UAB Baseball catches success on and off the field

Team_C-USAChampionship

Batter batter scholar HEY!

After UAB Baseball ended its most successful season in 22 years in the NCAA Regional Tournament in Tallahassee June 2, Blazer coaches and players made a quick return to Young Memorial Field just 36 hours later.

That’s because UAB Baseball started its summer baseball camps June 4, and many Birmingham-area kids were eager to learn fundamentals.

“It’s been a whirlwind the past couple of weeks,” says UAB Baseball Coach Brian Shoop. “We got back from regionals Sunday night, did all of our individual exit interviews with our players, turned in equipment and started a camp at 7:45 Monday morning. And when I get into the office at 4:30 at the end of the day we recruit. And we’re going out on the road to recruit when this camp ends.

“It doesn’t stop. You keep grinding. We’ll continue to try and make our school proud.”

Box scores

UAB’s baseball team is producing results on and off the field. Here’s at look at some recent accolades:

2012

  • C-USA Tournament champions
  • First regional appearance since 1991 (second in program history)
  • 20-12 non-conference record
  • 9-3 against in-state opponents
  • Three road victories against Top 20 teams
  • 24 of 32 roster players earned a 3.0 or better in at least one of the two academic semesters
  • Fall team GPA – 3.08; spring team GPA – 3.05
  • 18 players earned a 3.0 or better in both semesters
  • 13 players earned President's List honors (3.6 or better)
  • Eight players earned a perfect 4.0 GPA in at least one semester
  • Infielder Keith DePew earned a perfect 4.0 GPA in both semesters
  • DePew was named the top male student-athlete at UAB, the fifth straight year a baseball player earned the honor
  • DePew also earned NCAA all-district academic honors, one of only five C-USA players selected

The baseball program certainly accomplished that this season with an impressive post-season run to the Conference USA Tournament championship — its first in 17 years in the league — and a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991.

The Blazers finished the year 32-30, including a 9-15 record in conference play. UAB finished seventh in the conference in the regular season and clearly were underdogs heading into the conference tournament in Pearl, Miss., in late May.

Still, says Shoop, his team's confidence was high. Although the Blazers lost 15 conference games this season, they were competitive in most of them — tied or ahead as late as the eighth inning — so the belief they could win was there.

“We thought we had a legitimate chance, especially if we played well,” Shoop says. “If we play well, we can play with and beat anybody in our league.”

UAB played well — and in the clutch — throughout the tournament, from the opening game 15-1 thrashing of then-No. 15 Central Florida, to the 5-0 championship game victory over rival Memphis.

UAB players Keith DePew, John Frost, Jeff Schalk, Michael Busby, Chase Mallard and Ryan Nance earned all-tournament team honors, and Busby was voted tournament MVP.

Busby came on in relief in the championship game with the bases loaded and one out with UAB ahead 3-0. He proceeded to strike out the next two hitters — including C-USA Player of the Year Jacob Wilson — and helped lead the Blazers to the win.

“When he struck both of those guys out, that was a huge emotional moment,” Shoop says.

DogPile_C-USAChampionshipThe Blazers added two more runs and were the ones celebrating a few outs later.

“I had told the kids the night before to dream of a dog pile,” Shoop says. “Dream of wearing a championship shirt. Dream of getting a ring next fall at one of Coach [Garrick] McGee’s first football games. Boy, did they dog pile — as good of one as I’ve ever seen. It was really a thrilling moment for our kids and our program.”

Keith
UAB Baseball Coach Brian Shoop, left, and senior Keith DePew helped lead the Blazers to their first Conference USA Tournament championship.

The Blazers followed the conference tournament championship with a strong showing in the regional tournament against traditional baseball powers Florida State and Mississippi State. Shoop’s coaching staff has spent its six years at UAB preparing players for that environment, playing at historic programs including Arizona State, Cal-State Fullerton, Baylor, Coastal Carolina and Clemson.

“I don’t think our kids were overwhelmed,” Shoop says. “We out-hit Florida State 10 to five, and we left 12 guys on base. We had a great chance in that game and played them really, really well. It was a close game late against Mississippi State, the SEC champion, and then we had one bad inning.

“For a program like ours that has not won, I don’t want our focus to be on losing the last two games of the season against the national No. 3 seed on their field and to the SEC champion that has one of the richest baseball histories in the country,” Shoop says. “Our focus is going to be on the amazing accomplishment of winning the C-USA tournament championship for the first time ever.”

Strong performers off the field, too

Overall the past six years

• Four wins in a row against Troy

• Five wins in past six tries against Alabama, including four in a row

• Two 30-win seasons in the past three years

• Fourth consecutive winning season for the first time since 1992-98

• A player has been named to the C-USA All-Academic team seven times

• Three times a player has been named academic all-district

• UAB had the highest GPA among baseball teams in 2008

• One player was named in C-USA Scholar-Athlete of the Year (2009)

• 107 times a player has been named to the C-USA Commissioner's honor roll (3.0 GPA or higher)

• 27 students have earned the C-USA Academic Medal for having a GPA of 3.75 or higher

To understand how the Blazers reached this point in 2012, Shoop says, you also have to look at the character of his team.

It’s a group that battles on the field and off it, he says, and many of the players have been recognized for their successes in both the athletic and academic arenas.

Seniors Ryan Nance, a Brandon, Miss., native, and DePew, a Trussville native, were named to the All Academic C-USA Team. DePew also was one of only five C-USA players to be named Academic All District. He also earned the top Male Senior Student-Athlete GPA at UAB with a 3.92. That honor marked the fifth year in a row the baseball program has had a player win that award.

The list of accolades for the team runs longer. Twenty-four of 33 players earned a 3.0 GPA or better in at least one semester this past academic year, with 18 earning a 3.0 or better for both semesters. Thirteen players earned President’s List honors (3.6 or above) at least one semester, and eight earned a 4.0 GPA in at least one semester. DePew posted a 4.0 in both semesters.

The overall team GPA for the fall was 3.08; it was 3.05 for the spring.

“We’ve recruited kids who care about school and are going to do well,” Shoop says. “They are kids that understand you can succeed in both arenas. It’s not that we haven’t had our moments of disappointment in the classroom. But the majority of our kids are committed. The feedback we get from UAB faculty is that they like the kids, they are serious students, and they take their education as a high priority and do a good job.”

Shoop says Danez Marrable, associate athletics director for Student Support Services, and Josh Watson, academic advisor, have helped provide the reinforcement needed for his players.

“They are a great support system,” Shoop says. “Everything is geared for our players to do well as long as they want to do well, and most of them do most of the time.”

The players also hold themselves accountable. Shoop assigns nine four-man groups among the team each year in the fall. A senior or long-tenured junior is selected by Shoop as each group’s leader. The groups are responsible for everything from ensuring each member attends meetings to participating in community-service projects to putting together presentations to make in front of the team.

“Unbelievable kids”

Recruiting players who strive to be better on the field and off and display high character give your program an opportunity to experience success, Shoop says.

“We have some unbelievable kids — the kind you hope your daughter will bring home one day,” Shoop says. “And we have a lot of kids that you want to bring your son to watch them play and be around them in our camps because they’re a good influence. Really good players with high character and a high work ethic give you a chance.”

Overall, says Shoop, this year was pretty special for UAB athletics.

“You’ve got a soccer team that wins the conference championship. You’ve got a golf team that goes to the national tournament. You’ve got a softball team that’s runner-up in the conference and goes to their third regional tournament in a row. And you’ve got a baseball team that wins the conference and goes to a regional tournament,” Shoop says. “That’s pretty neat for a baby athletic program in the same year.

“I hope all of the UAB supporters feel really good that this was a special year.”

Shoop also hopes this is the first of many postseason successes for his baseball team. He certainly wants to experience playoff baseball again soon, but his first priority is always in helping his players develop as people.

“We’re going to work like crazy to get back,” Shoop says, “but I never judge our success solely based on if we win on the field. We want to develop a great student and challenge them in every area of their life. Most of them are not going to play professionally, but most of them are going to be husbands and fathers. I want them to leave better prepared for that. I want them to leave with an ethical understanding of how to live right. We might not win another conference championship, but if we’re making a difference in their lives, I can live with that. In the end, that’s what is more important.”

Go Blazers!