Jake Brown isn’t the hardest thrower on Georgia Southern’s pitching staff.
No, all the senior lefty really seems to do is take the mound every Friday night, quietly put the Eagles in a position to win by getting people out, and before you realize what just happened, it’s the eighth inning and Brown’s still out there doing his thing.
“Some games have flown by for me,” said Brown, who leads the Southern Conference in complete games with three. “I’m in the first, and all of a sudden I’m already in the sixth and I’m going after the seventh and eighth.”
He’s also near the top of the list among SoCon pitchers in nearly every category. He’s third in ERA (3.58), second in opposing batting average (.248) and innings pitched (83), sixth in strikeouts (64) and walks (14) and third in backwards Ks (27) and wins (7).
All this after entering the season without having a clue who the No. 1 pitcher was going to be.
“We had no idea,” Brown said of the week heading up to the season opener. “During intersquads it was pretty much the same among all the starting pitchers we have out there. Basically, before the first game, coach (Rodney Hennon) came up to me and said, Jake, you have Friday and (Matt) Murray, you have Saturday.’ I didn’t think I was above anybody else during the intersquads. Throughout the season I’ve gotten stronger and showed that I deserve to be there.”
The main factor in Brown’s success hasn’t been in how he pitches when he’s on top of his game — he’s proven to be as good as anybody in the league when he’s working his best stuff. No, Brown shows why he’s the No. 1 starter after he makes a mistake by limiting the damage and pitching just as well after giving up, say, a three-run homer, as he was before the miscue.
He knows how to stop the bleeding.
“He just has a knack of keeping you in a game and giving you an opportunity to win whether he has his best stuff or he doesn’t,” Hennon said. “Obviously you have to have some ability to be a starter at this level. What separates guys a lot of times is the mentality and the mental side of it. Jake is one of those guys that really loves to pitch. He’s one of those guys I don’t think lets a lot of things bother him.”
All of a sudden after last weekend’s three-game sweep at Furman, Georgia Southern (26-19, 16-8 SoCon) finds itself trailing the first-place Citadel Bulldogs (29-17, 17-4) by only 2.5 games.
Not that he needed it, but Brown recently got a little bit more motivated to go after the SoCon regular-season title.
“Yeah, it definitely comes into my head now that I know if you win the regular season, you get a ring,” laughed Brown, who got his first ring after GSU’s 2009 tournament championship. “Somebody told me that the other day. I think we have a chance to win the regular season and I think we have a chance to win the tournament. It definitely creeps into your mind. On Thursday night, you know you’ve got to go out there and win Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You’ve got to sweep teams, and at the end of the regular season you’ll be up there.”
Brown gets extra motivation from his former teammates who continue to catch games both at home and on the road in support of their former teammates and friends.
“Being an Eagle means something – to the community, to Statesboro and definitely to me,” he said. “I’m going to be one of those guys who comes back after I’m done. I think this program helped me finding myself, my personality. Coach Hennon and the staff do a great job of making sure you’re on top of your schoolwork and the reason a lot of people come back is the coaches. You really grow up here.”
Brown and the Eagles face a three-game series out of conference against Alcorn State beginning with a doubleheader Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.