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ET Baseball: LeTourneau YellowJackets relishing national ranking

By Jack Stallard
March 18, 2014 at 11 p.m.

Robin Harriss knew his players had been discussing the national rankings recently, but talk of polls and rankings around the LeTourneau University baseball complex has been done in hushed tones.

That all changed on Tuesday when the YellowJackets climbed into both the Collegiate Baseball Division 3 (No. 22) and the D3baseball.com (No. 24) polls.

"Honestly, I didn't even know there were two polls," Harriss said on Tuesday. "I saw the one (D3baseball.com) and knew we had been receiving votes. The kids talk about it a little under the table, but we tried not to make a big deal out of it."

LeTourneau, coming off a sweep of American Southwest Conference rival East Texas Baptist University, is currently 16-2 overall and 11-1 in the ASC. The YellowJackets have won three in a row and eight of nine heading into a weekend series at Mississippi College.

"It's not our goal to be ranked, but you can't help think about it and get excited about it when it does happen," Harriss said. "It motivates the guys to do better when they get that kind of notoriety. When you do good things consecutively, good things happen and it feels good to be noticed."

The YellowJackets are doing a lot of things well.

Through the first 18 games, LeTournea is hitting .322 as a team while limiting opponents to a .252 average. Thirteen players have had multi-hit games, and 10 have had multi-RBI efforts.

LETU pitchers have an earned run average of 2.89 in 102 2/3 innings of work, and the YellowJackets have not lost a game when leading after six innings.

Harriss said the program made big strides on and off the field a year ago, finishing with a 22-16 record overall and an 8-10 mark in conference play. The previous four teams had all finished below .500 overall and in conference play - 15-23, 7-11 in 2012, 19-21, 7-11 in 2011, 11-29, 2-16 in 2010 and 14-22, 5-13 in 2009.

"Last year was a stepping stone. ...a building block," Harriss said. "We had a veteran team that enjoyed some success. We laid the groundwork a couple of years ago. We focused on getting kids who were a good fit for the university rather than just finding a bunch of guys who wanted to play baseball. We made that switch, and it helped with retention. It helped with the graduation rate. When you have guys who can come to the filed and focus on baseball because they have taken care of their other business, it helps."

Harriss said being able to rely on veterans is also a key to the program's turnaround.

"When you can put a veteran club on the field that is primarily juniors and seniors, it helps a tremendous amount in this conference," the coach said. "We don't have one of two good seniors and seven freshmen playing like in the past."

Another key to the turnaround has been the mining of East Texas diamonds for talent.

Garrett Methvin (Spring Hill), Landon Methvin (Spring Hill), David Perkins (Pine Tree), Caleb Pritchett (Longview), and Jordan Argabright (Harmony) are all among the team's top offensive producers, and Justin Jenkins (Hallsville) and Jordan Price (New Diana) are a combined 8-0 on the mound.

"In the past, we couldn't get local guys to give us a look," Harriss said. "We've made this a good spot to come and play with the facilities and the success we've had."

Ryan Bertram leads the team offensively with a .441 average, seven doubles and 17 RBIs. Garrett Methvin is hitting .391 with two home runs. Bryce Griffin (.365, five doubles, 12 RBIs), David Perkins (.355, 1 HR, 7 RBIs), Sean Sellers (.353, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HR, 14 RBIs), Chris Bertram (.328, 5 doubles, 13 RBIs) and Pritchett (.300, HR, 6 RBIs) are the top producers on offense.

Jenkins (5-0, 3.72 ERA), Cody Whitley (4-0, 1.71 ERA), Price (3-0, 4.02 ERA) and Kirby Cantalamessa (4 saves) give the YellowJackets one of the most formidable pitching staffs in the ASC.

The YellowJackets are 3-0 this season in one-run games and 6-0 in games decided by two runs or less, a trend started a year ago when the team played 11 one-run games and won six of them.

"Last year we won a bunch of one-run games, and I think that has helped us this year," Harriss said. "We know how to handle the pressure situations with some experience now."

The YellowJackets will visit Mississippi College for three games this weekend, playing one game on Friday and two on Saturday. Following a non-conference game at home on Tuesday (7 p.m.) against Wiley College, LeTourneau will host a three-game series against Concordia on March 28-29. Concordia is currently 10-1 in ASC play and ranked No. 20 in the Collegiate Baseball Division 3 poll and No. 21 in the D3baseball.com poll.



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