ranks 3rd in doubles with 20, tied for 4th with 12 homers, drove in 51 runs for 9th, and proved enough of a threat to be walked a whopping 47 times, which is the 2nd most in program history. His slugged .724 to claim the No. 4 spot on the list. He had the best batting average in conference this season, came in 4th in slugging percentage, 1st in hits and hits per game (1.48), 9th in RBI's, 1st in doubles, tied for 8th in hits that traveled over the fence, 5th in total bases, and 1st in on base percentage (.551). Not only did he impress in the AAC, but he also gained national attention by ranking 12th in the country in batting average, 15th in total hits, 30th in doubles and slugging percentage, 34th in total bases, and 36th in hits per game.
If Morhardt hadn't connected for as many hits as he did, teammate Trevor Behrent (JR/Catawissa, Pa.) would have been Bryan's record holder for most hits in a season after he yielded 79 in his 205 at bats, giving him a .385 average on the year. He also used his speed to score 57 runs, which ties him for 4th along with Tyler Latham from 2012 and Preston King from 2015. He cracked 19 doubles, which is 4th best among fellow Lions, tied for 4th in homeruns, and registered 67 RBI's for the No. 2 position in the record book just behind Preston King's 68 in 2015. He ranked 23 nationally in total runs batted in, 36th in RBI's per game, and led the AAC in the RBI's column.
The past record for homeruns was 13, and not only did Lake Burris (SO/Chatsworth, Ga.) surpass the previous performances set by Drew Friedrich in 2007 and Preston King in 2015, but he belted his 13th deep shot on Apr. 8, leaving 11 games in the regular season to not only outshine the record but take it to a whole other level. He went on to hit five more jacks before the regular season wrapped up and tacked on one more in Bryan's meeting with Indiana Tech in the opening round to end with a staggering 19 homers, which was 12th best in the nation. Burris batted .299, slugged .667, scored 41 runs, had 53 hits with eight that went for doubles, and recorded 55 RBI's.
Once again, if it weren't for one Lion overwhelmingly breaking the record, Wade Weinburger (FR/James Cistern, Bahamas) would have had the title of homerun record holder as he launched 18 homeruns with only one being hit in postseason. Weinburger had an unbelievable year as he was 76-of-205 for a .371 average. His 14 doubles, five triples, and 18 homeruns reflected a .751 slugging percentage, which is now the best of any Lion in history. Along with ranking 2nd in most homeruns in a season, he also tied for 2nd in triples. His total hits puts him just outside of the top-5, he's tied for 4th in RBI's with 59, and he will go down in history as a scoring machine with 71 times that he traveled all the way around the bases for. The scorer from James Cistern, Bahamas is only a freshman, which leaves us to wonder what else he may do in the years to come. He led the conference in both total runs scored and runs scored per game (1.22). In the NAIA, he ranked 11th in total runs scored, 15th in total bases, 16th in runs scored per game, 18th in slugging percentage, 19th in homeruns, and 27th in triples.
Fernando Garcia (JR/Kissimmee, Fla.) made his mark in Bryan Baseball history as he tied Chris Jeffries' 2015 showing of six triples, and he also went on to average .350, slug .558, tally 72 hits with 13 being doubles, six homeruns, and plate 42 runs. CJ Owens (SR/Oakland, Calif.) matched the previous homerun mark of 13, batted .309, corralled 36 runs, and scored 21 runs himself. Serving strictly as a pinch runner, Prentice Young (SR/Oak Ridge, Tenn.) proved to be an expert base runner as he sprinted and stole his way to 56 runs scored, which is 5th best in program history. He finished with 26 stolen bags to make the top-10 in Lion's history and lead the AAC this season. Kila Zuttermeister (JR/Kailua, HI) was another key player for Bryan this year as he delivered 64 hits and 46 runs scored, which put him just outside of the top-10 in both categories amongst other Lions.
On the mound, senior Chad Burrows (SR/Nassau, Bahamas) was a consistent go-to man who saw 72.1 innings over the span of 23 games while owning a 3.36 ERA with an 11-1 record. To go along with his wins, he also secured seven saves. Burrows goes down in history tied for 3rd in saves, 2nd in wins, 8th in opponent's batting average (.234), and 6th in strikeouts (70). He was this season's leader in the AAC in both the wins and saves categories, ranked 7th in the country in wins, and came in 23rd in the NAIA in saves.
In a tough conference, Bryan was the leader in batting average, slugging percentage, total runs scored, runs scored per game (7.88), hits per game (10.4), total runs batted in, RBI's per game (7.22), doubles per game (2.03), triples, triples per game (0.33), homeruns per game (1.57), stolen bases (112), and stolen bases per game (1.93). The Lions trailed the Bulldogs of Tennessee Wesleyan in only total hits, total doubles, and total homeruns. On the national level, Bryan ranked 3rd in homeruns per game, 4th in slugging percentage, 4th in total homeruns, 15th in total RBI's, 15th in RBI's per game, 15th in batting average, 17th in runs scored per game, 17th in total stolen bases, 18th in total triples, 18th in total runs scored, 20th in total hits, 21st in steal attempts per game, 22nd in hits per game, 22nd in stolen bases per game, 22nd in total doubles, 28th in triples per game, and 29th in doubles per game.