SPARTANBURG, S.C. - The USC Upstate baseball team and Kennesaw State are no strangers to each other. Kennesaw State coach Mike Sansing and Upstate coach Matt Fincher have competed against each other for nearly all of their 32 combined years as head coaches. There were only three years the two squads have not met since 1995, as Kennesaw State's baseball program moved to Division I in 2005 and Upstate made the move in 2008. While Kennesaw State holds a 35-7 lead in the all-time series, the Spartans have won a game in the series in each of the last two years, and the Spartans' starting duo of senior Matt Branham and junior Philip Brannon are each hot right now, helping Upstate's confidence as it looks for its first series win in school history against the Owls this weekend in a three-game A-Sun set at Harley Park.
• Friday night's game is the 200th for USC Upstate in the seven-year history of Harley Park ... The Spartans have won 111 games (56 percent) in the friendly confines.
• Senior Jimmy Tanner has started 137 consecutive games for the Spartans since not finding his name in the lineup for the second game of a doubleheader at UNF on March 22, 2008 ... Tanner's streak is the longest since Chris Nowak started all 161 games in his three-year career from 2002-04.
• Senior Jimmy Tanner needs 10 hits in his final five games to tie Brad Wingo's single-season school record of 83 hits, set in 2006.
• Senior Matt Branham is currently second in school history with 248 career strikeouts, just 13 away from the school-record of 261 set by Scott Eckard (2005-08) ... Branham needs 12 more strikeouts to tie his own school-record of 82 strikeouts set as a junior in 2009.
• In his last 24 1/3 innings, junior Philip Brannon has compiled an impressive 2.22 ERA and quality starts against hot-hitting Campbell, Mercer and Stetson, posting a 2-1 record ... He has struck out 13 and walked seven during the stretch.
• Redshirt sophomore Tyler Cook became the first player in school history to earn ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District honors in school history, earning First Team honors.
• Sophomore Austin Liput is currently on a career-high 10-game hitting streak, hitting .333 (13-for-39) with five runs in that time.
• The Spartans lead the A-Sun with 19 triples this year ... Freshman Gaither Bumgardner and freshman Brody Greer are both tied for third with four three-baggers.
• Senior Tyler Oliver is currently tied for fourth in school history with eight career saves and his five saves this season are tied for sixth ... His five saves this season are also the D-I era record.
• The Spartans have come-from-behind for wins in nine of their 16 victories, falling behind at some point in the game before coming back to win ... The team also has three walk-off wins.
As if losing two seasons to shoulder injuries and then rebound to throw more than 60 innings already this year wasn't enough, junior Philip Brannon has taken his comeback one step further late this season after the worst start of his career, allowing 12 runs at North Florida on April 10. Since throwing five outs of scoreless relief in an 11-10 win over the College of Charleston on April 13, Brannon has regained the form that made him finish his freshman year at Spartanburg Methodist College with a 6-0 record. He tossed seven innings each against Campbell and Mercer, allowing two runs in each outing against the high-powered offenses and he even picked up his first career save by tossing the last two outs in the first game of the doubleheader against Mercer on April 24, striking out Jacob Tanis, the nation's leading home run hitter, to end the game. Against Stetson, he tossed seven innings again to earn the win and stayed composed while giving up just one earned run and six unearned runs. He tied a career high with six strikeouts in the game. In all, Brannon has a 2-1 record with one save in his last 24 1/3 innings, allowing just six earned runs for a 2.22 ERA. He has struck out 13 and allowed seven walks in that time.
Cook Earns Academic All-District Honors
Thanks to sitting second on the USC Upstate baseball team in batting average (.317) homers (three) and RBI (27), all while maintaining a 3.82 GPA as a business management major, sophomore Tyler Cook has earned ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District 3 First Team University Division honors, CoSIDA announced on May 6. Cook is the first baseball player in school history to earn First Team CoSIDA All-District honors and he is the fourth Upstate student-athlete to earn University Division First Team honors, joining men's basketball players Luke Payne `08 and Nick Schnieders `10 and women's tennis player Diana Martinez `08.
Cook, after hitting .176 as a redshirt freshman, has come to life as a sophomore in Upstate's lineup. The 6-2 Bloomington, Illinois, native led Upstate in just about every offensive category before missing two weeks due to a hand injury. He came back to the lineup by going 2-for-4 with two RBI against the College of Charleston on April 13 and then added two runs against UNC Asheville. Cook currently leads the team with 30 runs scored and he has also posted eight doubles and two triples. Cook, who didn't even drive in a run as a freshman, has driven in multiple runners in a team-high seven games and he also is third on the team with 15 multiple-hit games.
The K Zone
Senior Matt Branham has made leap after leap in his strikeouts during his career at USC Upstate, jumping from 39 strikeouts as a freshman to 57 as a sophomore before sitting down a school-record 82 as a junior. Now, Branham needs to break his own school record for single-season strikeouts to set the school record in career punchouts, needing 13 more strikeouts this season to reach the mark after punching out 70 in his first 12 outings. With his first strikeout against FGCU on March 12, Branham passed Brandon Williams (2003-06) for second in school history with 202 career strikeouts.
Branham, who has struck out 248 batters in his career, has also reached the top 10 in several other categories, including games started (2nd, 49), innings pitched (2nd, 301.2), shutouts (3rd, 1), lowest ERA (7th, 4.06), and wins (6th, 15).