"On the Bump" w/ Cole Thompson
Monday, April 11, 2011
Hello Gents nation and welcome back to "On the Bump". I am coming to you live from the Texas-Oklahoma border as we make our way home from a weekend series with conference foe Oral Roberts. This week I will give y'all an inside look into our program and detail our week as we prepared for our first conference series of the year.

It was a pretty hectic week for us as we began to prepare for conference play and longtime Summit League powerhouse Oral Roberts. We were given Monday off as a chance to catch up on our schoolwork and re-collect ourselves as we began yet another week. Keep in mind we have not played a home game since March 4, so that's a lot of travelling for us. It's tough missing so much class and working to keep your grades up. Unfortunately, I had a test every day this past week so I was kept pretty busy Monday night working away.

We came out on Tuesday night and had a ridiculously good intersquad. Our pitchers threw strikes, our defense played flawlessly, and our offense executed their game better than I had seen all year. The most positive thing I took away from Tuesday's practice was our offense's ability to come through with the clutch 2 out hit. We showed a glimpse of this ability at UT-Pan American, but we need it to become more of a fixture in our offense if we want to reach the conference tournament. It really felt like we had reached a turning point on Tuesday because we were playing a much higher level of baseball than we had over the past few months. The coaches were enthused with our performance, and it started the week on a very positive note.

Wednesday was more of the same as we came out and had yet another solid practice, followed by a short intersquad game. We had a solid round of PFP's, followed by a solid situational defensive drill. We looked sharp again, and I feel like each guy on the team is really learning what their role is on this team and what they have to do in order to contribute to the success of our team. For example, Mark Gillean has really started to play well for us. This is because he has quit trying to be something that he is not, and he stays within himself on the ball field. As a result has been very successful lately. 

We left Shreveport around 11:30 AM on Thursday morning en route to Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was about a 6-hour drive but it felt like it went by pretty fast. We watched Tin Cup in honor of the Masters starting that day. Tin Cup is one of my favorite movies because it shows that if you really put your mind toward a task, you can work hard enough to reach your goal. I know he doesn't ultimately win the U.S. Open, but personally I enjoy the fact that he keeps attacking the 18th green until he nails the shot, proving to the crowd that he can in-fact make that shot. After Tin Cup, we watched another quality movie, but I fell asleep on the floor of the bus, trying to catch up on some much-needed sleep lost over the week due to studying.

The team arrived at J.L. Johnson Stadium in Tulsa around 6 PM and we hit the field to get in a quick round of batting practice. Our pitchers also had a chance to throw in the bullpen and get one last practice session in before the weekend. Now let me let y'all in on a quick secret of the pitching staff. We have our own "pitchers-only" club dubbed the "BBB" (Bad Body Bullpen). This nickname is derived from a popular baseball book, Bullpen Gospels. The "BBB" has few requirements, however the main prerequisite is that you must be a "pitcher-only". As many of you know, we have several two-way players (pitchers that also play positions), and these guys are unfortunately not allowed to join our illustrious club. Due to injuries and violation of team rules, the "BBB" was down to a lowly 4 members on this trip. However, numbers are just a thing to the "BBB", as we are a tightly knit group that comes out ready to compete everyday.

We woke up early on Friday morning and headed over to Oral Roberts' indoor practice facility. Now I haven't seen many collegiate indoor facilities, but I would have to assume it is one of the nicest indoor facilities in the country. Our hitters took batting practice in the 4 indoor cages, bunted in the bullpen area, and took short-game batting practice (hit & run, slash, situational hitting) on the full-size turf practice infield. As you can tell, there wasn't a whole lot for the pitchers to do. However, we took it upon ourselves to find a job. Right away we noticed the 4 open spots on the infield where the hitters were taking cuts, and we figured we could go back to our glory days and take some groundballs. Needless to say, I believe the "BBB" had the most fun at practice Friday morning as we fielded crisp groundballs and turned imaginary double plays.

Friday night marked the beginning of conference play as we began a "new season". In the Summit League, the top 4 teams at the end of the season travel to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and play a double-elimination tournament in order to determine the recipient of the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Our new slate did not really begin the way we wanted. We were beaten pretty handily and it was embarrassing for us. We didn't pitch at the level we normally perform at, and our offense struggled to piece together multiple hit innings. We know we can play better than we did Friday night, and our goal after Friday night was to come out with a vengeance and prove that we could play up to our potential. On a positive note, we played error-free baseball on defense and freshman Ryan Maldonado threw well in a relief role for us once again. Also, freshmen RJ Talamantes and Mark Gillean collected multi-hit games for us.

On Saturday we came out and played two much cleaner games, but it was still not enough to defeat a team as solid as Oral Roberts. In game 1, Laetten Galbraith, Kelby Langston, and Sam Martin threw well for us, sticking to their game plan and giving us a chance to win. While the score may not seem close, as it was 7-1, you have to look inside the box score to really understand the flow of this game. They scored 4 runs in the 4th inning, so one can assume this was where we lost the game. However, we were one pitch away from getting out of that inning with 0 runs allowed. But when you mix a walk, hit by pitch, and a double together with 2 outs, the result is a big inning. These are events we have done a good job of avoiding, but on Saturday this was the collapsing point for our team. At the plate, we didn't fare much better as we were only able to scratch out 2 hits against 2 Oral Roberts' pitchers. The backbone of our team, catcher Jeff Schaffert, and hot-hitting Mark Gillean recorded our only hits. One play that was over-looked was JoAnthony Cantu's diving catch in the bottom of the 7th with 2 outs and the bases loaded. "Jo" could have easily "mailed it in" and let the ball fall in front of him and play it safe. However, JoAnthony took advantage of the opportunity given him and he made a spectacular play to keep the game close.

In game 2, we played a well-rounded game, but came up empty by a score of 2-0. Senior Derek Dalzell put the team on his back and threw a complete game for us. We also outhit Oral Roberts, 6-5, but just couldn't quite scratch a run across. We had a few opportunities to score, but we couldn't come up with the clutch 2-out hit needed to win close games. I feel like it's worth mentioning again that Dazzle really came up big for us on the mound. We were counting on him to use his senior leadership and experience to give us a chance to win, and he did exactly that. Also, I would like to give a shout-out to my fellow suitemate Tyler Neporadny for recording his first collegiate hit in this game. It took a few at-bats, but you can really tell that Tyler is settled in and feels comfortable in the box now. He also hit a line drive to shortstop that was hit well, but right at the guy. We came away from Saturday with the bitter taste of defeat, but we proved to ourselves that we could compete with the best team in our conference.

In a move unbeknownst to him until 2 hours prior to the game, Nic Parrott was chosen to start game 4 on Sunday for us. Nic was asked to come in and neutralize their left-handed heavy order for a few innings, but he put together a performance that was huge for us. In his first collegiate start, Parrott went 5.2 innings and scattered 7 hits while only walking 1. He did not record a strikeout, but he was extremely effective by throwing an assortment of pitches to keep the ORU hitters off-balance at all times. It was a gutsy performance from Nic and I believe our team fed off of his positive game. The game was tied at 1 in the bottom of the 6th before Oral Roberts scratched a run across the plate on a bloop single to left field. Seth Lugo came out of the bullpen for us and threw a solid 1.1 innings. It was nice to see Lugo bounce back and throw well. I threw the bottom of the 8th for us and gave up 1 run. I know it may be confusing when you read the box score and see the first hitter I faced, "doubled to pitcher". The hitter lined the first pitch off of my knee and it ricocheted into foul territory in right field. It wasn't the best start to the inning, but I battled back and threw 8 out of 10 pitches for strikes while mixing in a strikeout. As for the offense, we recorded 4 hits. Kyle Morton broke out of his slump and contributed 2 hits, including an RBI-double. Usual suspects Mark Gillean and RJ Talamantes recorded the other 2 hits for us.

The team came away from the weekend with mixed feelings. Yeah, we went 0-4 and that is not the way we wanted to start conference play. But on the positive side, we showed we could compete with the best team in the Summit League and we pieced together several good games over the latter part of the series. I believe our team truly found their identity this week, and from here on out we will continue to grow and play better each week. Our team gelled this weekend and I feel we are a "complete team" now. I am already excited to get back out on the field next weekend and continue our quest toward the Summit League post-season tournament.

I would like to thank my good high school friends Kimberly Carter, Austin Chappell, and Kelsy Collins for making the trip over from Oklahoma State to watch some games this weekend. Also, a long-awaited shout-out goes to Sam Davidson for watching a few of ORU's games at Baylor in February and passing some scouting reports to me.

On the drive back, I was texting my friend Sam and discussed the past weekends' games, as we do every weekend. After talking about the games, I mentioned we wouldn't be back in Shreveport until 11 PM on Sunday night and how it was pretty rough that we hadn't played a home game since March 4th. He responded, "that sounds awful", which got me thinking. Yeah, its tough that we travel so much (a range of 1-15 hours by bus this year), but I would not trade this experience for anything. Playing college baseball is a dream that many young ballplayers never achieve, but here we are playing baseball at the highest amateur level in the world. Over two years, I have had the chance to play at premier facilities against the likes of LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. I have also had the chance to travel to cities such as Las Vegas (Southern Utah University) and Honolulu (University of Hawaii) for baseball. I love my team and I can't imagine what I would do without baseball. It's tough to describe the camaraderie built over a season with your teammates, but when push comes to shove there is not one guy on this team I would hesitate to help out if they ever needed anything.

Next week we return to action as we take on South Dakota State in a HOME SERIES. It's been awhile since I have had the opportunity to say those words. It will be great to be back on our home field because it just helps you stay in your daily routine (and not to mention we are 2-1 at home this year).  South Dakota State is widely considered the second best team in the league, so it will be another good challenge for us. They were co-conference champions last season and they are a very good hitting team with solid pitching as well. Not to mention, they have 3rd team Pre-season All-American pitcher Trevor Vermeulen anchoring their bullpen. I am looking forward to the home-field advantage we will have this coming weekend and I hope to see all of y'all out there.

I did not have the chance to interview our last 2 guys due to being swamped with tests, studying, practice, and games. However, next week I will interview freshmen Trey Lavespere and Ryder Ward. That will conclude our personal interviews for the year, and I am looking for ideas to help the fans better know our players. I am open to suggestions, so if you have any questions, comments, or ideas shoot me an email at pthompson@my.centenary.edu. I am looking for something along the lines of certain questions you have for the team, individuals, or other little interviews/games/ways you would like to have the guys play in order to learn more about them. Until next week, go Gents!