Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 13, 2014

Russell-Myers is key cog in Rams’ hot start on the diamond

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD, Va. — It's been an award-winning start to the season for Bluefield senior Zac Russell-Myers.

He has been both the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Player and Pitcher of the Week on separate occasions, and has earned Mid-South Conference Pitcher of the Week honors.

Most importantly, however, is 18-4. That is Bluefield College's record heading into today's MSC game with Lindsey Wilson, which is one more win than the Rams had all of last season.

"We have got a completely new group this year," said Russell-Myers, one of four seniors and one of the few returnees from 2013. "We have got good chemistry, we work together on and off the field all the time, we are always hanging out with one another.

"We have just got good vibes this season, things are going good for us, and we are just going to ride it out as long as we can."

Russell-Myers is putting up huge numbers at the plate. He is second in the team with a .407 batting average, along with three home runs and 21 runs batted in, both of which are tied for the most on the Rams. He is tops with 28 runs scored, and also has nine doubles, 12 walks, five stolen bases and a .484 on-base percentage.

All that and hitting isn't his primary objective, even if he did reach base 8 of 9 times in a doubleheader sweep of Ohio State-Lima on Wednesday, including a double, five singles, six runs scored, two walks, two RBIs and a stolen base.

"I try to teach myself a little bit how to calm myself because I am a pitcher," Russell-Myers said. "I don't want to go too hard and get myself in certain situations, but I am a hard-nosed guy most of the time on the bases.

"It is a struggle, but I maintain my body well. It is fun, I definitely am not up there to get out."

The 6-foot-3 senior from Winston-Salem, N.C. has done just fine on the mound as well, as the Rams' top weekend pitcher. Slated to pitch against the 15th ranked Blue Raiders today at Bowen Field, Russell-Myers is currently 3-1 with a 2.10 ERA, having dropped his last outing last weekend at Pikeville.

"I had a real hot start, I hit a couple of rough spots the past two weeks at the plate and on the mound last weekend," Russell-Myers said. "I have had it before, it is not my first time, in this game you have just got to learn how to bounce back."

In his third season at Bluefield, Russell-Myers dreams, as most every high school and college player does, of getting paid to play baseball. While his bat is potent, it will be his right arm that tells the tale.

"That is my dream, but I am just riding it out and see where it takes me," Russell-Myers said.

Since arriving at Bluefield after a year at Wake Technical Community College, Russell-Myers has improved in all facets of the game, if for no other reason than being on the field so much. For instance, he played 62 games during his sophomore season with the Rams, and then played 62 more games in summer league ball.

"Obviously experience is the big thing, being around the game as much as I have been, and then my first year here I locked in as far from the hitting standpoint," he said. "I know professionally they want me to pitch.

"My first year I wasn't so successful on the mound, but it took me a long time to learn how to have velocity and stay down in the zone."

He got help from Rick Clendon, a scout with the Kansas City Royals, and also spent the last two summers playing baseball in the highly-competitive Coastal Plains League.

"What I worked on mostly was my pitching mechanics, back home I played summer ball with Rick Clendon, and he helped me and got me down in the zone," he said. "The past two summers I have gone out and played in the Coastal Plains League. I have been pretty successful in that league facing high-end D-II, middle-in D-I competition all the time.

"I have got a lot more confidence and it is all through experience with the ball game."

He has also gotten stronger, with the help of Trevor Martin, a member of the Rams last season, who taught Russell-Myers the benefits of the weight room.

"Up until this fall I had never went in the weight room and I ended up rooming Trevor Martin," Russell-Myers said. "He is a big guy and he is all into weight lifting, he was actually our strength and conditioning coach.

"I got in the weight room with him and I stuck with it for a solid four months up until the season started. I put on 30 pounds and I think the majority of it was muscle."

That regiment has brought an endurance factor to Russell-Myers, who needs it, having to pitch and hit anywhere from three to five days in a week.

"I have dropped 10 (pounds) or so since the season started, got out of the weight room, but I saw just vast improvement quick," he said. "I had never got in the weight room and I think that is really what helps a lot now is this year, being able to come out every day. I am sore, but I still have it, I have still got the energy and strength with me."

He needs it. College baseball can be a grind, playing so many games and having to constantly working on his craft. It can also be an emotional roller-coaster, such as Wednesday's 13-12 marathon win over OSU-LIma, in which the Rams rallied from a 6-0 first inning deficit, and scored three runs in the seventh to pick up the victory.

"Emotions. I haven't been in a game that emotional in a while, but you need to learn how to contain yourself and stay in the whole season, not get caught up in the moment all the time," he said. "The older I have gotten I feel like I have learned that, but again through experience."

It has shown, and has also played a role in sticking only to designated hitter when not pitching, unlike in the past when he played in the middle infield for the Rams.

"I miss playing the field, but I learned early in my Bluefield College career that is just too much work on my arm and my body," he said. "If I play the field I am tired going out on the weekends and pitching."

Russell-Myers hasn't been alone in Bluefield's current stretch of success, which included a 13-game win streak after an 0-2 start, and the Rams head into today's game having won five straight, scoring at least 11 runs in all those outings, and allowing three or fewer runs in four of those games.

"From a hitting perspective, we get timely hitting a lot more and that has come up huge for us," he said. "When we need hits so far we have seemed to get them, knock on wood, I don't want to jinx us.

"From a pitching standpoint on the weekends, we have got two other starters besides myself and we compete completely. During the midweek we throw guys from the bullpen and they come out and do the same thing. So far I love it."

In what will be Bluefield's second and final season as a baseball program in the Mid-South, not much was expected of the Rams, at least from everyone else.

As for the Rams themselves, this current ride of momentum makes for a confident bunch.

"We were predicted to finish ninth or 10th, definitely the bottom half," Russell-Myers said. "The way it is going right now we are sitting second in the conference. We went out the first weekend and swept the University of the Cumberlands and they are a top half team.

"We had a little hiccup last weekend, but I definitely know we can compete. If we just stick to the fundamentals, I have no doubt in my mind we will be in the top 3 if not win it."

Bluefield will play Lindsey Wilson today at 4 p.m., followed by a doubleheader on Saturday at 1 p.m. Admission is free to all three games at Bowen Field.

—Contact Brian Woodson

bwoodson@bdtonline.com