May 22, 2009
Danny P Smith -
The University of Alabama''s Kent Matthes wants to win a national championship.
If honors and statistics come his way in the process, that''s fine, but he has bigger plans.
That is why it was hard for the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year to accept what happened to the Crimson Tide at the SEC tournament at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.
Matthes set the school''s single-season record for home runs in a season (28) with a blast to center field Wednesday night in a 9-5 lost to South Carolina.
Although happy with the feat, Matthes would have preferred a victory.
"It''s a great honor to have the single-season home run record, but I would much rather trade a national championship for any of that huge stat stuff," Matthes said. "I try not to get into stats too much and the numbers. If I am hitting home runs and driving in runs, that means people are on base and we have a chance to win."
Matthes had a couple of more hits Thursday, but it wasn''t enough as LSU eliminated Alabama from the tournament with a 9-6 win.
Despite the recent struggles, Matthes has enjoyed playing at Alabama (37-19) this season.
"It''s been a great year for Alabama," Matthes said. "I am glad I have helped this team get to where we are now. Everything has been fun this year being associated with these guys."
Alabama will learn its NCAA tournament fate Monday. The two losses make it unlikely the Crimson Tide will play host to a regional.
Matthes has had a breakout year.
Along with setting the home run mark, Matthes has driven in 81 runs. He has four multi-home run games and one walkoff home run.
Sixteen of Matthes'' 28 home runs have tied a game or given the Crimson Tide the lead. His record-breaking home run against South Carolina had tied the game 5-5.
The Orlando, Fla., native said the instruction he received last fall from Alabama assistant coaches Dax Norris and Mitch Gaspard has been a key to his improvement.
"We worked hard on my plate discipline, seeing better pitches, having better at-bats, and working the counts a little deeper," Matthes said. "I''m seeing more pitches, and when I get my pitch, I''m not missing it."
Matthes played in 31 games as a freshman (14 starts). He hit the first of his 48 career home runs (fourth all-time) and had eight RBIs.
As a sophomore, Matthes hit .307 with eight home runs and 45 RBIs. As a junior, he hit 11 home runs and had 52 RBIs.
Alabama coach Jim Wells credits Matthes for his concentration at the plate and cutting down on strikeouts.
"He''s always had power, but you could strike him out," Matthes said. "He really never showed this in the fall but just got better. Physically, he stays in his legs better and stays through the ball better. He''s not a dead pull hitter and drives the ball opposite field and the middle of the field. I think it''s just confidence and maturity. All of those things came together."
Wells said what may be lost in all of Matthes'' offensive production is his ability to run the bases and play defensively in right field.
"He''s become a better outfielder," Wells said. "He''s a good base runner and can steal a bag. He''s a smart baserunner and knows when to take an extra bag.
"His whole game has come together, and you see that with a guy in his last year. He puts all of that information and all of that experience together with hard work."