Former Jag helps Samford reach NCAA tourney

Published 11:18 am Friday, June 1, 2012

By DANIEL PORTER / Staff Writer

Sixty-four of the best college baseball teams in the country begin play in the NCAA Division I tournament June 1, all with a chance to get to Omaha and make the College World Series to fight for a national championship.

The state of Alabama had two teams make the field of 64, but neither where the big names of Alabama, Auburn, or even Troy, which made the field last season. The state of Alabama is represented by in-state teams Samford and UAB, with a Spain Park High School graduate leading the Bulldogs.

Samford, which is making its first appearance in school history, includes a former three-time Spain Park Student-Athlete of the Year in Arthur Strauss.

Strauss earned those honors his sophomore through senior years at Spain Park High School where he was also voted Most Athletic.

This year, Strauss is a junior at Samford where he’s been a critical member of the Bulldogs’ pitching bullpen. Samford, who finished the season 39-21, have been the superior team in the state claiming wins over Alabama A&M, South Alabama, Jacksonville State, UAB, Troy, and Auburn.

Strauss has appeared in 20 games this season where he has logged a short amount of innings, but still has 18 strikeouts next to his only 15 hits allowed.

“It’s just an awesome experience,” Strauss said on being part of the first Samford team to make the NCAA Division I tournament. “It’s what we’ve worked for all year.”

Samford was sent to the Tallahassee regional — the same regional with UAB, Mississippi State and Florida State. The Bulldogs have swept UAB in regular season games and beat Florida and Oklahoma at the end of the season, making Samford feel confident about their chances.

“We’re not intimidated by any team,” Strauss said. “We can play with the best teams in the country.”

The first game will be a Battle of the Bulldogs between Samford and Mississippi State, a game in which Strauss will see familiar faces.

In high school, Strauss faced current Mississippi State freshman pitcher Trevor Fitts, who played at Pelham High School, and Fitts’ teammate, Ben Bracewell, a sophomore pitcher out of Briarwood Christian School.

“It’s good getting to play against guys you played against in high school on a much bigger stage” said Strauss.

Strauss also has a former Spain Park teammate playing in the NCAA Division I tournament in Chris Ellis, who pitches for Ole Miss. The Rebels face TCU in the opening round of the College Station, Texas, regional.

Tripp Martin, a former teammate of Fitts at Pelham High School, is a sophomore third baseman at Coastal Carolina University. Martin and his teammates will face Clemson in the opening round in the Clemson, S.C. regional.