Winston struggles in freshman year at USM
NATCHEZ — It wasn’t an ideal start to his college career.
Trinity Episcopal Day School alumnus Jake Winston began his freshman season as a starting pitcher for the Southern Mississippi baseball team but ended it with limited appearances after he struggled early on.
Winston started three games for the Golden Eagles at the beginning of the season before moving to the bullpen, finishing the season with a 5.40 earned-run average in 15 innings of work. After dominating hitters at the high school level, Winston said he wasn’t totally sure why he struggled so much on the mound.
“The atmosphere (in college) is completely different, but that shouldn’t have been an excuse,” Winston said. “I think once I lost the strikezone a little bit, I lost a lot of faith in myself. Once you lose confidence, everything goes downhill, and you have to go out there and build it back up.”
But Winston didn’t see many opportunities to do so after being pulled from the starting rotation.
“I didn’t pitch for probably a month, then I pitched two innings versus Central Arkansas,” Winston said. “I think the coaches lost a little faith in me, and they were really just throwing me out there to get my confidence back.
“I didn’t throw again for a good three weeks, then I got the win against New Orleans, and I got confidence back in myself.”
By that point, though, Winston said the coaches already knew who their go-to guys were, so he only finished the season with 15 total innings. But Winston said he was still grateful for the opportunity.
“I guess being a freshman, you can’t complain about that,” he said. “I had as many innings as most of the guys except for two or three.”
At the same time, Winston said it’s hard for a pitcher to work out his problems when he’s not getting regular work during live games, as opposed to bullpens and long tosses.
“If you’re not getting any action, you’re not getting any experience and learning as much as you can,” he said. “The more you pitch in games, the more you’re going to learn. It was hard not to play, but I could see where the coaches were coming from. I know it’s their job, and I have to accept it.”
The frustrations for this season weren’t just limited to Winston. The Golden Eagles finished 30-27 overall, 15-9 in Conference USA, and lost in the conference tournament championship game after Rice rallied for a 5-4 walk-off victory.
“We knew we had to win the tournament in order to make it to a regional,” Winston said. “It was a grind against Rice, going back and forth. When they won it in the 11th, it was hard to accept, but you just have to move on.”
And Winston said the team had its chances during the regular season to build up a good enough resume for postseason selection.
“In my mind, what kept us from getting into a regional was the series against (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville),” Winston said. “We slacked off and lost two out of three, and that put the nail in the coffin.
“I think in a span of 15 games, we went 4-11, and you can’t do that in college baseball.”
Winston plans to play summer ball for the Game Cutters in the Texas Collegiate League in Lafayette, La., in order to keep himself fresh. He still has his sights set on being a starter for the Golden Eagles.
“Coach (Scott Berry) said there’s a starting spot for me, but I have to earn it in the fall, and that’s what I plan on doing,” Winston said.
Winston is the son of Tam and Beverly Winston.