Used to seeing his name atop Liberty University’s lineup card, center fielder Ashton Perritt is experiencing a bit of role reversal.
The kind of hitting slump every baseball player at some point experiences has pushed the former Whiteland Community High School player from leadoff hitter down to the southern regions of coach Jim Toman’s batting order.
“I’m not doing so hot batting right now,” said the 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior whose .242 average pales in comparison to his outstanding sophomore numbers at the plate (.343, 6 home runs, 17 RBI and 34 runs) for a Flames team that recorded a 36-29 mark in 2013.
“Coming back, people know who I am now and are trying to attack my weak spots,” he said. “I’m seeing hardly any fastballs. It’s mainly been off-speed stuff.”
Understandable given that Perritt’s reputation approaches the batter’s box a few steps ahead of him.
With 27 regular-season games to play, Perritt, who has been playing the sport since he was 4, is confident he’ll return to the form that propelled Liberty’s inspiring postseason run last spring.
Toman’s club held a 27-26 record late in the regular season before posting a two-game sweep of Radford and then capturing the Big South Conference title as a No. 5 seed.
Liberty made it all the way to the NCAA Columbia Regional before losing 6-4 to two-time national champion South Carolina in the final.
Perritt took home Most Valuable Player honors at the Big South Tournament, hitting .400 (10 of 25). Also utilized as the Flames’ closer, the hard-throwing right-hander registered saves in four of Liberty’s five wins while producing the game-winning hit against top-seeded Campbell.
It marked the first baseball conference championship since 2000 for Liberty, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., that competes at the Division I level athletically.
Moved to the bullpen by his coach in February of his sophomore season, Perritt has been as sharp as ever in that department.
As the Flames prepare for a three-game stretch at Presbyterian College today through Sunday, the junior has worked 17-2/3 innings of relief with a 1.53 earned-run average. He’s struck out 20 opposing batters and recorded seven saves in 10 appearances.
“Ashton started slowly with the bat but has remained positive and is making the necessary adjustments offensively,” said Toman, now in his seventh season at Liberty.
“He has been great on the mound and has helped us win a lot of games. It is likely that the pro scouts are leaning to drafting him as a pitcher, but I look for Ashton to continue to help us with the bat and on the mound.”
The Liberty baseball program last season produced four MLB Draft selections: outfielder Ryan Cordell (11th round, Texas), catcher Trey Wimmer (23rd, Chicago White Sox) and pitchers Josh Richardson
(26th, San Diego) and Danny Grauer (38th, Cincinnati).
Overall, the Flames program has seen 53 players drafted.
Toman suspects Perritt will in time join this group. Perritt’s preseason honors include being second-team All-America by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and third-team All-America by Louisville Slugger.
Baseball America listed Perritt No. 98 among college baseball’s top 100 players for the 2014 season.
With the MLB Draft approaching (June 5-7), one might think the temptation to look ahead is behind Perritt’s sluggish start at the plate.
It’s not. Regardless, he’s keeping his eye on the ball both literally and figuratively.
“I’m focusing on the season right now,” Perritt said. “We have a pretty good team. It’s about getting wins and staying healthy. Batting ninth, I look at it like they’re doing what’s best for me right now. Baseball is a game of failure, so you have to learn how to handle it because you’re going to hit rough patches.
“It could be worse. We could be losing games. My teammates have been there to pick me up, and hopefully I’ll be there to pick them up if they need me later in the season.”