April 8, 2014
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Want to know John La Prise's batting average? Ask someone other than the sophomore from Exton, Pa.
La Prise, who went 5 for 11 in UVa's series win over ACC newcomer Pittsburgh last weekend, is aware he's hitting better than .400 this season. Friends and teammates have apprised him of that fact. Still, he doesn't know his exact average, and doesn't necessarily want to.
"I don't look at it, I don't really pay attention to it," La Prise said Monday at Davenport Field. "I just focus on if it's a quality at-bat, if I'm hitting the ball hard and moving runners."
On a Virginia team that will take a 27-5 record into its Tuesday night game against JMU (11-17) in Harrisonburg, La Prise has made an unexpectedly large contribution.
In 2013, when he appeared in only 19 games, La Prise batted .171. A season later, he's hitting a team-high .420, and his role is growing. La Prise has been used as a designated hitter and at third base, along with junior Kenny Towns (.216).
"As he continues to produce, he's going to get more and more opportunities," said head coach Brian O'Connor, whose team is ranked No. 1 nationally by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
La Prise, who bats left-handed, isn't yet a fixture in the Cavaliers' lineup -- he's played in 16 games, with 13 starts -- but it's becoming difficult for O'Connor to keep him on the bench.
"It's a good problem to have, and he's earned it," O'Connor said.
Against Pitt, La Prise played third base in the series opener. He was the Wahoos' DH in the next two games, when Towns, who bats right-handed, played third.
"My mindset hasn't changed," La Prise said. "I'm just trying to do whatever I can do to help the team win, whatever's best for the team. Whether that's in the lineup or not, I'm just always trying to be prepared, because I know what my role is."
La Prise, who stands 6-foot-3, is a lean 180 pounds.
"I'm obviously not the strongest guy," he said. "I just try not to do too much and have a good approach and stick to that approach and just be relaxed and get a good pitch to hit, just keep everything really simple."
Much of the credit for his success at the plate, La Prise said, should go to associate head coach Kevin McMullan, also the Cavaliers' hitting coach.
"It's unbelievable how prepared we are mentally and physically," La Prise said. "Coach Mac really builds you up with a lot of confidence. [The key is] keeping it simple and focusing on whatever you can do to help the team win that day, whether it's putting down a bunt or moving the runner, just focusing on the team instead of yourself."
Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, La Prise attended Devon Prep, a small private school where, in addition to starring on the baseball team, he played basketball for three years and soccer for two.
He didn't face elite competition on his high school baseball team, and he didn't play for a high-profile travel team.
"We never went to any tournaments," La Prise recalled, smiling. "We would just play local teams, and the farthest we would go would be New Jersey, which would only be like going over the bridge. That was considered a big deal."
La Prise had a few memorable moments last season, most notably a two-run triple in the 11th inning of a game UVa went on to win at North Carolina, but more often he struggled at the plate. That didn't surprise O'Connor.
For players who come to Virginia from smaller or less competitive high school and travel programs, the "learning curve takes a little while," O'Connor said. "The speed of the game is so different. They're not used to it. John is very, very skilled athletically, a skilled player. He can run, he can hit. I think it's just taken him some time to get used to the speed of the game."
La Prise said: "I think last year was a good example of a big adjustment process, getting used to the speed of the game, pitching I'd never seen before, playing at a level that I had never played at before."
When he played in the field last season, La Prise was at shortstop or second base. He also was used as a pinch-hitter. When he wasn't in the lineup, he watched infielders such as Branden Cogswell and Reed Gragnani closely.
"Last year was just a huge learning experience," La Prise said. "It was a great opportunity to see how to do things here."
The lessons he learned, he started to apply last summer in the Northwoods League in Wisconsin. Playing for the Madison Mallards -- his teammates included UVa classmate Joe McCarthy -- La Prise led the league in hitting with a .407 average.
"I think the summer really helped, getting all those at-bats and seeing pitching and playing every day," said La Prise, who split time between second and third base in Madison. "I just think I needed to mature a little bit more as a player, and the summer was a big time for that. I'm just a lot more comfortable, and I got a little stronger. I've learned a lot and caught up to the level of play."
O'Connor noticed a change in La Prise during fall practice.
"Getting all those at-bats last summer, and then having the success he did, certainly changes somebody's self-confidence," O'Connor said.
La Prise, who plans to major in history at UVa, worked at second base for most of the fall. But once the Cavaliers' coaches decided to start freshman Daniel Pinero at shortstop and move Cogswell to second, La Prise began honing his skills at third.
"He made some really great plays on Friday in the Pitt game, and continues to get better," O'Connor said. "It certainly gives us options, and he's warranted more playing time."
Every day, La Prise said, he feels a little more comfortable at third. Still, he said, "they don't call it the hot corner for no reason. It seems like at third it's either going to be a bullet or a slow chopper that you have to make an athletic play on. It's fun to play there. It's pretty eventful."
Cunningham Thriving With Super Bowl ChampsFootball2/23/18Former UVA offensive lineman Ian-Yates Cunningham is the Philadelphia Eagles' director of college scouting.No. 1 Cavaliers Reach Another MilestoneMen's Basketball2/22/18Top-ranked Virginia clinched the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament Tuesday night with a hard-earned victory over Georgia Tech at John Paul Jones Arena.New Era Begins for Davenport FieldBaseball2/21/18The expanded Davenport Field was unveiled Tuesday, and a crowd of 3,709, the largest ever for a UVA home opener, turned out for the game.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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