Bridges Stealing All The Headlines

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas second baseman Scott Bridges is chasing a dream, 90 feet at a time.

The faster he gets there, the better his chances.

Timing can be his best friend, or his worst enemy.

Bridges, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior, is chasing the school record for stolen bases in a season.

"That would be a dream come true to get it," Bridges said. "That's one of my goals."

Bridges definitely is in the running for the record -- it's 42 set by Scott Loseke in 1983 -- and has no plans on stopping anytime soon.

But he's got company because Razorbacks senior center fielder Casey Rowlett is chasing him.

Bridges has a team-high 18 stolen bases, Rowlett has 14.

"You see, we had planned on both breaking it and tying each other for the record," Rowlett said. "But I read a quote that he put in the paper that he wants to break it by one or two. So, I guess when it comes down to it, if he's got one or two ahead of me, I may have to rough him up a little bit so he'll miss the last couple of games of the regular season."

Bridges smiled.

"I guess I slipped up when I said I wanted to break it myself, I think it kind of made him a little mad," said Bridges, sprouting a toothy smile. "I guess he's going to put a little pressure on me.

"I better watch out."

Bridges, who tied the school record for steals in a game with four against Louisiana Tech on Feb. 20, has only been caught stealing once this season. That came last weekend in the first game of the series against Eastern Illinois.

Bridges had his stolen base streak snapped at 14 straight. Just moments after stealing second in the fourth inning, Bridges was thrown out by Eastern Illinois catcher Joe Hernandez at third.

"Yeah, I remember it," Bridges said. "It was my fault I got thrown out. The pitcher was pitching fast to the plate and I didn't get a good jump. That's one thing (Arkansas) coach (Dave) Van Horn will tell you, 'If you don't get a good jump, don't go.' I learned from that.

"Hopefully, it won't happen again."

Dating back to last year, Bridges had 21 straight stolen bases without being caught before last weekend. Before that, the last time Bridges had been caught stealing was on May 15, 2004 at Mississippi State.

A BANNER SEASON
Not only is Bridges stealing headlines with his stolen bases, he's turning heads with his bat.

Despite having his nine-game hitting streak end last Sunday, Bridges still is second among starters with a .471 average with 24 hits in 51 at-bats.

Those are pretty impressive numbers for a career .284 hitter, one who only had a .254 average last year.

That bodes well for the No. 15 Razorbacks because they open the Southeastern Conference schedule at No. 4 South Carolina tonight.

"Besides stealing bases, one of my goals was I just wanted to at least hit above .300 this year," Bridges said. "I wanted to make up for last year. The base stealing is a big one, but I wanted to improve my on-base percentage by hitting with a better average.

"I want to get on base a lot because that's what's going to lead to my stolen bases.

"That's a big part of it, putting the ball in play. And when you've got speed and put the ball in play you have a better chance to get on base."

Last month, with his average rising way above normal, everybody was more worried about his right hand than his fast feet.

Bridges, a left-handed batter, was hit by a pitch in his right elbow on Feb. 25 against Minnesota, causing numbness in his right hand and then a tingling sensation which almost resisted leaving.

"It feels great now," Bridges said. "I've got a lot of movement in the hand."

H'S BAAACK!

Bridges, who hit .316 as a redshirt freshman and .274 as a sophomore, said he can't explain why he's hitting the baseball so well.

He does have an idea.

"I don't know what it is," Bridges said. "Last year, I had a rough year, got off to a rough start, never could get anything going at the plate.

"You know, this year, I got off to a good start and I'm playing with a lot of confidence. You feel good about yourself, your swing.

"I think that's a big part of it."

Razorbacks hitting coach Matt Deggs agrees.

"He's obviously a year older and that helps and he's playing at a high level of confidence right now," Deggs said. "Anytime in baseball, especially as a hitter, I mean ... you have a chance for success with confidence.

"You know, hitting is so funny. It's all based on what's going on upstairs. That's a lot of it. Only a little bit of it is physical. Obviously, Scotty has a lot of God-given ability and he's finally playing with a high level of confidence.

"He's out there every single day and he knows he's got a chance to play, a chance to go out and have a big impact on the baseball game." But did Deggs really expect Bridges to blossom so fast this season?

"Yeah, I mean, I really did," Deggs said. "We talked before the season and I told him, I said, 'Scotty, you're going to have a magical season.' He's going out and making the most of it.

"He's electric anywhere you put him. He's fun to watch. He touches on all the tools. He's playing the game hard, he's playing it right.

"He's definitely a big force on our ballclub."

A COMPLETE PLAYER
Hitting the baseball and stealing bases aren't the only things Scott Bridges can do on the diamond.

He's also a pretty good defensive player. In 14 starts at second, Bridges has made one error and has a .988 fielding percentage with 27 putouts and a team-high 52 assists.

"Bridges, he is a tremendous athlete, a five-tool player," said Razorbacks first baseman/designated hitter Danny Hamblin. "He has all the ability. It's almost not expected but it's not shocking that's he's going to go out and steal what, 18 bases, already?

"And he's a good defensive player."

Rowlett nodded.

"It's fun watching Scotty play second base," Rowlett said. "He's got tons of range. He's got some of the quickest hands I've ever seen. It's fun watching him make plays I think are coming to me in the outfield but he runs over there and gets them. It's good to have Scotty out there."

"He's a guy who plays hard every day and doesn't mind getting his uniform dirty."

Bridges, who's also played some outfield at Arkansas, said he has found a home at second base.

"I feel real comfortable at second after I made that move my redshirt freshman year," Bridges said. "It's a lot of hard work. I've taken a lot of ground balls out there to get better.

"It's a lot of fun chasing them down."

Maybe, like chasing down a stolen base record, 90 feet at a time.

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