Hughston Armstrong’s approach to baseball is simple.
“Hustle,” The Citadel’s junior outfielder said. “As long as I play the game right, I think it will treat me well.”
There’s no arguing with Armstrong’s results. The 5-7, 165-pounder from Ridge View High School in Columbia might be the most improved player in the Southern Conference, if not the nation.
As the Bulldogs hit the homestretch of a tight regular season race in the SoCon, Armstrong has raised his batting average a full 205 points from last year’s .202 to a robust .407 this season.
That’s good for third in the SoCon and would currently rank in the top 15 in the country. After a 5-for-5 performance in Sunday’s 8-7 victory over Appalachian State, Armstrong is batting .536 with four doubles, a home run and eight runs batted-in during the Bulldogs’ current seven-game win streak.
Even Citadel coach Fred Jordan, who touted Armstrong as the team’s most improved player before the season, is surprised.
“He’s surpassed our expectations with his performance to date,” said Jordan, whose Bulldogs (24-17) play host to Charleston Southern today. “It’s a testament to his hard work.”
If hustle was all that’s required, a lot of guys would hit .400. Armstrong — who was just 5-6 and 137 pounds when he played with the Diamond Devils travel team in 2009 — augmented that trait with an offseason regimen that included weight-lifting and speed work with the football team, and a mature approach at the plate.
“He does three things very well,” said Citadel hitting coach Adam Vrable, a former standout at Coastal Carolina. “He’s very patient, in that he knows when to take pitches and when to be aggressive. He has a great idea of the strike zone, and he utilizes all fields.”
Armstrong’s five-hit day against App State is instructive. Two of his hits came on two-strike counts, and two others on first pitches. The left-handed hitter pulled a double to right field, slapped another double down the left-field line and in the ninth inning singled up the middle, eventually scoring the winning run.
“I was thinking about going 5-for-5,” Armstrong admitted of that last at-bat. “But I just wanted to do my job and get on base any way I could.”
Armstrong’s development in the No. 2 spot in the batting order, behind lead-off man Mason Davis, has solidified a Citadel lineup that has mirrored his improvement from last year.
The Bulldogs are batting .298 and averaging 6.4 runs per game this season, compared with .251 and 4.5 runs per game a year ago.
A lot of that can be attributed to early at-bats for juniors Joe Jackson (.335) and Drew Dekerlegand (.312) and sophomores Davis .297) and Bo Thompson (.331).
“You can’t coach experience, or confidence,” Jordan said. “With the trials and tribulations some of these hitters had early in their careers, they’ve developed the ability to recognize pitches and we’re seeing that now.”
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