Last spring, in a regular season game at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Huskies center fielder Connor Lyons made like Ken Griffey Jr., crashing into the outfield wall after making an over-the-shoulder catch. The impact of the collision broke his collarbone, forcing him to miss the final 14 games of the team’s 2013 campaign.
“It wasn’t intentional,” Lyons jokes. And yet, he explains, “In the heat of the moment, I’ll do anything to get the ball.”
Connor’s win-at-all-costs style of play runs in the Lyons family. His older brother, Sean, the red and black’s left fielder, plays with an enviable level of verve. “I like the pressure,” he says, noting his propensity to fire-up his teammates with an impassioned speech. “I’m always trying to help the team win any way I can.”
Small wonder their teammates voted the Lyons brothers co-captains of the club, which has played .500 baseball for the majority of the 2014 season. “The other players respect them,” says manager Neil McPhee, who will retire in May following 29 years as Northeastern’s skipper. “Sean’s a vocal leader,” he adds, “while Connor’s more of a leader on the field.”
Both have performed well at the plate. Connor, a 5-foot-8-inch, 165-pound leadoff hitter, is tops on the team with a .358 batting average, 68 hits, and 41 runs scored. Sean, who struggled to string together productive at-bats at the beginning of the season, is now hitting .252 and is just one of four Huskies with at least one home run despite his 5-foot-7-inch, 160-pound frame.
“Connor brings a spark to the team,” McPhee says. “He has a knack for getting big hits during big situations.” Sean, he notes, “has a very good eye at the plate and understands his role very well.”
Like any good ballplayer, the Lyons brothers know that achieving success depends on making adjustments. Connor, who hit .295 in 403 career at-bats in his first three seasons, notes that his improved hitting prowess is the product of countless hours of pre-game tee work. “In previous years, I would try to hit the ball harder than I should,” he says. “Now, I’m just trying to hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
His brother’s resurgence at the plate is a result of his decision to start swinging earlier in the count. “I’m trying to be more aggressive,” says Sean, who changed his approach after amassing just 11 hits in his first 52 at-bats. “I tended to strike out more when I tried to walk.”
The Lyons brothers figure to get at least 25 plate appearances apiece between now and the beginning of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, the fourth and final playoff appearance of their collegiate careers. But both Sean and Connor foresee more baseball in their futures.
Sean, SSH’14, hopes to work as a coach for a small collegiate program. Connor, S’14, says he might be selected in June’s MLB Draft. “I’ve been in contact with a few teams,” he explains. “Hopefully they like me as much as I like them.”
Pro scouts are no doubt aware of Connor’s dynamic defense, which is predicated on his speed and reaction time. “He is quite possibly the best defensive center fielder I have ever coached,” McPhee says of Connor, who boasts a team-best .991 fielding percentage. “He has a great gift for getting good jumps on balls and running them down in the gaps.”
– By Jason Kornwitz