GREENWOOD – Jason Burke, a Palmetto State native who has spent the majority of his 11-year coaching career in the Carolinas, has been named the sixth head baseball coach in Lander University history, Interim Athletic Director Les Robinson announced today.
"My family and I are extremely excited to get to Greenwood and to get started," Burke said. "We're just honored and blessed to have this opportunity. Lander is such a great baseball program and such a great school and to be named the head coach here is definitely an honor.
"I know the baseball program is in top-notch shape, all the way from when it was started with Rusty Stroupe, and obviously Kermit Smith did a phenomenal job not only progressing this program but also taking it to the national championship level. It's an honor to follow those guys."
Burke takes over a Bearcat program that advanced to the College World Series in 2014 and 2016. Lander had a school-record four players selected in this year's Major League Baseball draft.
"Our baseball program at Lander University has enjoyed a high level of success on and off the field for several years, and sometimes with those levels of success comes turnover," Robinson said. "After Kermit Smith left for Appalachian State in mid-July and Britt Johnson left for Appalachian State in early August, we started the process of finding the right coach to lead our program with a very tight window of time before school began.
"We are pleased to announce that Jason Burke, who previously served as the pitching coach at Wofford College, has agreed to take over our program and he is excited about the challenge of working with one of the top baseball programs in all of Division II. Jason is a high-energy guy with a true passion for developing young men on and off the field. Our search committee was very impressed with his vision for the future of Lander baseball. We are proud to welcome Jason, his wife Ansley and their son Sullivan to our Bearcat family."
Burke spent the past five seasons as the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Wofford College. During his time with the Terriers, five Wofford pitchers were selected in the Major League Baseball draft and three were chosen to the All-Southern Conference team. Prior to his time at Wofford, Burke spent four seasons on the staff at Gardner-Webb under former Lander head coach Rusty Stroupe. Burke played for Stroupe at Lander in 2001. The former Bearcat player spent the 2006-07 seasons as an assistant at Wofford.
"As a committee, we were impressed with Jason and his charismatic approach to the game," said Associate Athletic Director Kevin Pederson, who headed the search committee. "Jason has done an outstanding job as the pitching coach at Wofford and we feel like he has a lot to offer our players at Lander."
Last season, the Terriers won 30 games, marking the program's third consecutive year with 30 or more wins. Wofford finished the 2016 season 12-12 in the Southern Conference, just the second .500 or better mark in league play for the Terriers. The pitching staff ranked second in the SoCon with 470 strikeouts, while finishing fourth in ERA, fifth in opponent's batting average and sixth in innings pitched. Senior Matt Milburn led the league in strikeouts with 103 and was named second team All-Southern Conference as a starter by the coaches and media. Senior Will Stillman earned second team honors as relief pitcher by the media after leading the conference in saves. Following the season, Stillman was selected in the sixth round of the MLB Draft by Philadelphia and Milburn was a 29th round pick by the Oakland A's. Stillman was the highest draft pick from Wofford since the 1983 season.
In 2015, Wofford won a school-record 39 games as the pitching staff recorded 503 strikeouts in 532.0 innings. The 503 strikeouts were the second-most in the Southern Conference, while the staff ERA of 4.91 was third in the league. The 4.91 ERA marked only the second time in the last 30 seasons at Wofford that a staff has posted an ERA under 5.00.
Junior Matt Milburn was named to the All-Southern Conference first team, while junior Will Stillman was named to the second team. Freshman Adam Scott was selected to the Southern Conference All-Tournament Team along with the All-Freshman Team. Milburn led the league in wins with 10 and was fifth in the conference with 87 strikeouts. Scott was third in the SoCon in ERA at 3.68 and his complete game shutout of Furman in the conference tournament eliminated the Paladins.
For the first time in school history, two players - both pitchers - were selected in the MLB Draft in 2015. The Philadelphia Phillies selected junior Luke Leftwich in the seventh round, the highest pick of a Terrier since 2007. Leftwich had 114 strikeouts on the season, second-most in a single season in school history. Junior Will Stillman was a 29th round selection by the Boston Red Sox after posting a school-record 15 saves.
In Burke's third season as pitching coach, his staff led the Southern Conference in strikeouts with 496 while posting a school-record 32 wins. The 496 strikeouts were the most in school history, while the 533.1 innings pitched were the second-most. Among the national leaders, the Terriers were seventh in the nation in strikeouts per nine innings (8.4). Jesse Morris was second in the SoCon with nine wins and fourth in strikeouts with 84. Morris ended his career third in school history with 253 strikeouts. Eric Eck was fourth in the league in saves with a school-record twelve and tied for second in the Southern Conference record book with 29 career saves. Will Stillman was fifth in the SoCon in appearances.
In the 2013 season, the pitching staff was fourth in the Southern Conference in strikeouts with 448, topping the school-record set in 2012. Jesse Morris had 102 strikeouts, becoming only the fourth player in school history to break the century mark. Will Stillman was named to the Southern Conference All-Freshman Team. Pitcher J.D. Osborne was selected in the 36th round of the MLB Draft by the Houston Astros.
During Burke's first season back at Wofford, Brandon Yarusi was named second team All-Southern Conference with 107 strikeouts, the most in the Division I-era. The pitching staff's combined earned run average was 4.79, the lowest for a Wofford squad since 1983. The 416 strikeouts set a school record, while the opponent's batting average of .255 was the lowest in the Division I-era. Pitcher Alex Wilson was drafted in the 15th round by the Atlanta Braves.
In 2011, Gardner-Webb advanced to the Big South Conference Tournament championship game. The school finished with a top-100 RPI for the first time in program history. The 34-23-1 record marked the program's best season at the Division I level. Burke helped develop a strong bullpen that allowed Gardner-Webb to tie the school record for saves in a season with 16.
Prior to joining Gardner-Webb, the Duncan, S.C., native helped lead Wofford to the 2007 Southern Conference Tournament title and an appearance in the 2007 NCAA Regional at the University of South Carolina. Burke served as head coach in 2008 for the Hornell Dodgers of the New York Collegiate League, and was named Southern Collegiate Baseball League Coach of the Year in 2006 after directing the Morganton (N.C.) Aggies to the summer circuit's championship.
The Byrnes High graduate also has wooden-bat coaching experience with the Carolina Chaos (SCBL), and has served in a variety of coaching roles on the high school and American Legion levels.
Burke began his college playing career at Lander and finished at Southern Wesleyan University, where he graduated in 2004. He also completed a master's degree at Gardner-Webb in Sport Science and Pedagogy. He and his wife, Ansley, have one son, Sullivan.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT BURKE
"I have known Jason for quite a while now. He worked my camp for several years and I coached against him in a couple of different spots, most recently at Wofford. I've always known him to have high energy. He's very enthusiastic, very passionate about what he's doing and he's very knowledgeable. He has an infectious personality. When he was around, whether it was at camp or when we were playing against him, I could tell the campers and players enjoyed him and certainly all the coaches he came in contact with did as well. He's developed some great relationships and a lot of that's due to the fact that he has a great personality and a great way about him. I think Lander's going to be very happy with him."
-Jack Leggett, former head coach at Clemson University
"We're extremely excited for him. I know what his aspirations have been and Lander has always been a place that he's spoke fondly of and a place he had a great experience, so I know what it means for him to be Lander's next head coach. We're just tremendously excited for him and his family for this great opportunity. Obviously, we're sad to see him go. I'm going to miss him as our pitching coach, I'm going to miss him as our recruiting coordinator, but I'm going to miss him more as a friend. He's a man of extremely high character. The players are going to love him. He has a way of connecting with college baseball players I've never seen. He just has such great relationships with everybody and he's extremely personable. It was a slam-dunk hire for Lander, in my opinion.
-Todd Interdonato, Head Baseball Coach at Wofford College