Tuesday, March 11, 2014
University of Southern Maine senior Nick Grady has a simple approach when it comes to hitting.
Swing early and swing often.
"I don't get too deep into counts," said Grady, the starting third baseman who graduated from Erskine. "I'm a free swinger."
The strategy worked last season for the Erskine graduate and it's working again this one.
Grady, the No. 5 hitter in a potent USM lineup, is enjoying a stalwart season. He leads the team in average (.423), on base percentage (.473), hits (63) and RBIs (42).
The Whitefield native hit .356 last season and earned all-Little East Conference second team honors.
"I was hoping to hit .400 this year and so far I'm doing it," said Grady. "I gained a lot more confidence going into this year from last year. I think it actually made me feel less pressure, to be honest."
Grady also has 12 stolen bases, hit a pair of home runs and three triples. He's only struck out 11 times in 149 at-bats.
"I don't hit many home runs," Grady said. "I don't wait for that pitch. I'm going after it. Home runs aren't my focus."
The Huskies entered play Tuesday with an impressive 29-6 mark, including 11-1 in conference play. They are favored to win the conference tournament and make a run in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The emergence of a reliable pitching staff, led by a pair of freshmen in Tyler Leavitt and Shylar Scates, is a big reason for the Huskies' success.
So, too, is an offense that features three players hitting over .400.
"I knew we'd have a good offense but our pitching has really come through so far," USM coach Ed Flaherty said. "But we do have some good hitters in our lineup."
Flaherty stresses plate discipline with most hitters -- but Grady isn't like most hitters.
"I swing at a lot of stuff," Grady said. "I think I've always been like that. With certain guys, he'll tell them to lay off curveballs until there's two strikes. But he doesn't say too much to me. He knows it won't change much."
Added Flaherty: "I thought it would be a good year for him, but I didn't know it would be to this degree. He hits well in the clutch, he hits well with people on base and he hits well to all fields."
He also hit safely in 25 consecutive games, a streak he tried not to think about.
"I didn't even know I had one going until like the 18th game," he said. "I started thinking about it and it got to 25, but then it got me in the end. It was heart-breaking when it ended."
The Huskies played Bowdoin on Tuesday. Games with Bates, UMass-Dartmouth and Suffolk remain before the LEC tournament begins. They'll enter the tournament as the top seed.
"I think we have a good shot at that," Grady said. "I think we have a good shot at a regional title, too. We've played some of the top New England teams and we held our own. It's been a fun year so far."
Bill Stewart -- 621-5640