Austin Bates' big season leads to Southern Conference Player of the Year honor

Austin Bates' big season leads to Southern Conference Player of the Year honor

Austin Bates admits he felt he was a long shot to be the Southern Conference Player of the Year.

Which is why he still couldn't believe it even after hearing he won the award, and it wasn't close.

"There are so many players that I believe deserve it, I am just so honored," Bates said. "Miami-Dade has a lot of good players and we have a bunch of guys who could have won it. I just really didn't think I had a shot."

The sophomore catcher dominated both offensively and defensively this season, throwing out 58 percent of base stealers and has become well-known for picking off runners who aren't paying attention to him. Offensively, he is leading the Titans with a .354 batting average and has a hit in all but six games this season, including a 28-game hitting streak.

"I didn't know what to expect because my freshman year I didn't hit much, hit .239 and didn't get to hit a lot," Bates said. "Usually I am stressed about catching but with this staff I didn't really worry about it as much because they throw strikes. I don't really think about hitting, I think about defense so the hitting has just come along and been a lot better this year. It has gotten easier as it goes, coaches do such a good job with the scouting report so I just have to see the ball."

Bates is tied for the team lead in doubles (15) and stolen bases (12), while scoring 25 runs and driving in another 24 this season.

"I could not be more excited for a young man than I am of him. He has worked his butt off in all phases of the game. He was given the opportunity here to go out and prove it. To go out and catch as many games as he has this season and deal with the bruises and bumps that come with being the catcher, I have a lot of respect for him," Eastern Florida State College baseball coach Jason Arnold said. "For him to put up a 28-game hitting streak while handling a very good pitching staff is impressive. I can't even express what he means to this team. He is invaluable to us and I think the other coaches all saw that."

Bates came to Eastern Florida State College from Chipola College where he helped the Indians win the NJCAA Division I National Championship last season. But he decided to make a move and leave Chipola for the Titans not sure how things would work out.

Now he is the conference player of the year and takes the field on Wednesday night looking to help his team qualify for the state tournament.

"We have a big shot – I hadn't thought about it much until the last couple of weeks but with our bats getting hot and our staff, I just think we can play anyone right now and have a chance," Bates said.