April 12, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - To say that Andrew Dundon is hot, and to say that he burns to succeed, are two different things on the baseball field for Marshall.
The Thundering Herd's sophomore second baseman leads his team in hitting (.339) as Marshall (13-19, 3-3 Conference USA) heads to Southern Miss (15-17, 5-4) to open a crucial three-game series Friday. Dundon ranks fifth in the league in hitting, too.
Batting into the No. 2 hole for Coach Jeff Waggoner's club, Dundon (pronounced DUN-dun) would seem an unlikely leader with the stick, until the Lincoln Park, N.J., resident explains.
"This (Marshall) was my only offer, and I had to take advantage of it," the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Dundon said. "I've just worked hard since I came here. I don't know why no one else recruited me. (Herd assistant coach Joe) Renner saw me playing in North Carolina during my sophomore year.
"I thought I'd get more interest, but it didn't happen. Yeah, definitely it makes you feel like you have something to prove. It always happens in all sports, kids, they get overlooked and then actually fuels them more.
"You feel kind of like, not so much disrespected, but it does put more fuel on the fire to prove all the other people wrong. I wasn't ranked at all in high school."
After playing short and pitching at Boonton High in northern New Jersey and making third team all-state, Dundon began his freshman season as the Herd's starting shortstop. That didn't last long ... then, neither did his .154 batting average through mid-March last season.
In April a year ago, Dundon moved to second base and he hit .409 for the month. He finished at .264, playing in 53 games as a true freshman. And Waggoner thought Dundon was going to make strides in 2013 - which he has.
"I did think he'd have a good year," Waggoner said. "He works really hard. He put on 15 pounds of muscle and he's really worked hard on his swing. And he trusts himself. That's a big thing in hitting.
"You're not always going to have results with the quality (at-bats), so that's important and he's worked hard. A lot of hitting is just confidence. When you get stronger and you work hard and you swing, the results will start happening for you."
Dundon, batting .417 in C-USA games, was 7-for-13 last weekend as the Herd took two of three from nationally ranked Houston.
"I haven't really changed my swing much. I'm just seeing the ball better," said Dundon, 19, who has 14 RBIs. "I'm hopping on the fastball early or trying to work counts. If I get a fastball early, I'm not going to be taking it, because not too many guys can blow it by me.
"So, I go up there confident knowing I can drive any pitch, even if it's two strikes. The adjustment is that last year at first, I was just trying to make contact, hit the ball to the opposite field. Now, I'm hitting to all fields, changed my routine, and that's the difference maybe between hitting .270 and hitting .300."
Dundon said he also has the advantage of hitting behind productive Herd leadoff man Isaac Ballou (.315 BA, .430 OB%) and club RBI leader Nathan Gomez in the 3-spot.
"Hitting in the 2-hole, it is an advantage because they'll throw me a lot of fastballs," Dundon said. "But now since they know me a little bit, they've been throwing me a lot of curves. This past weekend, I hardly saw a fastball, but that's just an adjustment I have to make.
"Hitting No. 2 is good for me because they see a guy like Gomez behind me and the damage he can do, so they go after me. And if Ballou's on first, they don't want him stealing. So, I do see lot of 2-hole fastballs."
Dundon said the switch from shortstop, with its added defensive responsibilities, has helped him relax. But Waggoner said most of Dundon's improvement is his work ethic and his knowledge of a game he has played since he was age 6, a game on which he concentrated in high school after he "figured out I wasn't going to play big-time college basketball," he said, laughing.
"Drew's got a good approach at the plate," Waggoner said. "He gets out front, stays to the middle of the field and keeps his hands inside the ball, so he's always going to have pretty good, quality at-bats. And that's all we ask from our hitters. Have quality at-bats and the hits will come."
Dundon's 4-for-5 day in Sunday's loss to Houston at Appalachian Power Park in the only Herd four-hit game this season. Ballou is the team's only other plus-.300 hitter, at .315, after a 3-for-4 night in a loss Wednesday at Ohio State.
"I was pretty confident coming into this season," Dundon said. "I just wanted to play my game, hit line drives, not try to do too much. I'm not a guy who gets really caught up in stats, but over time they'll add up.
"Like Coach (Waggoner) says, `It's all about the process.' Work hard and the results will come. I try to take it one AB at a time and stay in the present, because this game is hard enough and if you can't hit .... It's a great feeling knowing that I'm doing well, but we have a ways to go.
"I feel like I can improve on everything. I come to work every day, work on things, my range ... There's always something as player should work on. You should never not be working on something.'
The next two weeks are huge for the Herd, trying to make the eight-team C-USA Tournament field (one team sits home, as the Herd did in 2011 and '12).
Marshall's two wins in the Houston series stunned the league, and now MU goes to Southern Miss and UCF (18-16, 4-5) before coming home to Power Park for three with Tulane (17-18, 4-5) from April 26-28.
"This is a big stretch coming up," Dundon said. "Last weekend was the biggest turning point of the conference run for us. We were 1-2 going into it, and everyone figured we'd get swept by Houston and we got out and win two of three and we've got great confidence.
"Now, if we go to Southern Miss and can take the series, at least two of three, and then do the same at UCF ... If we can stay away from getting swept by both of them, I think we'd stand pretty well into the week after that for making the conference tournament."
That, like Dundon's play, would be different from his freshman year.