Diamond Dawgs Grow Up

It's well known among college baseball observers that, frequently, the greatest amount of improvement that a college baseball player will undergo is from his freshman to sophomore year.

Head coach Ken Knutson and the rest of the Huskies are hoping that adage applies to the 2001 Husky club. If this group of can all make a significant jump, it could be a great year at Husky Ballpark.

Among the Husky roster are four players that earned some level of Freshman All-America honors in 2000. Catcher Jefferson Thiel was named to the first team by USA Today, while outfielder Tyler Davidson and Jay Garthwaite, along with shortstop Tila Reynolds, made Collegiate Baseball magazine's honorable mention.

Aside from Thiel, Reynolds, Garthwaite and Davidson, sophomores Bryan Johnson (first base) and Justin Drake (center field) both have a chance to start. On the mound, sophs Sean White, Cam McCoy, Tyler Shepple and Scott Robertson will all be expected to fill significant roles.

Davidson, a broad-shouldered, 6-foot-4 outfielder from Edmonds, posted perhaps the best offensive numbers of the group, batting .345 with 34 runs batted in in only 30 starts. If he makes the typical sophomore 'jump' this spring, his statistics could be truly remarkable. He sees his freshman season, successful as it was, as a learning experience.

'Coming out of high school, you don't know anything,' Davidson says. 'As a freshman, you learn about pitchers' tendancies. You learn about big games with big crowds. You gain a better feeling for the game all around.

'It's definitely not the same as high school. It surprised me,' Davidson continues. 'All the pitchers can throw strikes whenever they want to. They have all the pitches. There's a huge jump from high school.'

It's not just the games that are different in college. The time that college players must spend at practice, and the effort they expend in the weight room and in off-season conditioning, is much more strenuous than the high school regimen.

'We practice a lot more than we ever did in high school,' Davidson explains. 'It's a lot harder. It's a lot more demanding. We work twice as hard as we did in high school.'

Unlike his fellow freshman stars, Davidson had time to settle in last year. Garthwaite, Reynolds and Thiel started out the season in the lineup, essentially playing in an everyday capacity. Davidson didn't get his shot until mid-season, when he earned his third start of the season April 5 at Washington State.

In that game, Davidson went 3-for-4 with a double, a triple and a home run. He would go on to start 27 of the remaining 29 games, batting .361 with 28 runs batted in over that span.

Davidson's grateful for the chance he had to become comfortable with college baseball before he had to become a full-time starter.

'I was brought along slowly and worked my way up until the coaches were comfortable with what I could do,' he says. 'It worked out great.

'It helped me out a lot,' he continues. 'Coach [Joe] Ross helped with a lot with my swing. If I would have just started playing from the outset, I wouldn't have done as well as I did.'

He also fondly remembers that break-out game in Pullman, when he proved to his coaches and teammates that he belonged in the lineup.

'I felt like I had to do everything that I could to show the coaches what I could do in a game,' Davidson explains. 'Coach Ross had been telling Coach Knutson that I was getting it together in the cages and I was ready to play in games. It worked out in that game.

'I saw the ball really well. I felt like I knew what was coming,' he says. 'I was excited to play, especially since it was against Washington State. First I hit a double, then a triple, then a home run. Then they intentionally walked me so I couldn't get my single.'

Davidson now thinks that he and his sophomore classmates have the experience and the knowledge to get the Husky team over the hump and back into the postseason. He knows that his classmates, by virtue of the fact that so many of them are starters, are the key to that revival.

'I knew that our class was going to be very strong,' he says. 'I knew that we'd have to carry the team at some point. Last year was just the beginning. This year we're going to really show what we can do and how good we are.'

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