CONNECTING STUDENT ATHLETES WITH COLLEGE COACHES
Justin Amlung once heard from an NCAA Division II coach recruiting him out of St. Xavier High School that he “had no shot of playing Division I college baseball.”
Thanks to that coach, Amlung didn't want to play for that school even though it was the only one showing serious interest.
Thankfully for the University of
“You love what he stands for, because it's not about entitlement, it's not about rankings,” U of L coach Dan McDonnell said. “A saying we always say is ‘Win this day.' And he proved that if you win a lot of days, you're going to get your chance and your opportunity to be successful, and that's what he's done since he's been here.”
Amlung leads the team in wins, starts, strikeouts (69) and innings pitched (912/3). He has a 2.06 ERA entering the final regular-season series, against Notre Dame.
How did Amlung go from being essentially the last player picked on the team to becoming its most reliable pitcher?
“It was just confidence in myself, really,” he said. “In high school I had the mind-set that I was the best player on the field and if I did everything right there was no way I would not have success. A big part of baseball is just staying confident and trusting in your ability.”
And it helps to get a little lucky. Amlung is the first to admit his watershed season likely would not have been possible had it not been for Jake Odorizzi.
Odorizzi committed to U of L, then was taken 32nd overall in the 2008 major league draft and decided to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers instead of attend school. That freed up a roster spot, and Amlung was offered the chance to walk on.
“I was watching the draft pretty intently,” Amlung said. “When they called me and said they had a spot, I honestly have never been so happy in my life.”
U of L (27-26, 12-12 Big East Conference) will start its pivotal three-game series against Notre Dame at 6 p.m. Thursday at Jim Patterson Stadium. The Cards are one game from fourth place in the league but also just one game from ninth. The top eight teams will compete in the Big East Tournament.
Amlung will take the mound Friday against the Irish (21-25-1, 12-11), and the Cards believe he delivers in pressure situations. Needing a win in last season's regular-season finale to clinch the league title, Amlung started, pitched six shutout innings and got the win at Notre Dame.
“He's one of our tougher kids,” pitching coach Roger Williams said. “He has a tough mind-set, doesn't get rattled and is usually able to have pretty good poise and mound presence when he's out there.”
It wasn't always that way.
When Amlung arrived on campus, he was notorious for taking too long on the mound. He said he was trying so hard to not make mistakes that he wasn't playing on instinct. He classified himself as a ‘thrower' and not a pitcher.
“If (the catcher) called for a fastball, I didn't know where it was going to go,” he said. “I'd just throw it and hope for the best.”
Amlung said his redshirt year in 2009 helped his transition. He gradually began putting on weight and now weighs 175 pounds. It's helped him add velocity to his fastball — he's now in the 90-93 mph range — and slider.
Williams said Amlung's command is much better and he is one of the best on the staff when it comes to throwing strikes.
“In all areas you want to see a pitcher grow — he's been able to in his career,” Williams said. “It's been a steady progression with him.”
McDonnell said the Cards eased Amlung into relief situations last season. Impressed with the number of strikes he threw, he put him in a few midweek starting situations.
When Amlung threw five shutout innings against Ohio State, the Cards knew they had something and gave him a few Sunday starts.
“This year we knew he was a starter all along,” McDonnell said. “And we're thrilled that it worked out.”