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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Baseball

Junior slugger brings the hammer, leads team for hits


Junior Joe Davis led the Cougars in hits during his freshman year, but injuries kept him from producing as much during his sophomore season. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

Junior first baseman Joe Davis broke a pair of records and helped bring the Cougars to the conference championship game during his freshman season.

Davis wanted to have an even greater 2017 campaign, but injuries slowed him down and he often found himself in the dugout instead of the field. Now, Davis says he is back at 100 percent and ready to contribute to a Houston team that is looking to win back-to-back conference championships.

“This is probably the best I’ve felt since I’ve been at U of H, and strength levels have picked up,” Davis said. “You learn some things from a season like that, and now I’m going in with a better feeling.”

In his freshman year, Davis beat the school record for home runs and RBIs by a freshman and tied the record for doubles in season, winning AAC Rookie of the Year and a spot on the AAC First Team.

With all that behind him, Davis and the team looked forward to the 2017 season with hopes of having an even greater sophomore campaign.

“Well, he didn’t,” said head coach Todd Whitting. “Just because of all the injuries.”

Davis battled a wrist injury for most of the season and ankle injury for the latter parts that kept him to eight home runs and 46 RBIs, compared to 14 home runs and 58 RBIs in his freshman year.

That would be a good year for most college baseball players, but it was a letdown for Davis.

“I struggled. I didn’t live up to my own expectations. I hold myself to a pretty high standard and not living up to my own expectations dampened my spirits,” said Davis.

A little R&R

Davis used the offseason to heal the problems that forced him into a designated hitter role instead of first baseman for a majority of the season.

“I was proud of him for grinding through that, but this offseason was about getting those things fixed and getting healthy,” Whitting said. “Right now, he’s 100 percent ready to go.”

Added to the injuries was increased pressure and scouting from the opposing pitchers, who changed up their pitches to get by the all-conference slugger.

“I definitely got pitched different than most guys. They attack me with more off-speed than fastballs, because that’s what I’m known for hitting,” Davis said. “But at the end, baseball is baseball. At every level, if you’re good then things will be put against you, so it’s just something you have to get used to.”

He adjusted to the pitchers during the season and had 73 hits by its end, just six below his freshman total. During the offseason, Davis spent most of his recovery trying to regain control over his swing.

His wrist injury forced him to rely on power more than finesse since he didn’t have as much control over his hand and swing.

“I’ve been working on my timing,” he said. “Last year, I was just laying it on everything because I couldn’t get the bat where I wanted it, but this year everything feels better. As long as I get my timing down on the pitcher, I’ll be ready to hit.”

Bring the Thunder

Davis’ freshman season brought him praise from around the nation, and he won over a dozen weekly and season honors.

“We knew when we recruited him that he was one of the elite power hitters in Texas high school baseball,” Whitting said. “He immediately was a presence, and he’s lived up to the hype. We’ve been real pleased with him so far.”

Even if he hadn’t contributed in all the ways he had hoped, Davis added a key piece to the team’s culture: the hammer.

A homemade replica of Thor’s Mjölnir has become the signature of the team. Whenever a player hits a home run, they get to raise the hammer high and hold on to it until another player hits one.

“I thought it was great. It became a trademark of not just last year’s team, but of our program as well,” Whitting said. “The fans really seem to gravitate to it and hopefully we get to raise that a bunch this year.”

Davis said he was inspired by other teams’ home run celebrations. While he was at his brother’s house, he saw the hammer lying around and decided to bring it in.

“I saw some clips of other colleges doing some other home run celebrations and I was like, ‘We could start our own,’ and it was on ESPN, so it’s become a pretty neat thing,” he said.

Good feelings

Now that Davis is healthy, Whitting said that his expectations are high.

“I expect him to lead our team as an offensive force,” Whitting said. “If we’re going to have the season that we want to have, it’s important that Joe Davis has a good year. That he continues to grow mentally as a player.”

Last year, even with Davis injured, the Cougars were able to win the conference, raising the hammer 60 times on the way but losing to Texas A&M in the regional final 4-3.

The Cougars opened their season last weekend in a three game series against Holy Cross where Davis opened his scoring account with an RBI in Friday’s 2-3 loss. The team bounced back, running away with game two, 7-1, and winning the third in extra innings, 3-2.

Davis expects the team to continue its winning ways to make it deeper in the NCAA Tournament and maybe the College World Series in Omaha.

“I think with the guys we have we’re going to be a good hitting team and a good pitching team, so I expect a good year,” he said. “Sometimes you just get a good feeling, and I have a good feeling about this team.”

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