Andrew Brown senses that he has something within his grasp that hasn’t been there in a couple of years, and he’s showing the drive to get there.
That thing is a shot at the Mid-American Conference’s annual baseball tournament. Brown hasn’t personally had a shot at playing in it in two seasons. Just eight teams make the annual event and to the Zips (16-25, 9-6 MAC), who face Central Michigan (18-24, 7-8) in a three-game series this weekend at Lee R. Jackson Baseball Field on the UA campus, winning that series will go a long way toward them earning a spot.
Brown, the staff’s ace, will open the series at 1 p.m. today.
The Zips are currently third in the East Division and in solid position to qualify for the tournament.
With his fastball, his best pitch, Brown throws as if he’s intent on picking his team up on his shoulders as much as possible and carrying the Zips there himself.
“I won a summer-league championship down in North Carolina two summers ago and it’s one of the greatest feelings in my entire life,” he said. “I want to bring that to this team. I want [the team] to feel that as well. I want them to be on that pile.”
In his past seven starts, he’s compiled a 5-2 record with a 1.12 ERA, two shutouts and four complete games. He’s struck out 44, issued just 11 walks and held hitters to just a .188 batting average.
He didn’t begin the season that way. In fact, it began rather raggedly. After the first three starts of the season, he had a bloated 14.60 ERA.
That’s when coach Rick Rembielak and his staff went back and looked at film of his starts. They found a hitch in his delivery, Rembielak said.
Brown worked to correct it, and in his next start, against Xavier, he tossed seven shutout innings to lead the Zips to a win.
Many athletes might have relied on raw talent and allowed things to correct themselves. For Brown, it’s a matter of dedication.
“I’m a competitor. I honestly hate losing more than I love winning,” he said. “It’s a cliché, but it’s completely true with me and I have an extreme passion for this game.
“More than anything the goal before the season started was to get in the MAC Tournament and win it.”
He realizes that he’s not even close to being in this by himself. He gives credit to his teammates for their timely hitting and solid defense for his ability to continue to earn wins. He’s been the beneficiary of early scoring in some games and that, he said, makes his job easier because he can be more aggressive when facing hitters.
Brown also recognizes the difference that a new coaching staff has made to this year’s team. Rembielak, former coach at Kent State and Wake Forest, is in his first year with UA.
“Basically we have the same team as last year. You can see the difference in winning MAC games especially, which really counts for us,” he said. “It’s the coaching. It’s the small things here and there that bring in a couple of runs when we need them the most that’s [due] to coaching right there.”
Brown hasn’t been alone in his pitching prowess. The rest of the starting rotation has stepped up, as well.
As a team, the Zips have the lowest ERA in conference games at 2.56.
That staff, which includes seniors Scott Foster, Alex Loftin and freshman Pat Dyer, offers encouragement to one another. That is part of the job when they’re not pitching. As a senior, Brown takes that seriously.
“I try to be a positive influence on the guys even though I can only control one game per week,” he said. “I try to think just one weekend at a time because, obviously, I can’t control what’s happening later on. Once we get closer to it, I’ll think about it more. It’s just kind of that goal that I see out in front of us, not just for myself but the team as well.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at https://ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.