Off the Wall With Missouri State's Matt Brown
The Missouri Valley Conference race comes down to this weekend’s series between Missouri State and Dallas Baptist. The Bears came into the weekend with a one-game edge in the standings, but the Patriots have home-field advantage.
Missouri State on Thursday won the first game of the series, 9-5, and need just one more victory to close out its second straight MVC title and third in the last four years. The Bears have not won back-to-back regular season championships since joining the conference in 1991.
Shortstop Jeremy Eierman, a Preseason All-American who is expected to next month be picked in the first two rounds of the draft, has played a key role in the Bears’ offense and is hitting .301/.389/.544 with nine home runs. Several other players have stepped up including Drew Millas (.346/.431/.555) and Matt Brown (.241/.424/.504, 10 HR). On the mound, ace Dylan Coleman (9-2, 3.91) has led the Bears and closer Connor Sechler (5-1, 2.91, 7 SV) has been an anchor at the back of the bullpen.
Brown, a senior who last year transferred to Missouri State from Jefferson (Mo.) JC, has had the challenge of replacing Jake Burger, a first round pick last year, at third base. He responded with a breakout season and, after homering Thursday night, leads the team in home runs. Baseball America caught up with Brown to talk about the Bears’ season, his development and this weekend’s big matchup.
You guys have played really well this season, especially in the MVC. What’s been the key for you guys?
“A few weeks ago we played Oregon Stand and then we played Mizzou and it was basically the week from hell. We played Arkansas, Oregon State and then we ended that week with Mizzou. It was a really tough week and we knew that it was going to be hard but we kind of locked it in. Our pitching’s been very good. Dylan Coleman’s done a very good job for us – a lot of pitchers have. The hitting – we’ve had a lot of timely hitting. I think the biggest thing for us is playing our game not worrying about the score, not worrying about the other surroundings and playing championship level baseball.”
You’re having a strong season yourself. What’s been the key for you at the plate?
“I started off really slow. I tore the UCL in my thumb the last day of summer ball. I was out the entire fall and I just kind of got to work with coach Lawson, who’s our hitting coach, and figured out what works. I struggled at the very beginning of the season and once we got to Valley play, I really picked it up. The weekend before Valley I really had a really good weekend and gained a lot of confidence. It’s just been something where I haven’t tried to do too much at the plate. I just try to do what I do best and that’s drive the baseball and help my team win.”
What’s been the biggest development in your game over the last year?
“I think sitting out the entire fall I really learned what I was doing that wasn’t working for me. I learned just by watching other guys what I could do differently to make my game a little better. It helps that my dad’s been a high school baseball coach for 28 years and he knows my swing better than anybody else and when I’m doing just the littlest thing wrong he’s quick to point it out. Going up and talking to him or talking to coach Lawson and just being more confident. I’m a senior if I don’t have confidence now I’m never going to have confidence. Just trying to do what got me here and that’s playing good baseball and playing hard and getting on base and driving the baseball. I think that’s been the key.”
Jake Burger last year was a first-round pick. Jeremy Eierman may be one this season. What’s it been like playing with those two guys?
“Jake was my roommate last year. Talking to him and getting to learn what he does on a daily basis – when I got to Missouri State I was a first baseman and one of the first things they did was send me over to third. So getting to work with Jake every day and learn his routine and learn what he does really kind of helped me and made me grow as a player. Getting to play alongside Jeremy Eierman on the left side of the infield is very cool and it definitely helps a lot. There’s a lot of balls that get hit in the hole or to my left that I may not be able to get to but he can, which makes my job a lot easier. Getting to watch those guys take BP every day and getting to learn their routines, it’s really cool to see. They’re two of the best guys that I’ve ever met. They do anything to help you and give you tips and help you make your game a little better.”
What’s your walkup song and why did you pick it?
“’Hometown’ by Kane Brown. I was driving back to school after Christmas break and trying to find something. I love being at home, I love when my dad and my mom come to watch me play. I’m a big family-oriented person. Being able to go out there and play every day and to represent not just my family but where I’m from and the background that I have, I think that’s what made me decide to pick it. Plus, I’m a big country music person. I don’t listen to anything else but country music.”
You guys last year made a run to super regionals. Do you feel like this team has the ability to do something similar this year?
“The one thing that I think is different from last year’s team is I don’t think we’ve truly played our best baseball yet. We’ve played a lot of really good baseball and we’ve played a lot of really good teams and we’ve got a lot of really good wins, but I still think there’s more in the tank for us. Growing up I always watched the selection show and the College World Series. Since I’ve gotten to college I’ve tried not to think about the whole selection process and who’s going to make the field of 64. I just try to focus on each day, whether that’s practice or games, and let everything else take care of itself. But I really do think that this team is special. I think the way we play is special. I think we have a championship mentality. Not saying that we’re going to make it all the way, but the way we go about our business and the way we handle each day and how hard this group works – I think this team can do a lot of special things.”
The Missouri Valley title is on the line this weekend with you guys going to DBU. What are you looking forward to about this series?
“I think it’s kind of one of those things where growing up you always dream about playing in the World Series or playing in a huge game. All three games this weekend are very big. Coach Guttin preaches play one game at a time and if we just play our game and not worry about the next day or the next task at hand then we’ll be fine. What more could you ask for going into the last weekend of the year? Two very good ballclubs fighting it out for the regular season title. That’s exactly what you want in a final series. It’s going to be a hard-fought game but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
What’s the key for you guys this weekend?
“Obviously, you’ve got to have good pitching. That’s been key for us all year. We’ve had really good starting pitching, we’ve had really good bullpen guys. I think timely hitting - not trying to do too much, just going into Dallas confident and taking it one game at a time, one pitch at a time. That’s one thing our coaches stress on a daily basis. Even when we were playing the very first game of the year. I like our chances. We have a very good ballclub and it’s going to be a very fun weekend.”