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Beach dazzles Rebs in WKU win

OXFORD — With five strikeouts and a 92-mile-per-hour fastballthat kept Ole Miss batters guessing all night long, Franklin Countynative Colby Beach walked away from Oxford UniversityStadium/Swayze Field with a smile on his face Wednesday night.Beach and his Western Kentucky Hilltoppers collected an 8-5decision over the 5th-ranked Rebels.

“I just came out and threw strikes and made sure I hit myspots,” said Beach, a Roxie native. “Beating Ole Miss in Oxford isa hard thing to do, but tonight we did.”

Beach allowed two earned runs and five hits in 5 1/3 inningspitched. He struck out five. The Western Kentucky senior kept OleMiss from finding its groove with a dazzling display of fourpitches: fastball, slider, changeup, and curveball.

“Colby pitched well tonight,” said Western Kentucky juniorcatcher J.B. Paxson. “He’s one of the top senior pitchers in thenation, no doubt. He’s really worked hard to get to where he’s atright now.”

The Hilltoppers hit 5 home runs in the victory, including 4 inthe first 2 innings.

It’s a 14-hour drive from Beach’s Roxie home to Bowling Green,Ky., where WKU is located. Beach’s path to Western Kentucky is aninteresting one with a lot of twists and turns.

In 2003, Beach joined the Copiah-Lincoln Community Collegebaseball team despite receiving interest from Meridian CommunityCollege and Southern Miss as a highly touted pitcher from FranklinCounty. As a freshman at Co-Lin, Beach won five games and drewseveral starts under Co-Lin coach Keith Case. After a strongseason, Beach came into his sophomore season competing with formerCo-Lin standout Ryan Belanger for the No. 1 spot in the pitchingrotation.

Co-Lin had high hopes for its 1-2 combo, but two weeks beforethe season started, Beach sustained an injury to his right throwingarm, which required Tommy John Surgery to repair the tornligaments.

After several months of rehab and hard work, Beach had to make adecision: return to Co-Lin as a redshirt sophomore or honor ascholarship he signed with Delta State two months before hisinjury. He chose the latter, and moved into the closer role atDelta State in 2005, gaining three saves and two wins, 13 monthsafter surgery to his arm.\par

“I worked my butt off after the surgery,” said Beach. “I cameback throwing faster and that helped too. I couldn’t give up. Ilove playing baseball.”

In between his sophomore and junior season, Beach was invited toplay summer baseball in a college league in Kentucky. Like mostplayers who travel far and wide in the summer from the Cape CodLeague to the Virginia League for summer play, Kentucky served ahotbed of talent for college coaches to sort through.

Interest rose in Beach from several colleges, and after playingwith some of his eventual Western Kentucky teammates in the leaguethat summer, Beach chose to transfer from Division Two Delta Stateto Division One WKU.

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

The transfer didn’t come easy. Delta State wouldn’t releaseBeach from his scholarship with the Statesmen until November of2006. He was already enrolled at WKU taking classes, but could notwalk on to the baseball team until he was officially released.

After trying out, Beach made the team and was offered ascholarship by WKU coach Chris Finwood for the upcoming 2007season. Beach was lights out his junior campaign, leading all WKUrelievers with 49 strikeouts. He also had four wins and threesaves, as the No. 1 closer by mid-season for the Hilltoppers

Despite having a solid season, Beach didn’t come onto MajorLeague Baseball scouts’ radars until late in the season. Heshowcased a 94-mph heater in a workout with the Baltimore Oriolesduring the summer and briefly flirted with the possibility ofsigning a free-agent contract from some pro teams. But instead ofgoing pro he choose to come back and play his senior season atWKU.

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

Beach worked long and hard to master a changeup, a pitch hecalls his best among all the pitches in his arsenal. MLB scoutshave been attracted by his 83-mph slider which leaves batters dazedand confused.

“He’s got some tools that’s for sure,” said one National Leaguescout. “He’s got a good frame, a lively arm, and four pitches thathe can throw for strikes.”

So far this season for WKU, the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Beach stands1-0 overall with one save. In 13.2 innings pitched he has 13strikeouts to his credit. The Hilltoppers, who are members of theSun Belt Conference, stand 7-5 overall.

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

Despite being three states away from home, Beach’s parents,Mickey and Trish, try to make as many games as possible. Both werein attendance Wednesday night to see him beat Ole Miss.

“They don’t get to see me play like they used to, but they’vebeen to a few home games and to all the games that are close tohome,” said Beach. “I’m glad they were here tonight. This one wasspecial, really special.”