UH infielder finds position in limelight
Being a leader seems to come naturally for UH senior infielder Bryan Pounds, but through his first three seasons with the Cougars, he mostly led through only one medium: his mouth.
A three-year letterman who can play all four infield positions, Pounds has never had to worry much about his glove. Pounds, however, struggled offensively for much of his collegiate career, and it affected the way he viewed his leadership qualities.
"I’ve always tried to take the leadership role (during) my sophomore, junior and senior years, but it’s kind of hard to take the leadership role when you’re not really producing like I wasn’t the past three years," Pounds said. "It’s almost like it’s easier to be the leader when you’re producing runs. People look at what you do, more of the action than the words."
No doubt, all eyes are now glued on Pounds, who has swung the bat like a madman through the first half of the regular season. After 26 games, he leads the team in batting average (.438), hits (42), RBIs (34), home runs (six), total bases (70), slugging percentage (.729) and on-base percentage (.495).
He also began the season on a career-long 19-game hit streak, and has already surpassed his home run total (three) from the last three seasons combined.
This stretch of torrid hitting couldn’t have come at a better time for Pounds, who starts primarily at first base.
"Obviously, it feels real good," he said. "The first three years, to tell you the truth, I don’t really know what it was. Maybe it was less confidence."
UH head coach Rayner Noble envisioned that Pounds would eventually hit this well when he was recruited out of North Shore High School prior to the 2005 season, but Pounds didn’t get off to a blazing start.
He broke into the starting lineup at second and third base as a freshman, appearing in 51 games with 50 starts. He recorded a .279 average with seven doubles, a home run and nine RBIs.
Pounds’ playing time and production, however, dropped off significantly the next season. With former standout Dustin Kingsbury moving from shortstop to third base, and recruits Isa Garcia and Travis Cougot starting at second and shortstop, respectively, Pounds was relegated to the role of utility infielder. That season, he made only 28 appearances (15 starts) and his average dipped to .231 with five RBIs.
Pounds regained his starting spot in 2007, but continued to struggle offensively, with his average falling to a career-low .222 with two home runs and 28 RBIs.
Pounds’ struggles puzzled Noble somewhat, but he was familiar with the situation.
"I’ve seen a lot of guys go through this program, and for a year, or two, maybe three, they didn’t fire a cap and all of a sudden they just went ballistic," Noble said. "We had a guy a couple of years ago, Matt Weston, who, for half the season, you didn’t even know he was on the team. All of a sudden, he was in the national spotlight. This is another case, with (Pounds) doing that."
Back to the basics
During fall camp, prior to this season, Noble observed Pounds stiffening up during batting practice. He suggested to Pounds that he just pretend he was playing ball in his backyard.
Pounds took the advice and adopted a simpler, looser stance that allowed him to make better swings on the ball.
That technique came in handy for Pounds in the Cougars’ 8-5 win over then-Baseball America No. 12 Rice on March 26. In that game, he went 4-for-5 with two home runs, including his first career grand slam, and a career-high seven RBIs.
Pounds’ improved swing hasn’t escaped his teammates.
"I’m definitely happy for him, the way he’s started off the season, the way he’s swinging the bat," junior third baseman Jimmy Cesario said. "It’s one of those things where if you choose to believe that hard work is going to pay off, I think it eventually does. In his case, this year is obviously paying off for him."
Pounds hopes his improved hitting will help the Cougars earn their first postseason berth since 2006. When the season ends, Pounds, a kinesiology/sports administration major, will make a run at professional baseball, and if that doesn’t work out, he plans to become a high school coach.
Right now, however, Pounds is content to bask in his good fortune.
"Patience is a virtue, and it was definitely hard going through those three years of struggling," he said. "My entire life of baseball, I really didn’t struggle, and I really didn’t know what it was the first three years. I guess it just wasn’t my time, and I’m hoping that this is my time and that it doesn’t die down. I really believe that it is, and if patience was key to it, I’m glad to be in the moment."