Walters State returns to Junction with solid pitching, defense
Ken Campbell used to recruit the big, burly players who could hit a home run at any time.
His 2006 Walters State (Tenn.) Community College baseball team hit more than 140 home runs en route to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series title. In 2008, the Senators set a school record with 161 home runs and qualified for the World Series.
The Senators are back in the World Series this year, but don’t have near the amount of home runs.
“This is a totally different team,” Campbell said. “With the bat specifications, we changed our philosophy in recruiting. We put our emphasis on pitching and defense.
“Offensively, we bunt a lot more than we used to. We take what they give us as far as stealing bases.”
The Senators (37-16) have more stolen bases (55) than home runs (43) this season, but they still rank fifth in the NJCAA in power hitting.
Sophomore outfielder Jared Allen leads the team with 10 home runs. The cleanup batter is hitting .391 with 15 doubles and 51 RBI.
Allen transferred to Walters State from the University of Tennessee last year.
Reid Matthews is hitting .317 with 10 doubles, eight home runs and 50 RBI. Elijah Sutherland bats leadoff, hitting .385 with 24 doubles, eight stolen bases and has a .495 on-base percentage.
Matt Harrell is hitting .346 with 10 doubles, three home runs, 39 RBI and has 12 stolen bases.
“Our position players are just now starting to jell,” Campbell said. “We’re starting to get more consistent.”
The pitching staff is solid with a 3.34 ERA.
Starting pitcher Taylor Patterson is 8-4 with a 2.52 ERA.
“He throws hard and has a good breaking pitch,” Campbell said.
Jay Gause (8-5, 2.98 ERA) usually pitches the second game of a series. He has 87 strikeouts in 81 2/3 innings. Josh Peterson is 8-3 with a 4.64 ERA.
The Senators rolled through the East Central District tournament behind their pitching staff.
Patterson and Gause each had complete-game victories over Columbia State (Tenn.) Community College.
“We have quite a bit of pitching depth,” Campbell said. “I feel good about that part. I hope we can hit and score some runs.”
That never used to be a problem for Walters State.
The Senators usually bring a stellar record to the World Series. They won more than 50 games in 2006.
“We don’t normally lose 16 games in a season,” Campbell said. “This team kind of struggled during the year. We’re playing a lot better ball.”
They lost two key players to season-ending injuries before the season even started.
Sophomore pitcher Will Carter, who has already signed with the University of Tennessee for next year, injured his elbow before the season started and needed Tommy John surgery.
Center fielder James Fowlkes ran into the outfield wall chasing down a fly ball and injured a shoulder.
“I felt like we had the team to start the season,” Campbell said. “We had those setbacks. We couldn’t get consistent. If we played our best ball, we had a chance to get back.
“That was our second weekend when we went to Chipola (players were hurt). They knew it was a tough loss, but they needed to rebound and get the job done.”
A few weeks later, another center fielder, Michael Smith, began having problems with a hamstring.
“He’s just coming back,” Campbell said. “We’ve had some adversity.”
It wasn’t just injuries and opponents that made this year a challenge.
Weather was an issue.
“The weather has been brutal this year,” Campbell said. “It seemed like every game we played was cold. We could never get any consistency. Once you get out of batting cage and start playing, you don’t like to go back inside, but we did a few times. We’re just now putting it all together.”