April 28, 2010
Columbus, Ga. - There is no doubt in Matt Larry's mind as to which baseball team might be the dark horse at the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament.
All the Shorter College head coach needs to do is to look around him.
After capping the regular season with a much-needed win over No. 16-ranked Faulkner University, the sixth-seeded Hawks will take momentum and confidence into postseason play when they open the 2010 SSAC Tourney against No. 3-seed and 18th-ranked Southern Poly in a first-round game on Thursday at 1 p.m. at Golden Park Complex in Columbus, Ga.
"The way I look at it is that we're the biggest threat in this tournament and the teams know it," said Larry. "We feel we're right there with the teams above us. I'm looking forward to it and hope we can make the run we've been looking for."
While the Hawks take a 23-30 slate into the tournament against the 45-9 Hornets, Shorter realizes that the record is a far cry from just how successful the season has been.
11 of the team's losses were decided by a single run, a statistic that Larry and the Hawks understand must be changed as they start the tourney.
"We've got to find a way to win those games," said Larry. "The effort's been there. We just don't seem to be getting any luck, but the guys are still playing hard."
The team's hard work throughout the year paid off when it counted in the Hawks' 10-6 regular-season finale victory over Faulkner, which is the No. 2 seed in the tourney behind top-seeded Lee.
"We've got the confidence back and it shows we can do it," Larry said.
Shorter's balance and depth has been on display as of late as well, and the Hawks will rely on several talented hitters as they gear up for the double-elimination tournament.
Junior Matt Johnson enters the tourney leading the SSAC in batting with a phenomenal .441 average and leads Shorter in doubles (20) and RBI (51).
Senior Shannon Houston, who has eight of Shorter's 22 home runs this season, provides the power and is hitting .326 with 13 doubles and 48 runs batted in.
Then there's the threat from sophomore switch-hitter Kurtis Robinson, one of three Hawks with at least 40 RBI who is batting .351, second best on the squad, with 10 doubles and five home runs.
"We have been hitting the ball well," said Larry, who also noted that Scott Morris, Joseph Brooks and Clint Harkins showed signs of being bat-ready last week against Faulkner. "Our Achilles heel has been holding on to the lead."
Shorter's pitching staff has certainly put the Hawks in position to win during the regular season and Larry is confident that the team's mound corps can continue the trend with junior Tim Day serving as the ace.
Day carries a 7-3 record and a 4.37 ERA into the tournament with his most recent win coming in Shorter's decision over Faulkner - one of three nationally-ranked SSAC teams that tasted defeat at the hands of the Australian hurler.
Day also registered wins over No. 23 Brewton-Parker and led the Hawks to a win over a Southern Poly team that was at the time ranked No. 4 in the nation.
Larry and his coaching staff, however, are looking at all the options and possibilities at how to use their pitchers. As of Wednesday, they were not certain that Day would get the start in the SSAC tourney opener.
"We've got three or four guys we can throw out there," Larry said about the Hawks' rotation. "We've got two games to play for sure, but you've got to win that first game. You can't hold anything back."
Should the Hawks knock off Southern Poly in the opening game, Shorter would then turn its attention to the winner of a first-round matchup between Faulkner and seventh-seeded Southern Wesleyan University (7-40).
A loss in the opener would put the Hawks in a must-win situation in an elimination game.
In other first-round games, Lee University faces No. 8-seed Emmanuel at 4 p.m. on Thursday, while No. 4-seed Brewton-Parker College and No. 5-seed Auburn University-Montgomery collide in a 10 a.m. game Thursday.
"It didn't matter to me who we played [in the opener]," said Larry. "I think the guys realize that we've got a chance in every game against anybody.
"No matter who we play, we have the opportunity to win."