Franklin County native hurts Rebels

Published 12:01 am Monday, March 17, 2008

OXFORD — Thirty years from now Colby Beach can tell his grand kids a story about the night he beat the fifth ranked Ole Miss Rebels.

Wednesday night at Swayze Field on University Drive in Oxford, Beach gave the Rebels a taste of what they missed out on, throwing a 92-mile-per-hour and striking out five in collecting his Western Kentucky Hilltoppers an 8-5 victory. The Franklin County native and Roxie resident threw a gem as he collected his first win of the young college baseball season. “I just came out and threw strikes and made sure I hit my spots,” Beach said. “Beating Ole Miss in Oxford is a hard thing to do, but tonight we did.”

Beach allowed two earned runs and five hits in five and one-third innings pitched, he struck out five with an assortment of pitches that included a slider, change-up, fastball and curveball to keep the Rebels from spoiling his homecoming of sorts.

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“Colby pitched well tonight,” said Western Kentucky junior catcher J.B. Paxson. “He’s a Mississippi boy so this win is sweet for him. We’re proud of him.”

The 14-hour drive from Beach’s Roxie home to Bowling Green, Ky., where WKU is located, was cut short 10 hours for his parents Mickey and Trish Beach Wednesday night. Other family members and friends also attended.

“It’s always great to see family and friends,” Beach said. “But tonight made it even more special.”

Beach’s path to Western Kentucky is an interesting one with a lot of twists and turns.

In 2003, Beach joined the Co-Lin Community College baseball team despite receiving heavy interest from Meridian Community College and Southern Miss as a highly touted prep pitcher out of Franklin County. As a freshman at Co-Lin, Beach won five games and drew several starts. After a strong first season, Beach came into his sophomore season competing with Co-Lin strikeout record holder Ryan Belanger for the No. 1 spot in the pitching rotation on the Wolves staff. Co-Lin had high hopes for their 1-2 combo, but two weeks before the season was to start Beach sustained an injury to right throwing arm, which required Tommy John Surgery to repair the torn ligaments.

After several months of rehab and hard work, Beach had to make a decision rather to return to Co-Lin as a red-shirt sophomore or honor a scholarship he signed with Delta State two months before his injury. He choose the latter, and moved into the closer role at Delta State in 2006 gaining three saves and two wins 13 months after surgery to his arm.

“I worked my butt off after the surgery,” Beach said. “Me and my dad spent days on the Franklin High baseball throwing and stuff as part of my rehab. I came back throwing faster and that helped too. I couldn’t give up, I love playing baseball.”

In between his sophomore and junior season, Beach was invited to play summer baseball in a college league in Kentucky. Like most players who travel far and wide in the summer from the Cape Cod League to the Virginia League’s for summer play, Kentucky served a hot bed of talent for college coaches to sort through.

Interest arose in Beach from several colleges, and after playing with some of his eventual Western Kentucky teammates in the league that summer, Beach choose to transfer from Division Two Delta State to Division One WKU.

“It had always been a dream of mine to play Division One baseball when I was growing up,” Beach said. “I really wanted to see if I could compete at that level, so I transferred.”

The transfer didn’t come easy, Delta State didn’t release Beach from his scholarship with the Statesmen until November of 2006. He was already enrolled at WKU taking classes, but could not walk on to the baseball team until he was officially released.

After trying out, Beach made the team and was offered a scholarship by WKU coach Chris Finwood for the upcoming 2007 season. Beach lead all WKU relievers with 49 strikeouts in his junior year. He also had four wins and three saves, as the number-one closer by mid-season for the Hilltoppers.

Despite having a solid season, Beach didn’t come onto Major League baseball scouts radars until late in the season. He showcased an eye-opening 94-mph heater in a workout with the Baltimore Orioles during the summer and briefly flirted with the possabilty of signing a free-agent contract from some pro teams. Instead of going pro he choose to come back and play his senior season at WKU.

“I had some things I needed to work on as a pitcher, plus my team needed me,” Beach said. “Hopefully by the end of the season I’m in a position where I can get drafted.”

Beach worked hard to master a change-up, a pitch he calls his best among all his pitches in his arsenal. MLB Scouts have been attracted by his 83 mph slider which leaves batters gasping.

“He’s got some tools that’s for sure,” said one National League scout. “He’s got a good frame, a lively arm, and four pitches that he can throw for strikes. And he’s a hard worker.”

So far this season for WKU, the 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound Beach is 1-0 overall with one save. In 13.2 innings pitched he has 13 strikeouts to his credit. The Hilltoppers, who are members of the Sun Belt Conference stand 7-5 overall.

“We’ve got a talented team,” Beach said. “We’re going to make some noise.”

But on one March night in Oxford, Beach made the most noise. One he can tell his kids and their kids about forever.