By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Devin Smith will graduate from Concord University on Saturday.
He won’t be in attendance.
Not a problem.
Smith will be in Winston-Salem, N.C. with the rest of the Mountain Lions’ baseball team, taking part in the Atlantic Region baseball tournament at Wake Forest University’s Gene Hooks Stadium.
The winner of the six-team event will qualify for the NCAA Division II National Championships on May 25-June 1 in Cary, N.C.
Concord is the sixth seed, but Smith isn’t worried about a lack of respect or where they might be placed, just playing as much baseball as he can.
“Being an underdog is not so bad,” Smith said. “I mean everybody might overlook you, but this team we have this year is an amazing team.
“We can hit the ball, we have got tough pitchers, I am looking forward to it.”
Concord (36-18) will open play this morning against top-seeded Millersville (38-16) in what is a four-day, double-elimination event.
It is the Mountain Lions’ second trip to regionals in three years. Concord, which is 1-8 in four previous regional appearances, lost to the Marauders 3-1 at the same point in 2011. They rebounded to beat Winston-Salem State before finishing the event with a 1-2 mark.
“This is good to go ahead and take off with the program,” Smith said. “The program has really excelled in the last couple of years. Concord is really getting on the map and getting better recruits as the years are going with our excelling in the sport really.”
A redshirt senior from George Wythe High School in nearby Wytheville, Smith is the second of the Smith brothers to play at Concord. His brother, Trey, was also a standout for the Mountain Lions in the past.
“I had other schools and a couple of football schools (look at me), but baseball is my passion,” said Smith, who missed one season with a torn meniscus. “My brother actually went here so it was kind of a location where my brother was here so I felt real comfortable with Concord.”
Smith, who has played second base, outfield and pitched for Concord, expects to be in left field today for the Lions against a Millersville pitching staff that includes Tino Martinez Award semifinalist Chris Murphy (12-1, 2.08, 93 Ks), Tim Mayza (10-3, 1.28) and Adam Zipko (2-2, 1.75, 7 saves).
“I have played just about anywhere,” Smith said. “I will play wherever to win, it doesn’t matter.”
Concord, which will counter with Ryan Weatherholtz (4-1, 3.32), have averaged 9.5 runs per game this season, but the runs could be harder to come by against the Marauders.
“You just have to move runners, you have to manufacture runs, just the play the game by pitch and everything will fall into the place after that,” Smith said. “I would say just keep playing clean baseball, field it well, pitch it well and hit it well like we have been doing and I am pretty sure we will be fine.”
Smith is batting .365 this season, which is fifth on a club with a robust team batting average of .360. He has also contributed seven home runs, 48 RBIs, 14 doubles, 52 runs scored and 15 stolen bases in a lineup that has bashed 47 home runs and averaged nearly 10 runs a game.
“This is very exciting, just everybody can hit home runs and hitting doubles and hitting doubles and it makes you want to do the same,” Smith said. “Everybody just feeds off each other and it is just real good for our team.”
Concord reached this point by winning its second WVIAC title in three years, and were a single loss in 2010 last season from possibly being a perfect 3 for 3 under third-year head coach Andrew Wright.
“With Coach Wright, the last three years we have been there we have been 10-1, it was unfortunate last year pool play got us, we went 2-1,” said Smith, whose Mountain Lions have won eight straight, including four wins in the WVIAC tourney by a combined score of 27-9. “We have been playing well at the end of the season and that is where it counts.”
Smith, who will return to Concord next season as an assistant coach, feels like his experience in Athens has prepared him for the years ahead.
“It is every bit of what I expected, Coach Wright and I had Coach (Kevin) Garrett when I was first here, they really coach you to prepare you for the real world,” Smith said. “It is not just being surrounded by baseball, but he gets you ready for life and I have enjoyed it.”
He has also enjoyed his teammates, which includes fellow senior starters Josh Wenger and Jacob Mays.
“Everybody is kind of the same personality about baseball where we are all competitive,” Smith said. “We all can relate and just from day one we have all jelled and it has just been real good.”
While Smith’s grandfather, Ernest passed away last May, he was an avid Concord baseball fan who always sat behind the backstop at Anderson Field and cheered on his grandsons and the Lions.
There is even a plaque on the fieldhouse wall in honor of Ernest, who helped steer Devin to Concord.
“He is probably the inspiration in my life for baseball, he is pretty much the reason I chose to continue playing baseball out of high school,” Smith said. “He is a big baseball fan, he loves it. He has been coming to every game since I was a little kid, he is a big inspiration in my life...
“He was always here chatting it up.”
—Contact Brian Woodson