Berry College baseball coach David Beasley says there’s a simple reason the Vikings have been so successful at the plate this season.
“We have good at-bats,” Beasley said. “Are we going to get a hit every time or are we going to hit .500? No. But I know we’re leading the conference right now in hitting, and one of the things I stress to our guys is to go to the plate and have a great at-bat. Give yourself an opportunity to be successful.”
The team has taken that philosophy and ran with it, leading the NCAA in triples at all levels with 19 this season and leading the Southern Athletic Association in team batting average at .327.
No small part of the credit goes to sophomore outfielder Zach Huie, who leads the team and conference with seven triples, his most recent coming against Oglethorpe in the first game of a conference doubleheader Saturday at Berry College’s William R. Bowdoin Field.
The Vikings swept the Stormy Petrels 8-2 in Game 1 and rallied for a walk-off 4-3 win in Game 2. Casey Whitaker is second on the team and in the conference with four triples.
Huie, a graduate from Lassiter High School in Marietta, had an RBI and scored a run in Saturday's opener. He said the team has bought into how to approach their at-bats and they’ve seen great success.
“Every day we’re just working on getting better, and really holding each other accountable for everything,” Huie said.
“Beasley does a great job of talking about sticking with our approach at the plate and hitting is a big part of that. When we get rolling, we can just hit for sure. There was no doubt in my mind, and there’s no doubt in their minds, that when we’re in the last inning, I know that we’ll be able to get the job done.”
In Game 2, the Vikings (17-6, 6-2 SAA) went up early when Spence Johns hit a sacrifice fly to score Zack Walch in the bottom of the first. Oglethorpe (8-5, 4-4) then took the lead in the top of the third and didn’t let the Vikings back out front until the bottom of the final inning.
With one out in the seventh and the bases loaded, Johns’ line drive to the shortstop was bobbled and made it's way into right field, allowing Walch and Dalton Smith to score the game-tying and game-winning runs.
“I was just trying to focus — see a strike, hit a strike,” Johns said. “The other team has to get all the outs before the game’s over. And until they get that last out, we’re still in it no matter what the score is.”
Johns finished the day going 2-for-5 with three RBIs and a run scored, Walch was 2-for-5 with three runs scored, Whitaker was 2-for-8 with a home run and two RBIs, and Weston Bray was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a run scored.
Ben Coker earned the win for Berry in Game 1, tossing 6 1/3 innings while striking out seven. In Game 2, William Gibbons threw 4 1/3 innings for the win.
In Game 1, which served as a fundraiser for Harbor House of Rome, the Vikings pushed their lead to 7-1 in the bottom of the fourth when Whitaker hit a two-run shot to right field, scoring Reeve Holley. The homer was the first of the season for Whitaker and the second for the Vikings.
Holley gave his team a 5-1 lead two at-bats before Whitaker’s homer when he singled up the middle to score Bray and Smith.
Beasley said his team’s ability to get hits at the plate leaves him confident even when the Vikings are down.
“The good thing about this team is that we're never out of it,” Beasley said. “Throughout our whole lineup we feel confident we can extend an inning. We just keep coming back, and that’s a trait you want to have as a baseball team.”
The Vikings will complete the three-game home series against the Stormy Petrels today at 2 p.m.