WKU baseball info

1 05 2010

The Western Kentucky baseball team picked up its third straight Sun Belt victory last night with a 7-4 win over host Troy down in Troy, Ala. 

The win puts WKU at 31-14, 12-7 in league play as it continues to head down the stretch. 

Obviously there’s a lot of time for things to change, but as of Thursday, Rivals.com had the Hilltoppers playing in the Atlanta Regional (hosted by Georgia Tech), playing with No. 1 Ga. Tech, No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 4 Army. WKU was the No. 3 seed. 

Other SBC teams projected in that same Rivals bracket were Florida Atlantic (No. 2 in the Coral Gables Region), and South Alabama (No. 3 in the Oxford Region). 

And as of right now – that seems to make sense to me. FAU and USA are currently ahead of WKU in the SBC standings (all three are probably the three best squads right now) and thus were given better draws. 

But, again, we’ve got another month before we’ll really start to be able to put a clear label on who gets in and where they’ll be headed. 

In the meantime, check out the story on WKU senior Matt Payton that ran in today’s Daily News

Check it out here:

Or, here it is in full:

Joe Imel/Daily News

Payton’s light-hearted mentality pays off for Tops

By NICK BAUMGARDNER

The Daily News

nbaumgardner@bgdailynews.com/783-3239
Friday, April 30, 2010 11:10 PM CDT

In the baseball movie “Bull Durham,” catcher Crash Davis’ first lesson for the game is as follows: “Don’t think, it can only hurt the ballclub.”

And in the childhood baseball film “The Sandlot,” team leader Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez offers some advice to novice Scotty Smalls by bluntly explaining, “Man, this is baseball, you gotta stop thinking.”

As far as Western Kentucky senior second baseman Matt Payton is concerned, those are words to live by.

A charismatic, fun-loving, constantly joking scrapper from Louisville, Payton not only makes that philosophy the catalyst for the best season of his collegiate career, he’s also the undisputed personality and engine-starter for one of the best regular-season Hilltopper baseball teams in school history.

“Baseball’s a pressure-filled game,” Payton explains. “There’s a lot of pressure situations with everything you do. But if you go up there relaxed, good things usually happen.

“So the key really is to go out there, have fun, don’t think about the bad things – all you can do is just try everything you can and just see what happens.”

Relaxation and unwavering hustle have worked well for Payton, who entered Friday night’s game at Sun Belt Conference foe Troy hitting a team-best .392 with seven homers, nine triples, 48 RBIs and a .463 on-base percentage.

A leading contender for Sun Belt Most Valuable Player honors this season, Payton entered this weekend’s series at Troy among the top five players in the SBC in batting average (.392), hits (69), runs (53), triples (9), RBIs (48), total bases (120) and slugging percentage (.682).

Payton has come a long way since he was a freshman who, according to WKU coach Chris Finwood, spent far too much time being hard on himself. Now, Payton is the player in the Hilltopper locker room making sure his younger teammates don’t make the same mistake. Because of that, WKU’s loose leader has helped mold the youthful Hilltoppers into a team that has spent the bulk of the 2010 season in the national rankings.

“It’s fun watching these kids grow up into being seniors, because he was one of those kids as a young player who really got down on himself pretty easily,” Finwood said. “But he’s really grown and matured and realized that’s not the best way to approach baseball. He’s got it figured out, and without a doubt he’s the personality of our team. We go as he goes.

“He’s a phenomenal college player, a tremendous leader and a great kid. And I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

The loose persona of the Hilltoppers was on full display earlier this season before a game at Florida Atlantic, when both WKU and FAU participated in an extended showmanship battle of “Rain Delay Theater.” A series of back and forth skits was caught on video and was eventually shown all over ESPN programs for nearly a week – earning Payton a spot on ESPN’s “First Take” to discuss the video.

But even when he’s refereeing a mock wrestling match during a rain delay, goofing on a teammate in warm-ups or goading a fellow player into a burst of laughter during a postgame interview – there seems to be a method to Payton’s madness.

Ultimately, it’s all about the game.

“We try to keep it fun,” Payton said. “We like to joke around before the game, try not to think so much about things and just stay loose and take everything as it comes to you.

“You can’t go out there and think, ‘Gosh, if I don’t get a hit here we’re going to lose.’ You’ve got to go out there and stay positive and have a good outlook on the game.”

More than just a ringleader and a top-notch college player, Payton has also turned himself into a player with the potential to play baseball for a living.

After WKU saw a school-record six players drafted last season, Finwood feels Payton is capable of finding his way onto a minor league roster.

“I think he’s absolutely played himself into a guy who is going to have a chance to play professional baseball,” Finwood said. “I’ve talked to a lot of scouts about him who have said they value so much about how he plays and the things he’s able to do out there. He’s played himself into being that kind of guy and I couldn’t be happier.

“I told somebody last week, whatever team gets him, he’ll be that manager’s favorite player – he’s that kind of guy. And they’ll want him to be a coach when he’s done. Because he’s a throwback who runs every ball out as hard as he can, he plays every play as hard as he can. … If you’ve got nine kids playing the way Matt Payton does, at the end of the day I’ll go home and lay my head feeling good about whatever happens. Because I’ll have known we did all we could do.” ”

But for now, Payton’s focused on finishing his senior year by trying to bring home some Sun Belt regular-season and tournament hardware before making a lengthy run in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Undoubtedly, he’ll do it all with a relaxed smile on his face – and by keeping any on-field thinking to a minimum.

“We’re in the hunt right now for the Sun Belt (title), but we’ve just got to keep stepping up that ladder,” Payton said. “And when it’s over, if we go out there and play the way we’re capable, I think we’re going to like where we finish.”

— Read WKU beat writer Nick Baumgardner’s Hilltopper blog at bgdnwkublog.wordpress.com.

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