Blue Devils roll into NorCals with sophomore leader McColloch playing his best

slynch@mercedsun-star.comMay 1, 2013 

Ricky McColloch never exactly struggled.

He simply didn't take the next step. At least not right away.

After a very successful freshman season with Merced College, the shortstop was expected to be a defensive pillar and a presence in the heart of a young Blue Devil batting order.

It was a definite burden to bear, but McColloch certainly had the skills to handle such a job.

He hit a respectable .282 as a freshman and was sure-handed in 37 games at shortstop. He also has plus speed, with hopes he'd become a base-stealing threat.

The MC coaching staff was excited to see what McColloch would do as a sophomore. But as the team limped out of the gate offensively, and McColloch found himself merely plugging right along.

"It was tough," McColloch said. "You put in all this work in the offseason and you want to see it pay off right away.

"Especially with the team being so young, you want to lead. Maybe that made me press a little early.

"All I could do was keep putting in time and sticking with my plan."

McColloch opened the season with 10 hits in the first 12 games. He walked nine times and drove in nine. The numbers were solid, but on a team shocked to find itself under .500 at the end of February, the Blue Devils almost needed more.

His defense could be categorized along the same lines — solid, but not great. McColloch's athleticism made him good for almost one highlight-reel play a night. Some of the more mundane plays went by the wayside, however, with half of his 23 errors coming in the first 10 games.

An injury on a hustle play just seemed to add to McColloch's misery, but some forced time off proved to be just what was needed.

"You look at what we've done since Ricky's been back in the lineup, and his performance has been huge," Blue Devils coach Nate Devine said. "We were at a point that we really needed our sophomores to step up, and he responded.

"In baseball, you always want to be strong up the middle. If you have a good catcher, good shortstop and good center fielder, you're usually in good shape.

"He's been everything we needed him to be at short and he's been a driving force with his bat."

Merced College went 16-6 down the stretch to secure second place in the Central Valley Conference and a spot in the Northern California Regionals for a 10th straight season.

The No. 10 Blue Devils (22-14) will travel to No. 7 Feather River (24-12) for the fourth playoff meeting in six years between the two. MC has ended the Golden Eagles' season the last two years.

Game 1 will be played Friday at 2 p.m. Game 2 will be played Saturday at 11 a.m. with Game 3 to follow, if necessary.

Devine hopes McColloch can bottle up some of what he's done during MC's strong finish.

The sophomore has reached base safely in 20 consecutive games and hit safely in 16 straight. If MC can put together a playoff run, he's got an outside chance of tying or breaking the school hitting streak record of 22 games, set by Greg Mesa in 1971.

McColloch's gone hitless just twice since coming back from injury and has nine multi-hit games that has helped his average swell to a team-best .357.

He leads the team in doubles (8), triples (4) and RBIs (26).

"Maybe about a month ago I could feel everything change," McColloch said. "I took a little time to really focus on me and what I was doing. I'm just seeing everything up at the plate so much clearer now.

"I always knew my teammates were going to come around, so I never felt like I had to be the guy. It feels so much better when you're contributing the way you think you should, though."

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