UNO bats erupt in 14-4 win over Southern _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--Kyle Bracey of the University of New Orleans belts the first of his two home runs in the second inning against Southern University as they play at UNO in New Orleans, La. Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

Kyle Bracey may not be one of the most boisterous players on UNO’s baseball team, but his bat has made quite a bit of noise so far.

The junior is having the best season of his career, and he’s one of the major reasons behind the Privateers’ 13-4 start.

Through it all, Bracey’s main focus has been to enjoy every moment.

“It’s been a really long journey to get here,” he said. “I waited a long time to finally get a shot, and thankfully coach (Blake) Dean gave me a chance, so now I just try to make sure I take advantage of every opportunity I’m given.”

The 23-year-old catcher attended Southeastern Louisiana out of high school, but had his time there derailed by injuries and lack of opportunity, leading to a transfer to Delgado. After two years, Bracey made his way to UNO, where Dean offered him an opportunity to compete for a starting job.

Bracey’s chances drastically increased when the Privateers’ returning starter behind the plate, Matt Rykaczewski, was ruled out for the year because of offseason surgery.

Bracey hasn’t looked back.

Through 17 games, the former Amite standout leads UNO in home runs (three) and batting average (.426), while tying for second in RBIs (15) and fourth in runs scored (15).

“Sometimes you really never have a true reading on how things will work out until the games start,” said Dean. “He’s been hitting the ball really well, and he’s helped us get a lot of runs across this year.

“He’s definitely exceeded all of our expectations so far.”

Bracey gives much of the credit for his breakout season to Dean, who he calls “one of the best hitting coaches in all of America.”

Dean suggested an adjustment to Bracey’s batting stance before the season, which would allow him to keep the barrel of the bat in the strike zone for slightly longer, and Bracey said it has already made a major difference.

One of the negative effects of Bracey’s new stance is that many pitchers have tried to pitch him more on the inside. The result: He’s been hit by a pitch six times, tied for the most in the Southland Conference.

“That just comes along with it, and I understand sometimes you have to stand in there and take one for the team,” Bracey said. “But it’s tremendous how much coach Dean has helped me this season. From last year to this year, I feel like it’s night and day.”

The Privateers will be on the road this weekend for a conference series against Stephen F. Austin (10-8), looking to pull off their first victory outside of New Orleans this season.

UNO will also try to win its first series on the road since 2012, but Dean said he wants his team to go in with a one-game-at-a-time mentality.

“It all starts with playing well on Friday night for us. We don’t want to look past that point,” Dean said. “We haven’t won any games on the road this year, so we have to start there. If we stay consistent and learn how to make the little plays at the end of games, I think we’ll be fine.”