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ANDREW MACKE | INDEX-JOURNAL

Lander closer Brandon White fires a pitch earlier this year.


CARY, N.C. -- Brandon White exemplified much of the Lander University baseball team's struggles last season.

In 2014, White was named the Peach Belt Conference freshman of the year after going 4-2 with 12 saves and a 0.89 earned run average. And with White anchoring the back end of the bullpen, Lander rampaged to a 52-9 record with the program's first-ever College World Series appearance.

A year later, Lander did not even make the postseason after finishing the regular season 22-26. And White struggled moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation and back to the bullpen. He finished his sophomore season with a 2-4 record, one save and a 6.80 ERA.

As bad as the season was, though, White admitted that he and the Bearcats would not be where they are now without it.

"I think last year is the reason we're here," White said. "We have 11 seniors that aren't guaranteed to play any more baseball. Everyone figured out how bad last year actually sucked. It was just the worst thing ever and no one liked baseball at that time.

"When you come back in on that first day on Sept. 4, and everyone's ready to work to get to Cary, it's definitely the reason we're here. For sure."

Lander is back in the College World Series, preparing for a winner's bracket game with Nova Southeastern tonight after an opening win over Central Missouri on Saturday. And White is back to his 2014 form as one of the best closers in the nation.

White currently has a 4-2 record with 13 saves and a 1.21 ERA. He was a semifinalist for the Brett Tomko award as the best pitcher in Division II and an All-Southeast region selection.

He credits a lot of his turnaround to last year.

White began last year in his familiar closer role, but Lander struggled to find consistent starters from the beginning of the season. During the team's second Peach Belt series, White was moved to the starting rotation. His first start, he tossed five shutout innings with just three hits and seven strikeouts.

He won his second start, too. White gave two runs over 7 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts against Young Harris.

White did not win again. He lost two of his next three starts and was moved back to the bullpen.

"It was something I felt like had to be done last year," White said. "Our pitching wasn't the best at that time, and I came back and decided to start. It worked out the first couple times, then we went down to Armstrong and it didn't. And I got moved back to the bullpen.

"It was good at the time, but then people started to figure out what I was doing as a starter. My stuff last year was not good enough to be a starter yet."

Learning that his stuff was not good enough as a starter was humbling for White, always a confident pitcher. He also learned that the Peach Belt was too good of a conference to rely on one pitch. White's slider has always been devastating, but as a sophomore, he had little confidence in his fastball and no confidence in his curveball, a pitch he never threw as a sophomore.

But, getting knocked around made him realize he needed to develop his full arsenal, whether he was starting or closing. And, his summer league coach for the Lexington County Blowfish forced that development.

"Coach (Jonathan Johnson) told me I was only allowed to throw three sliders the whole entire summer, and that's my money-maker pitch," White said. "So, I learned how to throw my fastball and curveball. That's definitely helped me out a lot. I have a lot more confidence in my fastball and in my curveball and don't have to just throw slider, slider, slider, slider.

"Sometimes we still do, because it's a good pitch, but now it's something I can mix in."

White has added more than just pitches this year, too. During the last two summers, he has helped coached his brother's teams, serving as a base coach. During Lander's all intrasquad scrimmages, White occupied the third-base box for his team, preferring being in on the action than sitting on the bench.

When this year got underway, coach Kermit Smith tabbed White as the first-base coach, at least until he needs to loosen up to close out a win.

"It makes me definitely think more about the hitting aspect of the game," White said. "It's definitely a lot different out there whether it's 100 feet or three feet away from the dugout. It keeps me in the game a little longer. Instead of getting my mind ready in the seventh, I have to be ready in the first.

"It helps out a lot, just learning how the game is flowing, hearing what's going on. And I talk to the umpires a lot, too, just get to know them, and that helps me understand the game more, too."

It has all helped White dominate the end of games once again. Entering Saturday's World Series game White had not blown a save, converting all of his save opportunities into saves and Bearcat wins.

He faltered against Central Missouri on Saturday, giving up a run in the ninth as the Mules tied the game at 3-3. But, his teammates backed him up, scoring in the bottom of the inning to give White the win.

"I love (closing)," White said. "This year is a lot better than last year, as anyone knows. When you have five guys who can start at any time during the weekend, it's just nice to have my spot solidified in the bullpen. And I feel like our team trusts me back there, and that's something that means a lot.

"I know I messed up the other night, but when you've got guys who can come back and win the game in the ninth even when you give up the lead, it's unbelievable."