Hurst leads off ....continued from home page
“I put a little too much pressure on myself definitely last year,” Hurst said. “I was just trying to fulfill everyone’s expectations. This year, I’ve kind of slowed myself down. I try not to play to expectations that other people have on me. I try to have fun and try to not do too much and stay within myself.”
Cal State Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook says the playing time Hurst lost in his freshman year carried over to his sophomore season.
“The back injury was a huge setback because he lost of lot of opportunity for experience,” Vanderhook said. “He had to sit and watch. You learn by watching, but you don’t know how to apply hit until you get to play. It was hard. The difference this year is the maturity he has gained. He got to go out this summer and play in the Cape (Cod Baseball League) and just learning himself a little more. He’s been extremely consistent all year and that’s maturity. It comes with age.”
The left-hand hitting Hurst agrees with Vanderhook’s assessment. He adjusted his approach in the summer league, becoming more patient. He looks for his pitch to hit.
“I played quite a bit my freshman year and then sat out those games,” Hurst said. “It’s just learning how they’re pitching to me and taking my at bats slowly, not trying to over perform. Really slowing the game down and letting the game come to me has really helped me out. I try to not over swing. I try to put my best swing on it. I’m trying to find good pitches I can do damage on and not swing at pitches out of my zone.”
Hurst didn’t have a productive summer league playing for the Orleans Firebirds. He batted .188 in 35 games, with 18 hits in 96 at bats in a league with many of college’s best players. But his work with hitting coach Benny Craig has paid dividends this season.
“It was a huge learning experience for me,” Hurst said. “Benny Craig and I really gelled well together. I learned a lot of new things and I implemented them back into my game out here. I’ve have really stuck with my approach and I’m really having fun out here. It paid off for me.
“I’m not trying to do too much at all. I’ve learned from my past couple of years, learned how to relax and have fun most of the time and try not to do too much that I’m not capable of and that’s been really good for me.”
Hurst’s more selective approach has made him more productive. In addition to the categories he’s leading the team with, he is second in RBIs with 21 and doubles with nine. He leads in total bases with 70.
“I definitely have high expectations for myself,” Hurst said.
Hurst stretched his hitting streak to 11 games in the win over USC.
“I’m seeing it pretty well right now,” Hurst said after the game. “I have my approach going for me. I’m taking pitches, trying to get my timing down as best as possible, staying locked in. I’m just trying to get a better hitter’s count and put a good swing on it.”
Hurst batted fifth in the season opener against Stanford on Feb. 16 and hit third in 20 of the next 22. Vanderhook made the decision to bat him leadoff on March 28 at UCLA and he’s been there nine games in a row. It’s likely a permanent spot in the order for him.
“He’s not your prototypical leadoff hitter, but you only bat first once,” Vanderhook said. “We were just looking for somebody to get on base and he has a pretty good string getting on base in the first at bat of the game and now the rest of the guys are coming up. His RBIs are coming because seven, eight and nine are getting on base. It’s working well for him. He’s got the most hits and is scoring some runs. He doesn’t steal a lot of bases (three), but he’s efficient (three tries) at it. He’s not striking out much.
“He’s a junior and he’s got a fair share of at bats and he’s just getting better at it.”
Hurst likes batting leadoff.
“It’s the same job,” he said. “When I was in the three hole, maybe I as trying to do too much, things I wasn’t capable of, especially towards the end. Coming up to the leadoff spot really help slow myself down and get my timing down as best I can. I can concentrate a little more.”
The Titans were ranked eighth in four polls and ninth in the other two NCAA Division I polls last week.
“We’re having a lot of fun out there,” he said. “I’m really just trying to help my teammates win games. All of us have each other’s backs and we love each other as a team.”
Cal State Fullerton leads the Big West Conference at 5-1. The Titans play a nonconference game Tuesday (April 18) against the University of San Diego at Lake Elsinore and travel to San Luis Obispo to play Cal Poly in a three-game Big West series Friday, Saturday and Sunday.