Vaught's Views: Christerson wants to win national title

May 11, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Derek Christerson has already had a season most baseball players would consider a huge success.

The former Boyle County player earned first-team Mid-South Conference honors for hitting a career-high .392 and playing what Cumberland College coach Brad Shelton considers the best defensive outfield in the league.

The Patriots climbed to No. 3 in the NAIA rankings, their best mark ever, and have won a school-record 46 games.

However, Christerson is not anywhere close to being ready to call it quits this season.

"I think we can win the national championship if we keep playing like we have been," said Christerson, a junior. "We have really good hitting all through our lineup. Everybody can swing the bat. We generate a lot of runs, and then we have good pitching, too."


That pitching includes senior Josh Bertram, Christerson's former teammate at Boyle. Bertram, Cumberland's No. 3 pitcher, is 7-1, and was a second-team all-conference pick.

Cumberland will play Berry College in the Region XI Tournament in Jackson, Tenn. Cumberland is the No. 1 seed in the six-team tourney and if it wins the tournament, the Patriots could host a super regional next week with a berth in the NAIA World Series at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, awaiting the winner.

"A big key will be to win our first game in the regional," Christerson said. "It's double-elimination, but if you win the first game you skip right to the third round. If you get in the loser's bracket, you can play a lot of games and they are all nine-inning games. That can wear out your pitching staff. But we know we've got to win the region to advance."

Christerson is just glad to be back playing. In the conference tournament opener recently against Lindsey Wilson, he was hit in the head by a pitch. While he was not knocked unconscious, he was woozy and missed the rest of the tournament.

"It hit under my helmet and got me directly in the head," Christerson said. "It was intentional. It was right after a home run, and they threw at me. But at least I'm fine now and ready for the regional."

He's been better than fine most of the season. After hitting about .350 each of his first two seasons, Christerson has become an even more productive batter this year. He credits work he did with wood bats the last two summers for helping perfect his swing.

"I just put in a lot of time and work to get my swing better," he said.

He also no longer has to worry about pitching, too. His first year he was used as a starting pitcher as well as a center fielder and last year he pitched some. This season he's strictly an outfielder.

"I can't say it has helped my hitting for sure, but it has made it easier. They really didn't need me to pitch and I could just concentrate on playing outfield and hitting," Christerson said.

One reason is that Cumberland added Arizona State transfer J.J. Jackson, who is 9-0 with a 1.65 earned run average and 94 strikeouts in 68 innings.

"He has just been outstanding," Christerson said.

Another newcomer, left fielder Roman Cox, earned conference player of the year honors after hitting .390, driving in 44 runs and leading the team in total bases and stolen bases.

"Coach always says I'm his best defensive outfielder and I've only made one error since I've been here and that was a throwing error," Christerson said. "I am one of our quickest outfielders, but we are all pretty fast. I think we easily had the best outfield in our conference."

The Patriots were 7-34 in 2001 before Shelton arrived and brought in players like Christerson and Garrard County's Aaron Ellis, a reserve outfielder. They went 34-29 Christerson's freshman year and 32-16 last year.

"When I came in as a freshman, we had a lot of other freshmen starting, too," Christerson said. "We have a lot of experience."

That experience is what Christerson is counting on to keep him too busy to be able to play in the Southern Collegiate League in South Carolina he's been invited to join.

"A lot of leagues are getting ready to start now," Christerson said. "I hope we have a lot of baseball left. I hope we aren't through until June. We've had a great year, but I still think we will all be disappointed if we don't get to the World Series."

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