OVC Tournament Notebook: Piazza Not Just Happy to be There; Gamecocks' DH
Playing Big Role
By Al Muskewitz
Star Sports Writer
Reprinted here in its entirety.
PADUCAH, Ky. — There may not be a player in the Jacksonville State dugout
more appreciative of being at the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament this year
than Brian Piazza.
The junior outfielder/DH missed last year's tournament — and subsequent trip
to the Tuscaloosa Regional — recovering from a broken left ankle he suffered in
the final game of the fourth OVC series of the season.
“It's definitely a good feeling of excitement,” Piazza said. “Last year, I
had to listen to it on the Internet, and it makes you really appreciate things,
understand this is where you want to be and this is the time of year you play
It wasn't the first time Piazza was sidelined with an injury. He broke his
right foot during the 2005 OVC Tournament, but didn't know the extent of the
injury until a few months later.
The injury and recovery time forced him to miss the fall season. He returned
in the spring to play 27 games before breaking the other ankle in a slide at the
plate at Eastern Illinois.
“You really appreciate everything so much more when you're forced to sit
out,” Piazza said. “It puts a whole new perspective on things and lets you
realize this is what you're here to do and this is what you play for.”
And he is playing. After seeing spot duty in the middle of the season, Piazza
has been the Gamecocks' DH the last 16 games — since the dismissal of Garrett
Bass — including Thursday's 15-2 rout of Southeast Missouri. He has batted .360
over that stretch (18-for-50), including a five-game run earlier this month in
which he went 11-for-15 with four RBIs.
“Once he got back in the lineup, he's been pretty steady,” JSU head coach Jim
Case said. “He's been really consistent.
“I think he's handled himself really well. Even the times he wasn't playing,
I think he continued to work hard to try to get himself better and kept his eyes
focused on the end - what could be, instead of what is.”
And now, at this most crucial period of the season, he's the most comfortable
he's felt all year. The only residual effect of the injuries is, he conceded,
was still being a step slow, but the Gamecocks have a remedy for that.
“Luckily, I bat DH and it saves me from doing too much running,” he said.
“Luckily, we've got a deep bench, so I can come take a seat when they need to
put some speed on the base paths.”
• IN HIS HAND: As expected, junior right-hander Donovan Hand will draw the
start for the Gamecocks today against top-seeded Austin Peay.
This year, he beat Peay on a nine-inning complete game with 12 strikeouts. He
gave up four hits and one run in eight innings against Samford.
In his career, Hand is 2-1 with a 1.53 ERA against Peay.
With Austin Peay and Samford being one of the day's later games, for a while,
Hand didn't quite know who he'd be facing today.
“It doesn't matter either one,” he said. “You're still concentrating, you're
still going to be pumped up for it. I just want to go out and give my best
effort and at the end of the day hope that will be enough.”
The only alteration to the pitching plans for today is freshman Ben Tootle
will not pitch. He's scheduled to throw the third game of the tournament.
Tootle was warming up in the bullpen Thursday — his usual bullpen day — and
could have been used if desired.
• WORTH NOTING: Four doubles by Jax State hitters Thursday gave the team 121
for the season, which would be second on the single-season list. The 1998 team
hit a record 129 doubles ... The Gamecocks tied an OVC Tournament school record
by turning two double plays in the game. But they also tied an OVC Tournament
school record by hitting into two double plays in the first three innings ...
Because SEMO led 1-0 early in the game, Thursday's 15-2 victory qualifies as the
Gamecocks' 20th come-from-behind victory this season ... JSU is now 63-25 in May
under coach Jim Case ... NCAA Regional bids will be announced Sunday at 2:30
p.m. on ESPN News. The field of 64 will be announced Monday at 11:30 a.m. on
• GUNG HO GAMECOCKS: The Gamecocks' 15-2 victory over Southeast Missouri made
a lot of people happy overseas. According to a note passed to JSU broadcaster
Carl Brady Thursday, Golf Company of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines from Camp
Lajeune, N.C., several of whom are from the Jacksonville area, were plugging
into the game via the internet over in Iraq.
Jacksonville St. vs. Austin Peay
Today at 6:30 p.m. on 91.9 FM
About Al Muskewitz
Al Muskewitz covers golf and Jacksonville State
University sports teams for The Star.
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