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Brett Graber shines in new starting role
Junior outfielder Brett Graber has been an offensive force for the Redhawks all season long. He has helped SEMO power its way to the top of the Ohio Valley Conference with a league high 30 wins on the year.
Graber, originally from Sacramento, Calif., is a product of the transfer system, as he played his first two years of collegiate baseball at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento. After his sophomore season playing junior college, he was recruited by the Redhawks to make the jump to Division I baseball.
Graber said speed of play was the biggest factor he had to adjust to when moving into Division I baseball.
“Most of the game feels so much faster. Guys are throwing harder, guys are running faster around the bases, and you have to be able to throw them out,” Graber said. “Baseball is such a mental thing. If you allow yourself to let the game speed you up, your heart rate can speed up and make things almost impossible for you.”
Graber has caught up to the speed of Division I play, as he has found his stride in his second season with the Redhawks. A year after only appearing in 17 games, which includes three starts, Graber has settled into a consistent starting role for the club, starting in all 42 of the teams contests so far.
Graber has made the most of his opportunities this year, as he has a .331 batting average to go along with 31 runs batted in and six home runs. On top of that, he is slugging at a career high .558 clip and has had two walk-off hits and a countless amount of clutch at-bats for the team so far this season.
Head coach Andy Sawyers has been impressed with Graber’s play all season long and credits him with winning the starting job due to an eye-opening fall campaign.
“He had a good fall and really established himself. He had good success last year and just didn’t play a ton because he had an older guy ahead of him who has been in the program a long time,” Sawyers said. “He just kind of won the job in the fall and has continued to do a nice job all spring long.”
Part of Graber’s success this year has come because of his approach. He preaches that having a consistent approach to each game is essential to slowing the game down and allows himself to put him in the best position to succeed.
“You get in moments where you have guys on base or an opportunity for you to try and reach base, and it's important to stay within that approach,” Graber said. “Sticking with an approach on offense and trying not to do too much and really slow the game down as much as possible — that’s really what has helped me be successful this year.”
Graber has been a constant in the lineup all spring long as he has bounced around in the batting order. He began the year hitting in the sixth or seventh spot, but recently has found himself as high in the lineup as batting second.
Coach Sawyers said the reason for this is just “tweaking” the lineup to get the most out of it offensively. Graber has been hitting over .500 against left-handed pitching, so Coach Sawyers makes changes in the batting order based on matchups, which puts the team in the best position possible.
When Graber is hitting in the middle of the order rather than the top, he usually finds himself batting in front of fellow junior outfielder Joel Vaske. Vaske acknowledged the year Graber is having at the plate and admitted his success has made it easier for himself as a hitter.
“He has come up clutch for us so many times all year long. His success and clutch hits takes a bit of the pressure off of you and allows you to settle in and not have to worry as much,” Vaske said.
Graber looks to continue helping the Redhawks win games and defend their Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) title from a year ago. He believes this year's team has a good chance to repeat as conference champions, and he thinks they have the tools to make a deep postseason run.
“I honestly think we can go further than we went last year. It’s just a matter of guys stepping up into that leadership role whenever we’re struggling,” Graber said. “Just being able to overcome those obstacles and stay positive as much as we can. I firmly believe we can make it to a super regional, and potentially further, if we find our groove.”
Graber added to his resume as the Redhawks traveled to take on the No. 3 team in the country, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, on May 6-8. Despite the team getting swept, Graber did his job and finished the series with four hits against competitive pitching.. They will then return home for a four-game homestand before ending the regular season on the road at Eastern Illinois.