NCAA Baseball

COLLEGE BASEBALL | Faulkner finds groove over the summer after rough season at Southeastern

After a rough junior season at Southeastern Louisiana, Preston Faulkner is taking full advantage of his time in the Honor the Game Wood Bat Collegiate League this summer.

“This summer’s huge,” Faulkner, a former Live Oak standout, said. “Consecutive (at-bats) is all you can ask for. It only allows you to build more and more confidence.”

That’s exactly what’s happened for Faulkner this summer after he struggled to find a groove at Southeastern, with his batting average dipping to .077 at one point in February. He started 15 games for the Lions, batting .157 with two doubles, a home run, seven walks and 23 strikeouts.

“Really, I just couldn’t get comfortable at the plate,” Faulkner said. “Towards the end, right before the season got canceled, I was starting to swing it and see it a little bit better. I hit my first home run. I felt like things were coming together, but at the beginning of the season, it wasn’t there. (SLU) Coach (Matt) Riser and all them saw that, and I knew that personally. I had to switch something up. It was all mindset, to be honest. If I went up there without confidence, then I was already beat, and I feel like I was too far in my head the whole season …”

Faulkner also admitted some of his problems during the college season stemmed from not playing at all last summer.

“I don’t know what I was thinking, to be honest,” Faulkner said, noting he was going to try to play half a summer last year but ended up getting his own work instead of playing.

“I should have played,” he said. “The rest was nice, but for a college athlete, I feel like playing every summer is the right way to go.”

Faulkner said his confidence was starting to come back – his lone home run was a grand slam March 8 in a 7-3 win over Central Arkansas – when the Southland Conference suspended spring sports March 12 because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The league eventually canceled all spring sports.

“We honestly had no idea what to think,” Faulkner said. “The day we got canceled, we had just practiced, and it was like an iffy situation. We were like ‘OK, we’re going to play, but OK, we might not play, but we’re still going to be able to practice.’ And then whenever they cut us off completely, it was like all individual work. You had to get your own work in, and we’re extremely happy that they let us play summer ball because my first summer ball got canceled in Martha’s Vineyard.”

Faulkner got a lifeline of sorts when Southeastern teammate Trey Harrington told him about the Honor the Game Wooden Bat Collegiate League, which is in its first year.

“It was just excitement – just able to play baseball … and once I found out who was actually playing in the league, I got real excited,” Faulkner said. “There’s a handful of first-round draft picks in there. Just (being) able to play with those guys and see what it’s like, it’s a blessing. It was just pure excitement – just ready to play baseball again.”

The league plays doubleheaders twice a week in Meridian, Miss., with rosters featuring players from schools throughout the Southeast, including Southeastern Conference schools.

“We’ve got SEC Friday night guys. We’ve got it all,” Faulkner said. “We’ve got big league pitchers coming in throwing some innings. The competition is there. The arms are there. It’s not just a little pick-up league. It’s a legit league …” The league is stacked. We’ve got talent everywhere. Being able to play in this league was huge for me.”

Faulkner said he’s looking at the summer as an extension of the season that was just starting to come together for him at Southeastern.

“I look at it like it is,” Faulkner said. “Absolutely, because obviously it got canceled, so we didn’t play much at all. Having four games a week, honestly, we’re looking at it as a season, but at the same time, we’re looking at it as getting our reps in and getting better and just getting more confident.”

Faulkner said he’s also using a different approach at the plate this summer, noting he hit two home runs in a doubleheader earlier this week.

“Going in, I wanted to make sure that I proved myself and proved to the scouts and all the coaches there that I could hang with anybody in the league, and I feel like I’ve done that pretty well, and I’d like to keep doing that,” Faulkner said.

“(It’s) Just relaxing and just understanding who I am,” Faulkner continued. “Just consecutive (at-bats), good pitching, all of the above. I just went up there, relaxed and just told myself I was going to fix it and I was going to get back right, and it’s worked out perfect for me.”

Southeastern finished the abbreviated season 6-10 overall, and Faulkner’s summer team, the Blue Rocks, heads into this weekend’s playoffs as the top-seeded team.

“It was definitely up and down, but who knows what would’ve happened? Nobody will ever know, but I saw a lot of progress,” Faulkner said of the college season. “You can’t answer that question because we have no idea what could have happened.”

“All the winning this summer has felt great because we started out rough at the beginning of the season, and just getting back to that winning kind of momentum, it feels nice,” Faulkner continued. “After the games, you feel nice no matter of your results from the game. Just to win a bunch of games over the summer has just kind of got me back into the winning mentality. It feels nice, and I’d like to bring that to Southeastern.”

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