CHARLOTTE – Moving into his final season playing college baseball, New Hanover alum Collin Thacker earned Big South Preseason Player of the Year honors following an impressive junior campaign at Gardner-Webb.
Thacker is the first Runnin’ Bulldog to be voted the Big South’s Preseason Player of the Year in the award’s 12-year history. A 2017 preseason All-American, Thacker led the Big South and nation last season with a conference record-tying 28 doubles. He was the Big South’s top hitter with a .394 average, batted .411 with runners in scoring position and 20 two-out RBI.
“It’s a surreal feeling to receive the attention,” Thacker said after just returning from his internship at an assisted living facility in Boiling Springs as a Health Care Management Major, I’ve never really bee the one to get acknowledged playing on some real good teams along the way. It feels good to represent my university, family, high school.”
With a 22-game hitting streak last season, Thacker also scored 46 runs and knocked in 46. In Big South action, he batted .391 with a .522 slugging percentage. Thacker received five first-place votes and 21 points in the preseason voting to finish ahead of Campbell’s Cole Hallum.
Thacker acknowledged a strong lineup one through nine helped him at the plate along with a new approach under then first-year hitting coach Ross Steedly.
“A lot of our teams success last season offensively in big part went to a new hitting philosophy,” Thacker added. “We finished second in conference behind only Coastal Carolina (the eventual national champions). Pitchers couldn’t zone in on one specific person and that makes it a lot easier to produce. For me, having a full season of experience really helped. I didn’t play a lot as a freshman and really got adjusted to the college game sophomore season.”
With advancements in technology and the availability of internet streaming for most college baseball games, Thacker has also become more a student of the game. Hunkering down inside the film room and scouting upcoming pitchers also played a big in helping the New Hanover alum understand how opposing teams would try to get him out.
“We talk about growing as a hitter every day,” Thacker said. “We make it point to talk about pitchers get scouting reports. Ahead of a weekend series I’d go in and watch game footage to pick up a pitcher’s tendencies.”
Keeping a one-day at a time approach on the baseball diamond and not letting the accolades get in the way of the daily process remains constant in Thacker’s routine. Baseball is a game of repetition. Muscle and mental memory plays a key role in hitting a round-ball with a round bat.
“One of our big things here is trust the process,” Thacker said. “Whenever the lights come on there’s no place to hide. Baseball is a game of ups and downs. We try to keep even keel as much as possible. Trust that you’re going to do your job and your teammates are going to do theirs.
A common cliché in sports is that you are only as good as your last game. Moving into opening day, Thacker brings a ton of confidence to the diamond, but sticking to the process with the goal to improve on a junior season for the record books.
Gardner-Webb was picked to finish sixth in the Big South preseason poll as High Point University was voted as the favorite to win conference after a vote by the league’s head coaches. With an entirely new starting rotation on the bump and just one upperclassmen slotted to start during weekends, the Runnin’ Bulldogs will need a big offensive season especially early on to keep pace throughout a tough 2017 spring slate.
Gardner-Webb opens the season on Feb. 17 for the start of a four-game series with Canisius before a trip to Chapel Hill for a date with the Tar Heels on Wednesday, Feb. 22