By Jeff Hartsell of the Charleston Post and Courier
The top hitter in the Southern Conference spent much of the last two seasons on the bench in the dugout at Patriots Point Field.
"It was very frustrating," College of Charleston junior Joey Bergman said. "Not knowing if or when I would play, I was never sure what my role was, so that was very frustrating."
After spending his first two seasons in a Cougars uniform as a part-time designated hitter and pinch hitter on two very good teams, the 5-10, 190-pound Bergman is making the most of his first chance as a full-time starter this season.
Bergman, who bats left-handed, leads the SoCon and is 10th in the nation with a .443 batting average. As the Cougars prepare for a key weekend series with Davidson — the teams are tied for fifth in the SoCon — Bergman also ranks in the top 10 in Division I baseball in runs scored (seventh, with 63) and in on-base percentage (third, at .546) through games of April 26.
Not bad for a guy who ranked just 10th on the team in at-bats a year ago.
"He was just caught in a situation where they had so many good junior-college players, there were always older guys ahead of him," first-year Cougars coach Monte Lee said. "But they were awfully good."
Indeed. Bergman, who has played mostly third base and shortstop this season and can also play second, was behind such players last year as third baseman Jeremie Tice, who hit 25 home runs and drove in 83 runs before he was drafted in the sixth round by the Cleveland Indians; second baseman Brandon Sizemore, who had 20 homers and 82 RBIs a year ago, was picked in the 46th round by St. Louis but returned to the Cougars this season; and shortstop Mike Hentz, who batted .352 a year ago and has missed most of this season with a hand injury.
That's a tough infield to crack.
"We were so deep," said Bergman, who played at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, Fla. "Most of our starters this year were on the bench last year, so that shows how deep the team was last year."
Lee, who succeeded John Pawlowski as the Cougars' coach, could appreciate the stockpile of talent that had current standouts such as Bergman, Cole Rakar (.310 average this season), Joash Brodin (.377, 11 HR, 53 RBIs) and Matt Mansilla (.376, 14 HR, 53 RBIs) in reserve roles a year ago.
Bergman has struck out only 16 times this season, fewest among the Cougar regulars, and with 27 walks and 12 hit-by pitches is second only to The Citadel's Chris McGuiness in the SoCon in on-base percentage.
"He doesn't swing and miss a whole lot," Lee said. "And he can hit the ball to all fields. He doesn't get fooled on off-speed pitches, stays back and drives the ball well to the opposite field. He's just a complete hitter."
In the field, Bergman is a natural second baseman who has played third and filled in at shortstop with the injury to Hentz, who has missed all but 19 games this season.
"He's a solid defender pretty much wherever you put him," Lee said. "He could probably even play first base. We felt he'd be our third baseman, and then when Hentz went down, we moved him to shortstop and he's done a nice job."
As for Bergman, he doesn't really care where he plays — as long as he plays.
"It's a lot easier," he said, "when you know you are going to be out there every day."
Lee said Hentz, who was batting .352 when he was injured, could return as soon as this weekend's series ... Pitchers Aaron Bouronich (4-1, 4.26 ERA) and Owen Brittle (0-3, 5.47 ERA) also could return this weekend, Lee said. Both have been out since the Elon series April 11-12.