Eagles’ Hoff in groove; Bowden has sore arm

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 1, 2004

HATTIESBURG &045; Jarrett Hoffpauir is really shooting for consistency this season, and that’s not a reference to hitting the baseball.

It’s hitting the weights.

The Southern Miss junior has been plenty consistent at the plate so far this season and was hitting above .500 before Wednesday’s loss at Alabama. But the former Vidalia standout is stronger another year experienced as the Eagles head into this weekend’s home series against Eastern Illinois with the Conference USA opener a week away.

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&uot;I’m pretty excited about it, and I hope I can keep it up,&uot; said Hoffpauir, who is hitting .481 heading into today’s game. &uot;But that was my biggest thing in the off-season &045; put on some weight and continue it throughout the year. I was strong at the beginning (last year), but I didn’t continue it. That might have been why I had that slump late in the year.&uot;

Hoffpauir noted he’s in there lifting two or three times a week, and so far it’s starting to pay off. The numbers so far are up from last year’s .307 batting average, but it’s the added strength that may benefit him with driving the ball to all fields.

Last season he had a significant jump in homers with 10 after hitting just one as a freshman. He has two homers to his credit so far this spring.

&uot;He’s stronger,&uot; USM head coach Corky Palmer said. &uot;He’s probably weighing about 175, and he came into this program about 155 or 160. He’s just stronger than he was, I think. On defense he’s moving better and is a little quicker on his feet. Just maturity and getting older. He’s picked it up a notch higher.&uot;

Now Hoffpauir finds himself in the center of the lineup for the Eagles, who are trying to find some heavy sticks to occupy the middle following the departure of Clint King and Jeff Cook from a year ago. Last year’s Bash Boys accounted for 46 homers and 153 runs batted in.

So far Hoffpauir has been steady at occupying that No. 3 hole, and right now he’s tied for the team lead in doubles with five and leads the team in runs batted in with 21. His three strikeouts so far is a team-low.

&uot;That’s something I knew I’d have to do hitting in the No. 3 hole,&uot; Hoffpauir said. &uot;I had to hit the ball the opposite way. Everybody has the book on you. I’ve worked on that in the off-season, too. Everybody knows what you can and can’t hit.&uot;

Hoffpauir went 1 for 5 in Wednesday’s 9-3 loss to Alabama, but it was the earlier series he was hot at the plate. In a three-game set at Louisiana Tech, Hoffpauir went 8 for 14 with two doubles and five runs batted in.

In a two-game set against Louisiana-Monroe, he went 3 for 7 with a homer and four runs batted in.

&uot;He’s going the other way, and we’ve been talking to him about going the other way,&uot; Palmer said. &uot;He’s got a lot of hits to right center, and that’s helped him a lot. He’s going the other way. He’s leading us in RBIs and tied for the lead in doubles. He’s having a big year.&uot;

Teammate Barry Bowden, meanwhile, has gotten into two games so far and was credited with a win in the Eagles’ 11-5 win over ULM on March 3. But since the freshman out of Vidalia has been plagued by shoulder pain, and coaches and trainers are working to try and figure out if anything is wrong.

Bowden has appeared in two games and has thrown 5 2/3 innings.

&uot;We had to shut him down,&uot; Palmer said. &uot;He’s fought that shoulder problem ever since last fall. He’s been throwing a lot, but he’s not 100 percent. We’re going to have him out for a week or so. We’ve run all the tests, and MRIs are negative. It just takes some time. We hope we can get that arm back in good shape in another week or so.&uot;