Davis leads the way to CWS for Southern

Published 10:16 pm Sunday, June 14, 2009

(AP) — Bo Davis is the perfect leadoff hitter for Southern Miss.

The senior center fielder showed why he is so suited for the role after he returned to the leadoff spot for the postseason and sparked the Golden Eagles’ shocking run to the College World Series. Davis has used his speed, power and actor’s sense of timing to set the tone for a team long ago written off.

“I enjoy it a lot,” said Davis, who was temporarily moved to the No. 3 spot after an injury early this year. “You’ve got your 2, 3 and 4 hitters coming up behind you, so typically a pitcher’s going to come after you to get you out. He can’t let you get on. That’s a great battle mentality. They’re throwing their fastballs at you and you either square up and hit them or get out. I like that aspect of it.”

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Davis has been winning those challenges as the Golden Eagles have gone 5-1, including a two-game sweep of Florida, on their way to Omaha, and a first-round matchup Sunday with top seed Texas.

He has hit .435 since NCAA play began with 10 hits in 23 at-bats, nine runs, four home runs, six runs batted in and four walks. He’s been a constant source of consternation to opposing pitchers with just one hitless game in that span.

“That’s the way I like to play it — aggressive, all out all the time,” Davis said. “And definitely leadoff is a good place to do that because everywhere else maybe they’re throwing you off-speed pitches. In the three hole I had to be a lot more patient whenever I was in there because you get a lot more off-speed stuff.”

So do the Golden Eagles (40-24), who are this year’s feel-good story. Once thought out of the postseason race, Southern Miss has pulled off a string of improbable victories with grit and spunk. It’s been an emotional run since coach Corky Palmer announced his retirement in April.

At the time, it looked as if Southern Miss’ streak of six straight regionals was over. But an appearance in the Conference USA championship game gave the team the boost it needed to sneak into the postseason. Since then Davis and his teammates have found ways to get out of every jam and deficit.

Texas (46-14-1) may be their toughest challenge yet. The Longhorns specialize is shutting down the opponent with wicked pitching.

“I think the thing that makes them special is that pitching will wear you down,” Palmer said. “You don’t want to be behind when that closer (Austin Wood) gets in. He’s tough.”

The Longhorns will walk with a swagger into Rosenblatt Stadium. Their staff earned-run average is a suffocating 2.84 and opponents are batting .222 against them.

Wood, a fifth-round pick by Detroit in the Major League Baseball draft, is 5-1 with 15 of the team’s 18 saves. He’s just one of nine Longhorns pitchers with an ERA of 3.52 or less.

“Confident” was a word uttered often by Texas players this week.

“I feel really confident going up there and I think we’re going to have a really special time up there,” said freshman Austin Dicharry, who was 8-2 this season with a 2.40 ERA.

“I’m not really nervous. It’s on a bigger stage, of course, but I think we’re going to handle it just fine.”

First off, though, they’ll have to handle Davis, something opponents have struggled with no matter where in the lineup he’s batting. He’s hitting .371 this season, starting every game for the Golden Eagles. He leads the team in slugging percentage (.649) and has an on-base percentage of .488.

He has 14 home runs, 10 steals, 53 RBIs and has walked (43) more times than he’s struck out (40).

“Bo first of all is like a five-tool guy,” fellow senior Brian Dozier said. “He can hit for power and doubles, but he’s also got the speed to be a leadoff hitter. Hitting two hole behind him is really awesome to me because of the fact when he gets on base so much, he’s a threat to steal, so you get a lot of fastballs. They’re not going to feed you all this off-speed stuff because they’re trying to throw him out.”

Southern Miss’ success in Omaha will be tied to Davis’. Palmer trusts his center fielder completely and intends to let him have free rein during the series.

For Palmer, it’s always been “however he feels that at-bat, judging how the pitcher’s pitching him, whether he’s more aggressive or takes pitches. Being a fifth-year senior, being in the program and being a third-year starter, he knows what he’s doing and I’ve got a lot of faith in him.”