JACKSONVILLE — Clay Whittemore called the season he enjoyed in 2007 the best
year of baseball ever.
It got better Tuesday.
The Jacksonville State senior outfielder was named Ohio Valley Conference
Co-Player of the Year — winning the award for the second year in a row.
It was a nice honor last year, he agreed, but he always felt there was
something missing from making it great. This year he has a conference
championship to go with it, making it all complete.
"Last year it seemed surreal how everything went," Whittemore said. "It was
the best year of baseball that I've ever had
"This year, from an individual standpoint, I think it's been better, and also
from a team standpoint it's been better. The thing that comes to my mind is, I
was able to help win a conference championship, which is something I was unable
to do last year. To me, that tops it all right there."
The eve of the OVC Tournament proved to be a big day for the Gamecocks on the
awards front. The regular-season champions collected three of the four major OVC
awards and placed 10 players on the all-conference teams.
Whittemore shared Player of the Year honors with Samford shortstop Michael
Outfielder Todd Cunningham was the runaway winner of Freshman of the Year and
Jim Case was voted Coach of the Year.
It was the first time since 1992 that two players shared the OVC's top player
award, and Whittemore became the first player since Murray State's George Dugan
(1964-65) to win it in consecutive years.
After an All-American junior year, Whittemore put together an even better
season this year. He hit .421 with 90 hits, eight home runs and 63 RBIs. In OVC
games, he hit .457 with six home runs and 34 RBIs.
"I think it's been better (than last year) and the reason I say that is
because he's assumed such a leadership role," Case said. "Clay has been a guy
who has not only held up his end — and his numbers speak for themselves— but I
think he's been a guy who's helped others push themselves.
"I look back at where he was as a sophomore and not that he didn't play hard
and get after it — he did — but it was more of a lead by example. He's certainly
been more vocal as a senior and his leadership skills have really helped us."
Whittemore, the Gamecocks' all-time hits leader, takes a 13-game hitting
streak into the top seed's OVC Tournament opener on Thursday. True to his
character, he wanted to spread the credit.
"Last year I had great guys in front of me," he said. "Some of them are gone
now, but they were replaced by really good guys.
"Todd Cunningham, Steven Leach is back with us and a great guy to have in
front of you, and Brian Piazza hitting behind me, I'm going to see a lot of
pitches to hit because he's swinging it really good now, too."
Cunningham hit .343 with an OVC-leading 62 runs, 14 doubles, a home run and
29 RBIs. He hit .356 in 27 OVC games. Since he became JSU's leadoff man, the
team has gone 27-5.
Case guided a team that won its second OVC regular-season title, set the
single-season record for OVC victories and is sharing the longest active winning
streak in the country.
He is 225-181 in his JSU career and has been linked to current SEC coaching
openings at Mississippi State and Auburn.
The Gamecocks put five players on the All-OVC first team, three on the second
and had three selections on the newcomer team.
Whittemore was joined on the first team by second baseman Bert Smith,
infielder Steven Leach, starting pitcher Ben Tootle and reliever Alex Jones.
Tootle will draw the start in the Gamecocks' tournament opener on Thursday.
Cunningham, designated hitter Brian Piazza and reliever Brian Booth were
second team picks. Booth, 8-0 as a reliever this year, was listed as a starter
even though he's started only one game in 75 career appearances. Cunningham,
pitcher Jordan Beistline — JSU's projected tournament second game starter — and
infielder Jake Sharrock made the All-Freshman Team.
See story at The Anniston Star's website: www.annistonstar.com