It's often stated that the postseason delivers a fresh start for players that may have struggled with a part of their game during the final stretch of the regular season. That was certainly the case for freshman shortstop Devin Hairston, who despite becoming one of the better infield defenders in the ACC, has struggled mightily at the plate during the last month of the season.
A product of Lexington (Ky.) Tates Creek, Hairston, who entered the Cardinals opening game of the NCAA baseball championship hitting a paltry .186, had a perfect night at the plate. He made four trips to the plate and found success each time, going 4-for-4, including a pair of doubles. He scored twice and drove in a run to help fuel Louisville's 7-2 win over the Eagles.
“It was a tough month for him but we have talked about unpacking the bags - the post season is a new season so you really don't carry any stats into it,” U of L head coach Dan McDonnell said. “Nobody cares what your stats are, so he's off to a good start. ”
It wasn't just opening game luck, but more like a return to his earlier self. Hairston was one of the team's hottest hitters early in the season and was the early RBI leader on the squad. While his production at the plate slowed as the Cardinals entered ACC play, it all but disappeared after he suffered a concussion due to a collision at first base when playing at Cincinnati a month ago.
With extra time to improve following the team's early departure from the ACC Baseball Championship, Hairston worked with hitting coach Eric Snider on improving his swing and becoming a more difficult out.
“This week in batting practice was the best my swing has felt since my concussion,” Hairston explained. “Me and Coach Snider got in the cage, working with me and tweaking a few things to get to the ball a little bit quicker.”
The results were almost immediate.
“I saw it all week,” McDonnell said. “I spoke with Coach Snider - as soon as we were eliminated from the ACC tournament we had a coaches meeting, we talked about players individually. He knew what Devin needed to do. He is an excellent hitting coach - give Devin credit for wanting to make the adjustment. I noticed it right away in BP this week. We meet after just about every practice and discuss who looked good and who didn't. Right away Devin was like the MVP of that first practice, you could just tell how the ball was coming off the bat.”
Despite his recent struggles at the plate, Hairston stayed upbeat and focused on the overall team goal.
“The last month felt good because we were still playing good baseball,” he said. “Selfishly, it didn't feel good, but baseball is a team sport and when your team is playing well, yet you might not be playing to the best of your abilities, but you can't be selfish and worry to much about yourself. Personally, it was tough but I was still happy that we were winning.”
Louisville will continue it's quest for a third consecutive trip to the College World Series on Saturday at 4 p.m. against Big Ten tournament champion %%MATCH_4%%.