College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee said he wasn't surprised at the numbers produced by third baseman Matt Leeds this season, but the numbers came as a little bit of a surprise to Leeds, who this week swept Southern Conference player of the year awards as voted on by the leagues coaches and media.
Leeds, a sophomore from Boca Raton, Fla., led the SoCon with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs while batting .340. His slugging percentage was second at .730, he was third in the league with 22 doubles, and he was second in total bases with 157.
And those weren't his only good numbers. An accounting major, Leeds carries a 3.90 GPA. Earlier this month, Leeds was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District III First Team.
"Actually, the most I ever hit in a season was three home runs," Leeds said. "I got a little power surge this season. I've been working on
my swing with our hitting coach Chris Morris, and he's really helped a lot. There have always been big-time hitters in this program and he's a reason why."
Leeds, who played in 30 games as a freshman in 2008, missed the 2009 season because of knee surgery.
Lee said the standout year has not been a surprise to the coaching staff.
"I think we expected Matt to have a good year. It was just a matter of Matt being healthy," Lee said. "Could I foresee him hitting 20 home runs and driving in 80? Yeah, I could see that happening. He's got power and he's a switch hitter."
Lee said Leeds has power from both sides of the plate, works as hard as any player on the team and is a leader on the field and in the clubhouse.
"I expected Matt to have a big year for us and I'm proud of him," Lee said.
Leeds doesn't dwell on the individual recognition; he's more focused on the team continuing to reach its goals. The Cougars (41-15, 22-8 in the SoCon) face Appalachian State (35-16-1, 14-14-1) at 9 a.m. today in the opening game of the Southern Conference tournament at Riley Park.
"We won a lot of games. Our goal before the season was to win 40 games and we accomplished that," he said. "Another goal was to win the regular season, which we failed to do. Going into the tournament, we definitely want to win a SoCon championship."
Leeds said the Cougars are playing well and have a deep pitching staff, which should stand them well in the tournament.
"Teams one through eight are pretty strong. You can't take anyone lightly. I think it's important we take care of business," he said, referring to last year's tournament in Greenville when Charleston lost two straight and spent the rest of the postseason at home.
"Winning a SoCon championship is very important. We haven't made the regionals the past couple of years. People are thinking about that. But when the game starts, everyone will be focused on winning the tournament."
Senior Joey Bergman, last year's Southern Conference player of the year, said players like Leeds have been a big factor in the Cougars' success.
"We had a lot of new guys. We knew if we wanted to be successful that we needed to have these guys step up," Bergman said. "We feel like we've had a great year so far and we're looking forward to continuing it."
As productive as the Cougars have been offensively, Lee said pitching and defense will be keys if the Cougars are to make a run this week.
"We're now in the postseason. I think it's important we come out and play our best brand of baseball right now. We finished the year very strong," Lee said. "We can take a deep breath and reflect on the season and say we've had a good regular season. But now we've got to keep playing hard and try to do all the little things we can to win ballgames. Hopefully, we'll play well and make a deep run.
"If you look at our run in the last 20 games or so, our pitching staff has been pretty consistent. We've thrown the ball really well. If you're going to make a deep playoff run, whether it's in a tournament or in a regional, it's going to be difficult to outslug people and outscore them as far as 12-8 games and 14-10 games. You're facing the better arms. Adrenaline and all those things run high this time of year. The big thing is you've got to pitch well and defend well. Offensively, I think we'll be OK. I'm just looking for our guys to keep throwing the ball well. If we do that, then with our offense we've always got a chance to win."