Marshall baseball: Middle infielder finding his comfort zone
HUNTINGTON - It was moving a few feet on defense that Marshall infielder Andrew Dundon said made his offense come alive.
As a freshman last season on the Thundering Herd's baseball team, Dundon began his collegiate career at shortstop. With that position came tough times at the plate, but moving from shortstop to second base turned his hitting pace from tepid to torrid.
Dundon, Marshall's leading hitter and one of the top hitters in Conference USA, has kept that pace during this season's start and hopes it will continue tonight at 6 when the Herd moves to Appalachian Power Park for its first meeting with West Virginia University since 2008.
Dundon admits he was trying to do too much at shortstop as a first-year player thrust into the starting lineup. It affected him at the plate and, by March, he was sporting a .154 batting average. But that's not to say his at-bats were bad. Marshall Coach Jeff Waggoner said the tiny number hid quality plate appearances.
"Toward the middle part (of the season), he really swung it well," Waggoner said. "Even times where it didn't show, he hit balls hard. To me, quality at-bats are what you're looking for. Sometimes hitters can hit balls hard and a batting average doesn't show it, but he has a great at bat.
"When you're scouting a kid ... fans get too caught up in numbers," he added. "Guys may not look like they're having great years, but sometimes they can't control that. The only thing they can control is having a quality at-bat. Quality at-bats are hitting the ball hard."
Dundon's position change also helped send his batting average upward.
Making that move made him more comfortable on the field. Increased comfort led to increased confidence. Increased confidence led to hitting .409 for the month of April.
"I feel it's my natural position," Dundon said. "I was doing too much at short. I felt (second) was my true position, and that's where I felt comfortable and was playing my 'A' game."
This season, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound sophomore's bat isn't as blazing hot as it was last April, but it and the baseball continue to be very familiar with each other. Dundon leads the Herd with a .356 batting average and a .426 on base percentage. Both those numbers rank fourth in Conference USA. He has four doubles and nine RBI on the season.
Waggoner said Dundon has been able to continue his success from the end of last season to now with a strong work ethic and the ability to settle into a routine in his training.
"He's bought into having a routine and doing it every day, so his preparation before games has allowed him to be confident and know he's done everything to be ready for that game," Waggoner said. "We try to establish a routine with our hitters and he's really taken that on to a new level."
With tonight's WVU game, Dundon and the Herd make their first appearance of the season in their home-away-from-home field, Appalachian Power Park, home of the Class A West Virginia Power. The Herd and Mountaineers actually will share the stadium as a home for conference games this season, and play the first of their three games this season there before moving the series to Morgantown on April 2 and Beckley on May 14.
Their last meeting was in Myrtle Beach, N.C., in 2008 and their last game before that was in 1998.
The Herd hopes besting an in-state rival after the rivalry's long hiatus will boost the entire team's confidence. Marshall (8-10) had lost three straight to Central Michigan in Beckley before taking the final game from the Chippewas on Sunday, 6-4.
Dundon, the designated hitter for that game, went 1 for 2 at the plate with two walks, a run scored and two RBI.
It probably won't be a hitter's park for either team tonight. Waggoner said cold weather usually means the ball won't carry as far, plus the park's infield plays slow. But Dundon said he's happy to step to the plate in Charleston.
"I like hitting there personally," he said. "I see the ball well there. There's a big background. I don't let it affect me; I just try to play my game."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.