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Tuesday, Sep. 30, 2014

T.G.I. Priday: Former Bulldog standout hitting it big at Mizzou

Sunday, April 17, 2005

(Photo)
Sikeston High graduate Jacob PRiday is congratulated by the Missouri third base coach Evan Pratt as he trots home.
COLUMBIA -- Last season, the Sikeston Bulldogs baseball team had one of the top offensive duos in the entire state with Blake DeWitt and Jacob Priday.

DeWitt was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers and went on to an MVP season with the Rookie League Ogden Raptors last summer.

Now, it's Priday's turn.

This spring Priday has turned heads at the University of Missouri with his offensive production.

Priday broke into the Tigers' starting lineup after just a few games and has been one of the top hitters on the team.

"It took a couple weeks for me to get in the starting lineup, but I got in there and I guess I proved myself to the coaches," said Priday. "It's been working out so far. When I came up here I knew I was going to be fighting for a position and they told me that from the start. I just wanted to prove to myself and everybody that I was good enough to play."

Through Friday, Priday led the Tigers with six home runs, was second in RBIs with 42, while batting .324, fourth best on the team.

His RBI total calculates to 1.45 RBI per game which ranks him 11th in the nation.

He's second on the team in slugging percentage (.578) and is third on the team in steals with four while not being caught.

At one time Priday was batting cleanup for the Tigers, but since the team has gotten to full health he has been moved to the sixth spot in the order most of the time.

He played catcher in high school but has been moved to right field where he has made a smooth adjustment. He's committed just one error and has two outfield assists.

"He played outfield for us once last year," said Sikeston High School coach Kevin Self. "He's very versatile but I never had the opportunity to move him. He could have played at first or the outfield, but I needed him to catch more than anything."

All of this coming on a nationally ranked team.

The Tigers have stunned most in the Big 12 as they've moved up to 13th in the Collegiate Baseball poll and the Baseball America rankings. They've posted a 27-6 record and a Big 12-best 8-1 mark, including a sweep of traditionally strong Texas A&M.

The Tigers' 8-1 start in conference play is the best they've had since 1981.

"It's not like he's playing at a small school or a Division I school that's not very good, he's playing for a nationally ranked team here," said Self. "Mizzou's been good the past couple years. They've got their program at a high level."

Priday was a two-time all-state catcher for the Sikeston Bulldogs. His numbers rivaled even DeWitt's record-setting career.

Priday batted .571 last year with eight home runs and 44 RBIs.

In his high school career, Priday finished with 127 hits which is ninth best in Missouri state history according to the MSHSAA Records Book. He had the fifth most doubles with 36 and finished in the top 20 all-time home run leaders with 18.

His accolades are endless, but he also finished in the state's top 10 in total bases (225), extra-base hits (58), RBIs (109), batting average (.496), slugging percentage (.879), on-base percentage (.573) and runs scored (112).

With such an amazing high school career, Self said he's not a bit surprised at Priday's success at Mizzou.

"It's not surprising to me at all to see how well he's doing in Division I because I know what kind of bat he's got," said Self. "His bat is as quick as anybody -- it's as quick as Blake's inside, and I think Jacob has the ability to play and excel at that level. I think he'll continue to progress because he's hungry for it.

"He runs well, he's got a great arm, he's got a great eye at the plate, and he can hit. He can hit for power, I mean he can do it all."

Priday's prodigious home runs have gotten him some respect among his teammates.

After he hit two home runs in an 8-3 win against Texas A&M, teammate Doug Mathis said, "He's a stronger-than-an-ox country boy."

Priday confirmed it by saying, "I've worked on farms. I'm not from a city like this. That's what they all think of me, and that's about right."

And to top it all off, Baseball America magazine came out with its midseason awards, naming Priday to the All-Freshman Team.

"They get a lot of their reports from scouts and I'm sure that a lot of the scouts that followed us last year got a good dose of what Jacob Priday can do and I'm sure he was put on a list and they're following him close," said Self.

Priday said he's heard of the attention, but doesn't put much stock in it.

"That's great and it's nice to be recognized, but I'm not worried about that stuff right now," said Priday. "We just want to win ballgames and fight our way into regionals. I don't really have any personal goals. Sure, I'd like to hit .400 and do things like that, but you have to be realistic. These guys are real good. We have more team goals and once we get those, everything personal comes secondary."

Priday said the difference between high school and college is night and day.

"The game's sped up so much faster -- the guys are that much stronger and that much faster," said Priday.

"The pitchers are an unreal difference. These guys are all 90s to upper-90s. Every guy you see can hit 90 and he's got three or four pitches and he can locate every single one of them. It's quite a challenge."

So how has Priday made the adjustment to Division I baseball with what seems to be relative ease?

"The big thing for us is the approach you take," said Priday. "You have to go up there with a clear head --

you can't be everywhere. You have to go up there thinking one thing, 'I'm going to hit a fastball.' And when you see the fastball you hit it. Or a curveball the same thing. It's a big mind game. It's 90 percent mental most of the time."

Missouri was scheduled to play Oklahoma State this weekend.