Short on talent, pitching and experience, the members of the American University baseball team have surprised everyone, including themselves, by their remarkable turnaround this season.
At one point 3-13 early this season, they have won 15 of their last 20 games. More important, in a doubleheader sweep Sunday against Hofstra, the team claimed its first East Coast Conference regular-season championship by winning the East Division.
The Eagles (8-2, 18-18) play West Division runner-up West Chester at noon today in the ECC tournament at Newark, Del. Temple plays Delaware in the other game of the double-elimination tournament that sends the winner into the NCAA playoffs.
Coach Dee Frady, in his 17th year at AU, said the turnaround in the team's play is "attributable to everyone doing his job."
"We're a very young ball club (American-graduated eight seniors in 1980), and at the outset of the season they were very leery of what they could do," Frady said. "We were compounding mistakes instead of alleviating them."
The Eagles began the season with a southern swing in which they played such powers as East Tennessee State and nationally ranked Georgia Southern. They came home 2-8.
"We were so outclassed down there it was unbelievable," said outfielder Jim Jeffries. "But we learned by playing those good teams. They whipped up on us, but it showed us how to play good ball."
Playing well is nothing new to Jeffries, a senior from Peary High School. He is hitting .368, with a school-record 12 home runs and 38 RBI, one shy of the AU record. He has 50 hits and 98 total bases, both school records. In the last 11 games Jeffries hit safely 25 times in 48 at-bats, including six homers, and had four four-hit games for a .520 batting average. On Tuesday, Jeffries was named ECC player of the week.
Frady said Jeffries has relaxed the team and has helped the younger ptFrady said Jeffries has relaxed the team and has helped the younger players concentrate more on their game.
"Jim has tremendous power, and his hitting has taken a lot of pressure off the other guys who had been pushing too hard early in the season," Frady said.
The Eagles are admittedly thin at pitching. Only Chris Adomanis, a junior from ybowie, and senior John Hampford stand out. But intermittent rainouts have allowed both pitchers to throw with ample rest, and, as Frady explained, "When you win with them you go with them."
Adomanis (6-4) and Hampford (6-2), both right-handers, have pitched in nine straight games for the Eagles and figure to keep the streak going this weekend.
Said Frady: "We're simply ecstatic at being No. 1. This team has an awful lot of character, and I really can't take any credit for the job the team has done."