Outfielder Scott Underwood is just glad they’re on his team.
If opposing pitchers don’t fear the three seniors in the heart of Jacksonville State’s lineup, they’re either not paying attention or foolish.
Sam Eberle, Ben Waldrip and Kyle Bluestein give the Gamecocks a powerful punch in the 3-4-5 spots in the order.
Collectively, they go into this week’s OVC Tournament hitting .340.
The 35 homers they’ve hit are first among any 3-4-5 gauntlet in the league and their 201 hits are second.
“They’re awful good, but they’re also awfully experienced,” JSU coach Jim Case said. “Every one of them has had major at-bats, so there’s a lot of experience there, and when they’re hitting we’re hard to stop.
“I think good pitching beats good hitting a lot of times, but you’d better make good pitches when you face those guys or they can hurt you. If you make mistakes, they can hammer it.”
Eberle leads the Gamecocks in hitting (.354), hits (68), runs (45), doubles (16) and walks (35). He is working on a streak of 41 consecutive games reaching base. He’s hitting a league-leading .434 against conference pitching.
Waldrip is batting .333 and is tied for second in the league in homers (18) and fourth in RBIs (55). His 0.37 homers per game average leads the nation. He has hit 10 of his homers since April 17 (20 games).
In the crucial Game 3 of OVC series this year, he is hitting 20 of 38 with 14 RBIs. He’s the reigning OVC Player of the Week after going 11-for-18 with 10 runs, three homers and eight RBIs in four games.
Bluestein is batting .332 with 67 hits, nine homers and 39 RBIs. He’s driven in at least one run in 11 of his last 14 games.
“The numbers don’t lie,” Waldrip said. “But aside of them, you’ve got Eberle, me and Bluestein together right-left-right, it’s impossible to pitch around them. You might get one guy or walk a guy, then you have to pitch to somebody else with someone on that’s even more of a threat.
“It’s pretty exciting. If Sam’s leading off an inning you know you’re going to hit, and if he’s not on base you know you’re going to hit behind a guy who’s had a quality at bat. That was one of the huge reasons I came back. Last year, they could pitch around a couple guys in the lineup, but this year not only are we beating them with other guys, Eberle, me and Bluestein are gonna get pitches to hit.
“It’s like the (Texas) Rangers’ lineup. That’s why (Josh) Hamilton is getting pitches to hit, because of the other players in the lineup.”
The middle of the lineup is supposed to be a team’s power plant, and the Gamecocks’ Big Three haven’t disappointed. They have hit 17 of the Gamecocks’ last 19 homers. Two of them have homered in the same game six times; the Gamecocks are 5-1 in those games.
The Gamecocks (26-28) have won 14 games this season when at least one of them hits a homer, including nine of the last 10 games it’s happened. They’ve won the last five in which Waldrip has gone yard.
“It’s really nice to be hitting with those guys behind me,” Eberle said.
“It seems like every time I get on Waldrip is driving me in or Bluestein’s driving me in. It’s about as good as I’ve seen. Especially when we’re clicking on all cylinders, the middle of the lineup is really hard to pitch to.”
“I’m glad they’re on my team,” said Underwood, who sets the table for them as the No. 2 hitter. “All of them are so big, so strong, but they’re smart hitters, too. They’re dangerous hitters all the time. You can’t say that about everybody. They’re dangerous all the time.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.