Whenever Jacob Seward draws two strikes, he thinks about the advice his father gave him.
“My dad used to tell me, when I had two strikes, just to choke up and try to put it in play somewhere hard,” the Southeastern Louisiana center fielder said. “When I have two strikes, I’m crowding the plate a little more and I try to never strike out looking. If I’m going to strike out, I want the pitcher to have to make a good pitch.”
It’s a simple adjustment, but his father’s words helped to make the Lions junior one of the toughest players in the country to strike out.
Seward heads into the final week of the regular season as the second-toughest player in Division I to punch down at the plate. In 194 at-bats, he has whiffed only seven times.
But Seward only plays a small part in Southeastern’s reputation as one of the most efficient teams in the nation in terms of putting runners on base.
The Lions’ .405 on-base percentage is the 13th-best in the country. They’re tied for the fewest strikeouts in the Southland Conference (280) and are the second-toughest team to strike out, going down once every 5.65 at bats.
The key: steady patience at the plate and all the free bases that come with it.
Southeastern drew the 12th-most walks in the nation (261) and is No. 12 in hit batsmen (76).
“You don’t walk by being passive. You walk by being aggressive,” Southeastern coach Matt Riser said. “You take good hacks on good counts and you know what pitches you’re looking for.
“That’s what we try to build our offensive system around. Try to get the pitches you like to hit, and if you do, don’t miss them. If you don’t, just take your walk.”
One of the main points to Southeastern’s strategy is to put opposing defenses on edge at all times.
Southeastern isn’t afraid to crowd the plate and dare pitchers to throw inside. Hitters want to force the pitcher to risk a hit-by-pitch on an inside throw or go with a safer spot over the plate that leaves them open for a hit.
And once on base, the Lions make sure every pitcher knows he has to keep an eye on the runner or risk giving up another base.
Southeastern has attempted the fifth-most steals of any team in Division I this season, converting on a ninth-best 96 of them.
Freshman shortstop Brennan Breaud leads the team with 18 stolen bases, while Seward is close behind at 14.
The Lions have also been caught stealing 39 times — but Riser said even failed attempts help in making sure a significant portion of the defense’s attention is away from the batter.
“There’s automatically pressure applied when the opponent looks at the report and looks at the extra-base hits, the walks, the on-base percentage and then how much we run,” Riser said. “It creates a lot of havoc, and before we even step on the field, that pressure is applied.
“Our goal is to make the defense uncomfortable and the guy on the mound uncomfortable.”
No player is more successful at getting on base this season than Jameson Fisher, who leads the nation in on base percentage (.578) and batting average (.449). He’s also been walked the 17th-most times of anyone in the country, taking a free base 45 times and being plunked another 14.
Seward called Fisher’s approach one of the most professional and mature he’s seen. Riser said the fourth-year junior is the epitome of the Lions’ offensive identity.
Fisher said it’s just what he does.
“I’m trying not to do too much,” Fisher said. “I’m waiting for a good pitch to hit. I have the awareness that, with the success I’ve had so far, they’re going to try to get me to chase out the zone or some teams are trying not to pitch to me. I just wait for my pitch ... and take my walks.”