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Taylor Bryant is driving Titans Hitting and RBI's

 Story by Tim Tuttle/ --
Photos by Matt Brown/CSUF Sports --

Cal State Fullerton’s Taylor Bryant couldn’t play last summer in one of those leagues filled with top college players, prevented by an extended recovery from a concussion that limited his 2016 season to nine games.

Bryant had proven he had top-level defensive skills in the infield, mostly at second base, but he had a .199 average (44-of-221), two home runs and 20 RBIs in his two-plus seasons. He batted ninth in the Titans’ lineup most of the time.

Fully recovered, Bryant began this season playing third base, a new position, and batting from sixth to eighth. He’d worked hard over the summer spending plenty of time in the Cal State Fullerton batting cage and it began to show early. By the sixth game, Bryant was up to fifth in the lineup and he was fourth in the next game. It has become his home.

The former .200 hitter is batting .306 (41-of-134) and leads the Titans with 29 runs batted and 29 walks. He’s third in hits and has 13 doubles. Bryant has started all 41 games 34 at third, going into the Big West Conference three-game series at Hawaii that begins Friday.

Exactly how does a below-average hitter become the leading run producer?

“I think just fixing some things mechanically over the last couple of summers was the biggest thing, getting a more athletic base and, from there, just trusting the work, I’ve put in and being confident every time I go to the plate, knowing I’m better than the pitcher,” Bryant said. “It just comes down to competing. You can worry about mechanics during practice and all that other stuff, but once it goes to the game, it’s you against the other guy in the cage. You have to compete. That’s the biggest thing.”

Bryant’s mechanical work entailed balancing his weight when he swung in order to be able to attack the pitch with more bat speed and strength.

“In the past, I think I was a lot on the backside (hitting off the rear foot),” he said. “I wasn’t getting back to 50-50 of my legs and stride to have something to play into the base and put into contact when you swing the bat. I think that’s the biggest thing. From there, it’s just about competing and going out there with a good approach.”

“Spending time in the batting cage helped me tremendously. I worked on mechanics, worked on self, trying to some bad habits out of me.”

Bryant will be hitting fourth in his 33rd straight game in Thursday’s opener at Hawaii.

“I feel comfortable there,” Bryant said. “The coach (Rick Vanderhook) trusts me to put me there to drive in runs in the middle of the order. The top of the order, the bottom of the order get on base and I do my part and try to drive in runs. That’s why I’m there, to drive in runs, and continue to get on base. If he trusts me, then I’m with it.”

Bryant says he doesn’t feel any additional pressure hitting clean-up.

“Not really,” he said. “Once you start putting pressure on yourself, that’s when you start getting in trouble. It’s about competing, knowing you’re better than the other guy, trying to get a good pitch to hit and let all the pressure be on the pitcher in situations. It comes down to that.”

Bryant played shortstop and second base at La Quinta High for four varsity seasons and hit .337 as a senior with three home runs, 21 RBIs and 12 stolen bases He hit .353 as a junior. He was offered scholarships by Oregon, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Santa Barbara and was talking to several other schools including UCLA.

“Fullerton was always a school I wanted to play for with their reputation for baseball and always having a chance to get into the playoffs and make the College World Series,” Bryant said.

Bryant played in 40 games and made 27 starts at second base in his freshman year and played in 56 games with 31 starts at second as a sophomore. He’s made 34 starts at third, five at shortstop and two at first base this season.

“I like third base,” Bryant said. “It takes some getting used to. It’s different, balls come off different from the bat, come at you quicker. It takes a lot of reps (in practice). It’s really a one-hand position, trusting your glove work in practice.

“I feel comfortable just about anywhere in the infield. I know I can play anywhere. I’m holding down third and that’s why I’m out there. I take pride in my defense as I always have. I especially take a lot of pride in being able to play different positions, to be versatile and be that player who plays every day. It’s only going to benefit the team and get some other guys in there (on field) as well.”

Fullerton (26-15, 8-4 Big West), ranked 14th nationally, trails Long Beach State (13-2 Big West) and is tied with Cal Poly (8-4 Big West) in the championship chase. Cal Poly plays a three-game series at Long Beach starting Friday.

The Titans have nine Big West games remaining following this weekend and close out the regular season May 25-27 with a three-game series against Long Beach at Goodwin Field.

“I think, obviously, we set our expectations really high,” Bryant said. “We won two out of three (against UC Irvine) last weekend and we’ve just got to keep it going in Hawaii and keep winning series. That’s what it’s all about, winning series on the weekends. We play three games against Long Beach in the last series and it’s probably going to come down to that series, if I had to take a guess. But we have to play game by game and see what happens.”

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