The Southern Miss Golden Eagles began the 2016 season with three weekend sweeps.
The Golden Eagles had three big victories against Michigan State, Troy and Auburn as well as sweeps against Eastern Illinois, Northwestern State during last weekend’s games. A big part of their success is owed to sophomore no. 22 Taylor Braley.
Hitting five home runs within Southern Miss baseball’s first seven games, Braley was named National Hitter of the Month. With 12 runs batted in, a .480 batting average and 10 runs, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association awarded him after reviewing conference and school candidate submissions. Braley with a .618 on-base mark and 1.160 slugging percentage beat out other competitors.
The Golden Eagles now stand 10-2 averaging approximately six runs per game. Braley said he remains humble as he leads the team in homers and RBIs.
“I am just trying to stay confident with my approaches and continue to see the ball well,” Braley said. “I am trying to stay humble with the game everyday and take what hits I can get.”
Braley, a Hattiesburg native, made his debut last year as a freshman. As starting third baseman, he collected 50 hits and three home runs. Braley appeared in 47 games with 44 starts. Braley garnered several accolades for his first season, including the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Publication and placed on the Conference USA All- Freshman team. Braley was the first Golden Eagle freshman named by CBP since 2012.
Hunter Slater weighed in on his teammate’s contributions to the team’s recent success.
“He’s really been working on staying short to the ball and working his hands through the zone,” Slater said. “He’s has success early this season because he’s been seeing the ball very well and not missing his pitch.”
Braley has worked closely with assistant coach Chad Calliet to better read each pitch thrown at him.
“I think I have had so much success this early in the season because of all the work the coaches put in with me [helped me] improve from last year and make me a better player,” Braley said. “Caillet has really helped me with some things that I have struggled with in the past. I’m just trying to handle what pitches I can and taking my walks when I have to.”
Braley’s main focus this year is chasing pitches off the plate and watching high fastballs.
“I hit nearly 7 times a week for at least 30 minutes a day,” he said. “I have personally been trying to work on some little things in my swings so I can stay ahead of the game and not get caught up in all the hype.”
The Golden Eagles have a lot of confidence in Braley’s continuing success this season.
“The biggest difference in him this year is obviously his ability to hit home runs,” Slater said. “Last year, he hit three or four and he’s already five this year.”
According to Slater, coaches have set the team up on a path that could lead to regionals.
“The coaches have really helped us maintain focus on reminding us every single day how important each game is,” Slater said. “Take two or three losses away from last year and we make a regional.”
As the team prepares for the rest of the 2016 season, the team feels confident with a batting line-up that has proven to work well together.
“We have a number of very good hitters in our line up with much experience so they all compliment each other,” Slater said. “Opponents can’t really pitch around guys in our lineup because everybody can hit so well.”