After winning all four games since the beginning of this season, three of which were shutout games, the Union baseball team, under the leadership of Coach Lee Driggers, is off to a strong start. Driggers pushes his players to perform at 100 percent, and already it appears to be paying off.
However, in the midst of impressive victories against Ouachita Baptist University and Lemoyne-Owen College, Driggers believes there is still much more work to be done.
“Our guys are playing with confidence right now,” Driggers said. “Our response has been good, and it should be. [But] the test of any team comes when you face adversity.”
How the team deals with the “ups and downs remains to be seen,” but there is a lot of potential.
Last year wasn’t the best for Union’s baseball program, as the team only won a total of seven games, the first of which was the ninth game of the season.
“It was obvious that the program had slipped,” Driggers said. “I was hired to take us to a different level, and you do that with players.”
He credits his assistant coach, Brance Rivera, for his successful recruiting coordination. Twenty-five players were signed this season, so the team is fairly young. While skills are still being developed, the future of the program looks promising.
Ryne Roper, a pitcher and infielder who recently transferred as a junior from the University of Illinois, said there is a “good team chemistry” already.
“For the amount of time we’ve spent together, it’s growing really well,” Roper said.
Since he stepped into the role of head coach in the summer of 2014, Coach Driggers has been focused on rebuilding. This year is still a time of rebuilding, as he said that the whole process takes three to four years. But even though this is only his second season at Union, the team has obviously shown a lot of progress.
“This year is a foundation for the future,” Driggers said.
The team’s trademark is their strong defense.
“We haven’t made an error yet this season,” sophomore outfielder, Brady Cook said. “The outfielders, infielders and catchers are solid and so is the pitching.”
The consistency in defense gives the team an opportunity to bring their hitting to a higher level. Driggers said the team has the ability to hit, but “timely hitting” is essential in college level baseball. The team consists of “dangerous hitters” who can generate the home runs, but equally important are the guys who consistently get the base hits. Every run counts and earning RBIs and putting players in scoring position is necessary, as is hitting the ball out of the park. The hitters seem to maintain a good balance between the two.
The team’s goal is to win enough games this season to qualify for the conference tournament, and then win the conference tournament. But the coaches and players know that will happen one game at a time. While they work toward that goal, they intend to play, as Roper put it, “for the audience of one.”
“This year, we have an attitude of expecting to win,” Cook said.
The team understands improvements won’t happen over night, and they intend to steadily and consistently do what it takes to succeed in college baseball.