When Dad is the assistant headmaster and Mom is a teacher at your school, high expectations are part of the deal.
"Needless to say, I didn't get away with much," says The Citadel's junior pitcher Matt Talley, recalling his days at Wilson Hall School in Sumter.
Those high expectations produced a self-motivator who is one of the top civil engineering students at the military school, sporting a 3.75 grade-point average through the fall semester.
They also produced a 6-6 lefty who leans toward the self-critical side of the pitcher's mound.
"I tell Matt all the time that a lot of times, he's too analytical of himself," said Citadel baseball coach Fred Jordan. "Maybe that comes from the engineering side of it. But I try to tell him, 'You can only do what you can do and be who you are, and don't try to be any more.' "
Just when his team needed it most, those words seem to have sunk in for Talley, who has a 5-2 record and a 4.16 ERA this season for the 29-17 Bulldogs, who are 17-4 in the Southern Conference, good for first place heading into a key weekend series at second-place College of Charleston.
Talley has won his last three starts, including two after rare Friday losses by staff ace Asher Wojciechowski, and is 4-0 with a 2.96 ERA in SoCon games.
Talley tossed a shutout in a 7-0 win over Davidson on April 24 after Wojciechowski took his first loss of the season, and allowed one earned run in seven innings of a 14-6 win at Samford last Saturday, again after a Wojo loss on Friday.
Over a three-game stretch that included a 10-5 win at Furman on April 17, Talley went 20 1/3 innings without allowing a run, the longest
scoreless stretch by a SoCon pitcher this season.
"Big performances for us," Jordan said. "He's throwing the ball pretty well right now. Earlier in the season, he was a little quick with his delivery and was not locating his pitches as well as he is now."
Talley earned preseason All-SoCon honors this season after going 8-1 with a 3.30 ERA last year, starting midweek games until an oblique strain sidelined Wojciechowski for about a month late in the season.
That helped prepare Talley for his weekend role this season, but a 2-2 record and 5.93 ERA after eight starts left him frustrated.
"I was pretty unhappy with my performance personally at the beginning of the year," said Talley, who complements a fastball with a curve and changeup. "We were winning a lot of games, but I felt the way I was pitching was almost hurting the team a little bit."
Said Jordan: "I think Matt was trying to do too much. So we just said, 'Let's worry about what's in front of us and let the guys behind us do their part, also.' He's really settled into that and is not going as deep into counts as he was earlier. He has really made some nice adjustments."
The win over Davidson was key, as Talley allowed just three hits and struck out nine while walking just one, and discovered a tempo that seemed to work.
"I know this year, Asher has tried to work faster and not take so much time between pitches," Talley said. "And after that Davidson game, he said, 'Dude, you were really working fast out there.' It kind of clicked that that's what has been working for him, so I'm trying to do the same thing."
Talley, Wojciechowski and freshman starter Michael Clevinger will need to keep their poise this weekend at College of Charleston (33-12, 17-7), which has won five straight and nine of 10, averaging 10.6 runs over the last 12 games, including a 16-7 win over The Citadel on April 20.
"We've got to stay focused," Talley said. "It's a big weekend, because of the rivalry, because they beat us so bad in the midweek game, not to mention we're in first place and they are in second.
"This weekend could determine a lot for seedings in the tournament, and who wins the regular season. Definitely a big weekend."
ON A ROLL
Citadel pitcher Matt Talley has won his last three starts for the Bulldogs:
Opp. Score IP H R ER BB SO
Furman 10-5 7 9 2 1 2 3
Davidson 7-0 9 3 0 0 1 9
Samford 14-6 7 8 3 1 1 5