May 20, 2017 - by
Henderson’s Hot Streak Boosting Baseball

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. —Patience is the name of the game. It’s the key ingredient of the Florida State hitting attack and one of the first things every player is taught when they arrive on the team.

Matt Henderson came to Tallahassee with a true understanding of this plate approach and it allowed him to earn a spot in the everyday lineup for the Seminoles.

 

The senior out of Chico, Calif., has a keen eye at the plate, re-affirmed by his team-leading .436 on-base percentage. FSU ranks second in the NCAA in walks this season and Henderson is a main component. His 36 bases on balls is second on the team behind shortstop Taylor Walls. Not included in that mark is another 10 hit-by-pitches, a mark that leads the Seminoles’ roster.

“Being able to handle the bat in any count, especially with two strikes is key,” Henderson said.

“Having the confidence to go up there with two strikes has never been a problem for me, making sure I get a pitch I want to hit and, if not, letting it go.”

Henderson’s ability to reach base while hitting ninth for FSU is an important element of the Seminoles’ potent offensive arsenal. The Noles rank in the top 20 in the country in runs per game and third in the ACC in the category. The roster has its share of power bats, but the senior’s mature plate-approach has made the line-up one of the nation’s best from top to bottom.

“He came in with a lot of savvy when it comes to pitch selection and putting together a quality at-bat,” FSU hitting coach Mike Martin Jr. said. “We’ve done a few things (to improve him), but he really came in with a good idea as well.”

“Matt being a senior, he knows his role, strengths and position on the team,” Walls added. “He never goes out there and tries to do something he’s not capable of doing.”

Henderson’s Hot Streak Boosting Baseball

The patience hasn’t left his bat, yet, over the last month of the season, Henderson has watched his approach lead to more base hits. In fact, the second baseman has been one of Florida State’s hottest hitters since April 15.

In that time, Henderson’s average has jumped from .205 to .250 as the team enters the ACC Tournament. His turnaround began against Clemson, ranked No. 4 at the time, when he finished the series 5-for-9 with four runs batted in. It was the perfect confidence boost against a top-10 pitching staff that Henderson needed.

“Focusing was really important, I turned it up one extra notch and never took a pitch off. It’s been a complete mindset change for me,” Henderson said. “The last couple weekends I’ve just felt really comfortable at the plate and I am just confident.”

“He was always getting on base, but now he’s starting to square balls up and he’s a different hitter up there,” Walls said with a smile. “He’s a threat now, where he doesn’t just walk but can knock some runs in or start a two-out rally.”

Henderson struggled out of the gate to start 2017 due to an illness that caused him to lose more than 15 pounds before the season. Now, closer to 100 percent his full strength, he’s been able to showcase a bit of what had the coaching staff so excited about during fall camp.

“He’s been everything we thought he’d be, I’ve been singing his praises since the fall,” Martin Jr. said. “He’s a catalyst at the bottom that flips it to the top with a crazy-high on-base percentage and he’s been playing great defense as well.”

At 35-20 and coming off a series win against No. 2 Louisville, the Seminoles are in crunch time.

A spot in the NCAA Tournament is likely guaranteed after toppling the Cardinals, and FSU still feels it hasn’t played its best baseball. Injuries have made this season a turbulent one for the Noles, but Henderson’s emergence at the bottom of the order has helped off-set some of those issues.

If FSU is going to extend its tournament streak to 40 consecutive years, Henderson knows how important the next week is for his team.

“We’re all increasing our focus and not giving in; we’re going to push ourselves to the end,” he said. “The sky is the limit, I think we can go to Omaha and win the whole thing. We just have to come together and this is the time to do it.”

Luckily for the Noles, a part of the lineup considered as a weakness for most teams, has turned into a strength thanks to Henderson’s emergence.

“If you look at a lot of the past teams that have gone on to do some big things, they always have a guy down there that knows what he’s doing,” Martin Jr. said.  “There’s been times when things haven’t gone his way but he’s kept pushing and kept working and he’s done well against the toughest competition of the year.”

All it took was a little bit of patience.

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