May 21, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin

Shenandoah University centerfielder Kevin Brashears has been playing baseball for as long as he can remember, but this week will be like no other he has experienced when he and the Hornets travel to the NCAA Division III Championship in Grand Chute, Wis.

After advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, the Hornets rolled through the NCAA Salisbury Regional to earn the program’s first-ever berth in the eight-team, double-elimination championship.  The last Shenandoah team to participate in an NCAA Championship was the football program in 2004.

“It’s a big deal to us,” said Brashears.  “We lost the conference tournament on a heart-breaker after being up two games.  When we won the first championship game, everyone was on cloud nine.”

Brashears, a centerfielder from Hagerstown, Md., batted .523 with 10 RBI, three doubles and two home runs to earn Most Outstanding Player honors at the regional. 

“Coach (Kevin Anderson) has been helping me with my swing, and trying to be more consistent at the plate, which is what I worked on a lot last week when we were off,” said Brashears.  “We had an 18-day layoff from our last game until regionals.  It helped over the weekend for the tournament.”

The son of former University of Maryland baseball player Mike Brashears, Kevin does not remember life without the sport.  His father also served as his baseball coach at St. Maria Goretti High School, where Brashears was a three-time All-County honoree.

“My dad comes to every game – he never misses one,” said Brashears.  “He’s driving up from Maryland (for the championship).  Everybody in my family is big into sports, and it means the world to us because this is what we do.”

A lifelong catcher, Brashears is playing his first full collegiate season as a centerfielder due to two elbow surgeries that forced him to sit out the 2007 season, and the second half of 2008.  He is settling into his new position nicely, and batting a solid .388 with eight home runs and 48 RBI.

“(Coach) moved me from catching to the outfield so I could put a little less stress on my arm,” said Brashears.  “I miss catching because I’ve done it my whole life, but I’ve grown to love centerfield.  Every day that I go out there I become more acquainted with it and better at it.  I’m still learning the ins and outs of it.”

During the season, Brashears also was reminded during the season of how precious his time in baseball is when friend and Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart lost his life in a hit-and-run car accident in April.  Hours earlier, Adenhart had pitched six scoreless innings against the Oakland A’s in his fourth major league start.

“Everyone looked up to (Adenhart) because of who he was and how he carried himself, and how he was going to become big in baseball,” said Brashears.  “I called him last year when he got called up and he didn’t play very well.  Baseball players are superstitious, so I didn’t call him this year, and I kind of wish I would have.  I was going to call him the day after he pitched very well, but I never got a chance to do that.”

Brashears is looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere and larger crowds at the Division III Championship this weekend at Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute.

“When we went to regionals it was our first time going there, and now this is like a dream come true,” said Brashears.  “I never thought I would go to the Division III World Series when we started the year even though that was our goal.  It became a little more of a reality when we started playing well.  I knew we could do it and now it’s coming true.  It’s unbelievable.”

Ranked a program-best No. 6 in the latest national poll, Shenandoah (37-8) will open tournament play against fellow newcomer Farmingdale State (N.Y.) on May 22 at 4:30 p.m. CT. 

“We’ve kind of been the underdog all year,” said Brashears.  “People don’t believe in us, and we keep proving them wrong.  Hopefully, now we’ll go up there prove them wrong again and play well.”