Southeastern Louisiana coach Jay Artigues admits he wasn't sure how good his club would be in 2012 after losing its top two weekend starters and five everyday regulars from last year's 35-win team.
But with a roster filled with "tough, hard-nosed Cajun kids," as Artigues put it, the Lions have gotten off to a strong 15-6 start, highlighted by a pair of midweek wins against Mississippi State last week. Artigues wants his Lions to be the most mentally and physically tough team on the field every game, and that blue-collar approach has helped him build Southeastern Louisiana into a very competitive program that has won 32 or more games in each of Artigues' last five seasons, including a 40-win campaign in 2010.
Junior second baseman Brock Hebert (pictured at right) embodies the values that make Southeastern Louisiana successful.
"The thing about Brock, he plays with an unmatched confidence level," Artigues said. "In the box, on the basepaths, defensively at second base, he just plays with confidence. There's no doubt in him when he plays. He has an aura about him that makes everybody around him better as well."
He also has the kind of tools that make him one of the top second basemen in college baseball. Hebert is red-hot, riding a 15-game hitting streak that has boosted his season line to .450/.526/.600 with 12 doubles in 80 at-bats.
Hebert has evolved into a disciplined hitter since arriving at Southeastern. He hit .288 with 51 strikeouts and 19 walks as a freshman, then saw his average climb to .340 as a sophomore, when he struck out 56 times but drew more walks (28). So far this year, he has 12 walks and 15 strikeouts.
"When he came in as a freshman, he swung and missed a lot, committed real early," Artigues said. "Now he lets the ball get deeper into the zone and uses the whole field, sprays the ball around, can lay the bunt down, hit it into the gap. He wasn't able to do that earlier. He's a gap-to-gap guy who hits a lot of line drives. He's hit a lot of doubles, and a lot of them are balls that would be singles for a lot of guys, but his instincts and speed allow him to get to second base in a hurry."
Artigues says Hebert runs the 60-yard dash in 6.6 seconds, and his instincts make his speed play up further on defense as well as offense. He is tied for the national lead with 19 stolen bases and has only been thrown out once. And he covers much more ground than the average second baseman.
"Brock can play short, but to me he's the best defensive second baseman in the country," Artigues said. "I know that's a bold statement, but he is a phenomenal defensive second baseman. To me it's the whole package: He's got range, he gets to balls that other people can't get to. He has a plus arm as well, and he can really run. He makes up some ground very, very quickly."
With a lineup stocked with freshmen and junior-college transfers, Hebert provides invaluable stability. If the Lions are to make another run at the Southland Conference title, it's a safe bet that Hebert will lead the way.
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