Under The Radar: Austin Peay State

Lee Ridenhour, Austin Peay StateGood luck finding a more dangerous mid-major than Austin Peay State. The Governors are loaded with experienced veterans who have already proven themselves in high-pressure situations against marquee competition. APSU has not only made back-to-back regionals, but it has played well in both regionals.

Two years ago, Austin Peay stunned host Georgia Tech in the opener of the Atlanta Regional, knocking off the Yellow Jackets 2-1. Last year, the Governors lost the Eugene Regional opener in controversial fashion against Oregon, but they bounced back to eliminate Indiana State (beating ace Sean Manaea 1-0) and Cal State Fullerton before falling in the regional final against the Ducks.

So maybe Austin Peay is still under the radar nationally because it plays in the Ohio Valley Conference, but coaches know how dangerous the Governors are, and their 17-3 start this spring is far from a surprise. APSU had won nine straight games before dropping a midweek game at Indiana State yesterday, snapping what had been the nation’s longest winning streak.

“Our guys expect to win. They expected to win last year, and they did,” Austin Peay coach Gary McClure said. “They’ve won our regular season and conference tournament two years in a row and done well in regionals. Last year, shoot, we were a call away from probably winning that thing. They’ve got some savvy about them. Their goals and expectations are a lot higher than a lot of kids out there because of that, I think. And they believe in themselves. So we feel like our program is kind of getting to the point where our goals have definitely changed. We’re getting a lot better players, there’s no doubt about that.”

Austin Peay’s stellar group of upperclassmen are the backbone of the team, led by junior second baseman Jordan Hankins (.357/.500/.529), whom McClure calls “the best hitter I’ve ever coached.” Senior shortstop Reed Harper (.309/.430/.426) has been a rock for his entire APSU career and has gotten hot after a slow start this spring. Senior Cody Hudson (.387/.422/.573) is a speed merchant in the outfield (eight steals in 10 tries) who leads the team in hitting. And catcher P.J. Torres (.271/.380/.458) and right fielder Rolando Gautier (.452 OBP out of the leadoff spot) give APSU two more rock-solid veterans.

The success of those older players has made it easier for Austin Peay to attract impact newcomers, several of whom are making a big difference this spring. Junior-college transfer Craig Massoni (.347/.455/.500, three homers, 22 RBIs) is a formidable presence in the cleanup spot. And fourth-year junior righthander Lee Ridenhour (3-0, 2.37, 25 strikeouts and six walks in 30 innings) transferred in from Johnson County (Kan.) CC and immediately gave Austin Peay an ace. As a freshman at Kansas in 2009, Ridenhour was a key contributor, going 6-3, 4.65 in 79 innings. But a left ankle injury that required multiple surgeries caused him to miss all of 2010 and 2011. He re-emerged last year at Johnson County, and he has burst onto the prospect scene this spring.

“He’s really, really good—I would put him out there with about anybody in the country,” McClure said. “He’s a big 6-5 kid, throws up in the mid-90s, great breaking ball, great slider. He’s got a lot of command, and he’s got great presence. He’s a mature kid. He’s as good as any Friday night guy I’ve ever had. When I say that, I guess I put him up against Shawn Kelley, who’s in the big leagues, and Matt Reynolds, who was our No. 2 guy that year and is in the big leagues. So he’s pretty special.”

McClure said Ridenhour always sits in the 90-93 range and bumps the mid-90s when he needs to. His slider is a wipeout pitch, and his spike curveball and changeup are also solid offerings.

The Governors have a competitive senior behind him in the rotation in Casey Delgado, who won nine games a year ago, capped by a three-hit shutout against Fullerton in regionals. Delgado works around 88-91 and knows how to pitch with his breaking ball and changeup. The third weekend starter, A.J. Gaura, will miss the rest of the year after taking a line drive off his arm in Week Three against Michigan State, but the Governors have the depth to withstand his loss. Junior lefthander Zach Hall has slid into that Sunday starter role; McClure said he also has solid stuff but has gotten into some trouble this year with walks.

“We’ve got a lot of depth, more than we’ve ever had, so we’re fortunate for that,” McClure said.

The bullpen is outstanding, with a premier closer in senior submariner Tyler Rogers, who saved 12 games last year and already has eight saves this year to go along with a 0.00 ERA in 14 appearances. Ryan Quick, a former weekend starter, has worked his way back from surgery to relieve a stress fracture in his elbow. He teams with Kacy Kemmer (2-0, 3.32 in 21 innings over 10 appearances) to give APSU two more key veterans in the bullpen, building a bridge to Rogers.

“Our pitching’s just been really good, and our relief pitching has been unbelievable,” McClure said. “We’ve caught the ball; we’ve got a chance to win every game like that. It’s been a really nice start. Our guys play really hard, they find a way to win in some tight games, and hopefully we can continue to do that and we don’t get complacent—keep them hungry. I’ve liked that core group since their freshman year. They were never afraid.”