College Baseball

Settling into comfort zone: Hawks' Snyder finds stride in No. 9 hole

Quincy University's TJ Tamaccio, left, Nolan Snyder, center, and Cody Birdsong celebrate Snyder's two-run home run against Bellarmine during Sunday's 4-0 victory. | H-W Photo/Matt Schuckman
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 22, 2019 3:00 am Updated: Apr. 22, 2019 3:08 am

QUINCY -- As a 13-year-old watching the College World Series thanks to the satellite dish that brought ESPN to his family's Adams County home, Josh Rabe saw an interview Florida State coach Mike Martin gave where he addressed why Doug Mientkiewicz was hitting second in the Seminoles' order.

It was quite simple in fact. That spot generated more RBI opportunities when the bottom of the order did its job getting on base.

So it made sense to have the best hitter in the No. 2 spot instead of the traditional No. 3 hole.

"That stuck with me," said Rabe, the Quincy University baseball coach who played with Mientkiewicz in the Minnesota Twins organization. "Now, 25 years later, I still think about that."

Rabe has successfully employed that strategy throughout his nine-year tenure with the Hawks. Although he took a slightly different approach with the lineup this season, Rabe eventually went back to his tried-and-true ways and moved All-American second baseman Cody Birdsong to the No. 2 hole three weeks ago.

The Hawks are 9-2 since, sit atop the Great Lakes Valley Conference standings and are No. 8 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Division II national poll. Birdsong is hitting .320 with a team-leading 12 home runs and is second on the team with 32 RBIs.

But the real benefit has been the improved production of Nolan Snyder in the No. 9 hole.

The junior center fielder spent the first 27 games in the No. 2 spot, but was hitting just .248 with a team-high 33 strikeouts.

Since the move, Snyder has hit safely in 9 of 10 games, going 13 of 34 (.382) with three home runs and eight RBIs. He had just one home run and 13 RBIs in nearly the triple the number of games prior to that.

"It's been kind of nice," Snyder said of his role at the bottom of the order. "I have guys ahead of me (TJ Tamaccio and Carter Naughton) who are having good at-bats, and I kind of like being the second lead-off guy for the top of the order. I'm just trying to get on base, and it's helped me see the ball a lot better."

He saw it perfectly at an opportune time Sunday.

Facing Bellarmine in the rubber game of a three-game series at QU Stadium, the Hawks had a 2-0 lead when Knights coach Larry Owens decided in the fifth inning to turn to closer Brandon Pfaadt with two on and two out. Pfaadt induced an inning-ending ground ball to negate the threat.

"(Owens) sensed where the game was going to be won or lost," Rabe said. "He had to kill (the designated hitter spot) in order to bring in Pfaddt, who is one of the better arms in the league coming out of the bullpen."

Pfaadt was still in there in the sixth when Tamaccio singled leading off. One out later, Snyder drilled a two-run home run to right field to double the Hawks' lead in what wound up being a 4-0 victory.

"All day I was getting a lot of breaking balls," Snyder said. "With a guy on first, I know they want to get a double play. So the first pitch, he came into me. He was throwing pretty hard. It was a really good two-seam fastball. I took a half-step off, and he left the next pitch a little over the plate, I got extended and I just happened to catch it right."

A lot is going right these days for Snyder and the Hawks.

"He's finally caught his stride as far as relaxing, having comfort with his swing and just being comfortable all together," Rabe said. "It's been fun the last three weeks to watch him run around."