Kevin Coker is a senior catcher for Southern Miss who will contribute a weekly journal to in 2006. A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Coker started 52 games last year for the Golden Eagles, batting .318 with five homers and 38 RBI.  Off the field, Coker enjoys fishing and shooting pool.






March 1, 2006

Leaning on the Freshmen


As I’m talking at practice right now, I just want it to be known that our coaches are fielding ground balls out there! I’m watching Coach Berry field ground balls right now! Let it be known that we have an athletic coaching staff, and that’s quoted!


As far as things with us, last week started off well with a win against Mississippi Valley State. Our program has come to a point where we expect to win every game against any opponent, but we sometimes expect some teams to back down against us - Mississippi Valley State doesn’t do that.


They came out and attacked us, swinging the bats well and forcing us to scrap a little bit once we got out there to a lead in that game. We ended up winning the game 11-3, but we had to fight a little harder than we thought we had to. We shouldn’t ever overlook anyone. I think that we’re a great team, but we have to play to our potential all of the time in order to give ourselves the best opportunity to win.


With the weekend series against Birmingham-Southern, we knew that the weather was going to be bad on Friday night. We wanted to get the first game in, as we felt like Saturday’s game was going to get postponed because of the rain. We knew we had to hustle with the first game to get it going, but then the rain started setting in around the third or fourth inning.


But that is no excuse of how we performed offensively. We didn’t execute, we had runners in scoring position a lot of times, we didn’t pitch as well as we could and we didn’t do our jobs, which ultimately led to our 8-4 loss.


We were in that game, and we didn’t play well, which is a good sign to me. We played the worst that we’ve played all year, and hopefully that was the worst that we will play all year, and we still had an opportunity to win the game. We had at-bats where we had the tying run at the plate, and were one swing away with a home run or a “gapper” to make things interesting. So, being in a game that you’re playing your worst in, and still having a chance, is the only positive that you can take from that loss.


We were motivated, to say the least, after that game. Coach Palmer motivated us, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. Certain people motivate in different ways, and Coach Palmer does it differently all the time. Sometimes he’ll say three or four words and that’s all you need to be motivated for the next time; and sometimes he’ll talk for five or 10 minutes, and then he’ll be done. He finds all kinds of ways to motivate us. It was a more lengthy talk after our loss on Friday night, but needless to say, we were motivated.


So what did we do after that first game? We came out and 10-runned them (13-3 in seven innings per NCAA 10-run rule in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader). Regardless of what method he used, it worked. Our team needed that talk after the way we played.


Coach Palmer addressed it all on Friday, saying everything that needed to be said. No player needed to talk to another player because Coach Palmer addressed us as a team, and not as individuals. We had team issues, not individual issues, and those needed to be addressed. Pitchers had certain issues, and hitters had certain issues. Coach Palmer’s job was well done because things turned around, and what he said worked.

Having Saturday’s game rained out was a good thing for us. Coach Burroughs did a great job with us on Saturday. He had us come out here and hit, but instead of doing drills, he told us to do whatever we wanted that made us feel good. I’m glad we didn’t do any drills because there are certain drills that people can’t stand to do. There are some drills that I can’t stand doing; they make me better, but I hate them because it exploits some of my weaknesses. So instead of drills, we hit and felt good and came out the next day ready to rip.


We won the first game of the doubleheader and we thought, “well, we just 10-ruled them,” and almost fell back into thinking that they were going to lay down for the final game.


But Birmingham-Southern came out with the mentality that though they were just 10-ruled, they were going to give everything that they had, which is what they did in the next game. They jumped out to an early lead, but we weathered the storm and came back to win 6-5 after being down 5-0 early.


Ryan Belanger came in after Brad Owen and pitched well, though Brad didn’t pitch badly. They were able to hit pitches in certain situations like through the 6-hole, which is where Brian Dozier plays at shortstop, where he was playing at double-play depth and wasn’t able to get to the ball. So it was things like that. It wasn’t Brad’s fault, but Belanger was able to come in and get those guys out with a great breaking ball, was able to locate his fastball and did what he had to do to get us to the seventh inning.


In that inning, we were able to rally behind our mighty freshmen, who are doing extremely well, in Bo Davis, Michael Ewing, Luke Adkins and Dozier. They bring so much energy and are doing such a great job for us, and we were able to rally behind them. And with them setting things up, Coach Palmer was able to bring Daniel Best in for what would be his longest opportunity to get a save in his career. He faced nine hitters, which is the minimum number of hitters that you can face in a three-inning outing, and he got nine of them out. If that’s not efficient, effective or whatever you want to call it, I don’t know what is.


I think that his name is fitting in Best, because he is the “best” in the country. I say it, and though I’m not meaning to build him up, he’s that good.


We had some interesting things happen on Sunday. There was a ball hit over the left-field wall in the first game on Sunday that was initially called a home run before it was overturned as a foul ball that caused me to get a little worked up. I didn’t say anything to offend the umpire, and didn’t use any profanity; I just told him that the ball was foul. I wanted to plead my case that the call should be overturned.


Coach Burroughs came out of the dugout to make sure I didn’t get too into it, but I was alright. Coach Palmer came out and asked me what I thought, and I told him that it was a foul ball. He listened to me and went to the umpire with what he thought was right. He’s professional about that and won’t go crazy for no reason. He didn’t even go crazy out there and stayed calm. I know Birmingham-Southern’s coach was mad, because it took three runs of the board for them. If you think about it, we could have been down 3-0 in that game and things could have gone differently.


Scott Massey, who was pitching that game, was able to rally around the call going our way and was able to get that guy out after the call was changed. We only gave up one run in that inning where we could have given up more. That call marked a big turnaround for us. I normally don’t get like that, but if I do then I probably feel strongly that the wrong call was made. So if my arguing helped, then great.


Though some of our veteran hitters have been struggling lately at the plate, the funny thing about it is that we’ve only played eight games out of 56, plus possibly more with postseason, which could be around 60 plus games that we could play this year. History has proven that baseball is not a sport that you judge over a five- to 10-game period; you judge it over the long haul. It’s a game of strengths and comforts. I feel comfortable that I’m going to come around.


It’s a matter of fact that Marc Maddox is going to come around, as he’s going to hit around .300 this year. He is one of the greatest hitters that I’ve ever seen. Another guy who’s not been producing like expected is Trey Sutton, and he’s going to start hitting better soon. The fact that we’re hitting right under .300 as a team (.298) is a positive sign for our team when three of our core veteran type players in me, Marc and Trey are not doing well right now. So if the freshmen continue to do what they’re doing, and we come around, we could hit .350 as a team this season.


With the freshmen doing so well, it takes pressure off of us. Trey, Marc and I have all talked about it. We don’t have to be as pressed at the plate to make a play because all we have to do is hit and not feel that we have to do it all by our self. What those freshmen are doing for this team is a tremendous thing, and over time we’re going to bounce back at the plate as well.


Kevin Coker


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(photo courtesy of Southern Miss Media Relations Office)