HAMMOND, La. – Former Southeastern hitting coach Zack Zulli was enamored with Carson Crites from the start.
The senior second baseman from Amarillo, Texas, made quite an impression when he participated in a high school baseball camp that Zulli led. Crites was engaged in learning how to improve his game and, during batting practice, launched a home run against one of the state’s best pitchers. An athlete of his caliber was difficult to ignore.
“He was an absolute baseball junkie,” Zulli explained. “He maintained eye contact and he was locked into every word I said.”
Right then, Crites accepted a scholarship to play at Mississippi Delta Community College where Zulli spent one year as an assistant coach. As a freshman at MDCC, Crites batted .354 and collected 52 hits, including 32 RBIs and 29 runs scored.
Subsequently, Crites was selected to the All-State team and named the MVP for the 2014 season. Despite what he achieved in the community college ranks, Crites decided to bring his capabilities to a larger stage. So, with Zulli’s help, he transferred to Southeastern that fall.
Crites does not resent his time in Mississippi but rather acknowledges it as a natural rite of passage. Then again, he isn’t exactly looking back either.
“We had a great team [at Mississippi Delta Community College], but we just couldn’t string it together,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to win a conference championship [here, and] we’ve gone to a regional.”
The Lions’ late-season prosperity across the past three years has ironically been thanks in large part to Crites. Down the stretch, Crites has scored 30 runs and notched a combined 45 hits and 29 RBIs.
“I just try to stay with what I’m doing and stay with my plans, or the process that I’ve got going,” said Crites.
Crites has belted eight home runs in the last two months alone, bringing his season total to 13. After hitting his tenth against Alcorn State on April 25, he joined fellow infielder Taylor Schwaner as the first pair of Lions to hit double-digit home runs in over a decade.
“To put up those numbers as a team is pretty cool, because we have a little competition going against each other,” Schwaner said. “We’re just trying to drive some people in for the middle of the order.”
Crites came to Southeastern as a sophomore, starting 43 games, and he was named to the Southland Conference All-Tournament Team. He led the team with four triples, and his .344 batting average was second on the team.
In his junior season, Crites earned All-Southland Conference honors and was again chosen to represent Southeastern on the All-Tournament team, while also drawing the Louisiana Sports Writers’ Association’s bid for the top second baseman in the state. He ranked second on the team in batting average (.298), doubles (13), total bases (101), and home runs (8) — but he doesn’t let the trend of being second discourage him.
“I can’t let it frustrate me,” Crites said. “It’s just a number and I’m just out here trying to do my best every day. It definitely motivates me being second [on the team], but as long as the guys in front of me are doing what they’re supposed to do, that’s all that matters.”
Crites has batted in the cleanup spot 24 times this season, and the Lions look like an improved team with him there. The team has won 19 of those games, scoring 190 total runs and collecting 214 hits. These numbers, as Crites’ teammates point out, come from the liveliness that he brings to the dugout and the field.
“He brings the energy every day,” senior outfielder Ryan Byers said. “He’s always competing, and he always gives it his all every time he comes out on the field. He fires everybody up and gets everybody going. He’s a playmaker.”
One of those plays was a solo home run in the series finale against conference rival Stephen F. Austin, which propelled the Lions to a much-needed sweep of the Lumberjacks. After batting .500 and collecting 6 RBIs in four games, Crites was named the Southland Conference Hitter of the Week.
“He plays hard every pitch, and you can always count on him to do that,” said Schwaner, who himself was given the honor earlier this season.
Once thought to be an underestimated player, Crites has evolved into a true success story. This fact doesn’t surprise his first hitting coach at all.
“[He leads because of] his desire to be great and win,” Zulli said. “He has a strong loyalty to his coaches and teammates. That passion he has just trickles into everyone that’s around him. He wants to do something positive and productive every at-bat. Carson’s always been a hitter first.”
As the postseason approaches, the Lions will depend on Crites’ leadership to achieve the goal of every college baseball team in America: going to the College World Series in Omaha.
But whatever happens, Crites will still be the same player as he always has been.
“Carson is the player he is because he plays the game with so much passion,” former Lions’ first baseman Kevin Carr said. “He obviously wants to succeed himself [but] everything he does on the field is what’s best for the team. He’s a very unselfish ballplayer.”