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Redhawks' Shah contributes with arm, bat
If you took only Asif Shah's offensive statistics, he would be having an impressive season.
The same holds true if you just considered his pitching stats.
But throw all those numbers together and the Southeast Missouri State senior is putting together a campaign that no doubt has him on the short lift for Ohio Valley Conference player of the year candidates.
In fact, Southeast coach Mark Hogan said he will be surprised and disappointed if Shah does not win the award when it is announced Tuesday night on the eve of the OVC tournament in Paducah, Ky. With the dual contributions from Shah, third-seeded Southeast will carry a 31-22 record into Wednesday's 6:30 p.m. first-round tournament game against sixth-seeded Murray State (18-33).
"If he doesn't get it, it will be a shame," Hogan said. "There are some pitchers who are having better years, and there are hitters who are having better years. But if you put the two together, it's not even close."
Shah is just trying to help the Redhawks win the conference tournament and earn the league's automatic NCAA regional berth.
"It's been brought to my attention, and it would be an honor," Shah said of possibly being named the OVC's premier player. "But that's not my focus. It's on winning the tournament."
Still, Shah's proficiency as a two-way player this year is hard to ignore.
At the plate, where he generally serves as Southeast's designated hitter although he has played left field recently, Shah is batting .305 with five home runs, 10 doubles and a team-leading 49 RBIs that have him tied for fourth in the OVC. He is fourth on the squad in average, homers and doubles.
On the mound, where Shah has usually started the second game of a conference series, the left-hander is 7-2 with a 2.85 earned-run average. He leads the Redhawks in victories.
In OVC pitching rankings, Shah is tied for third in wins, fourth in ERA, fourth in strikeouts with 72, first in shutouts with three and tied for second in complete games with six.
Shah this year became the only baseball player in OVC history to win the league's player of the week and pitcher of the week awards in the same season, and recently he was placed on the watch list for the Brooks Wallace Award that goes to the nation's top player.
"I've had some guys who were good offensive players eat up innings on the mound for us, but never doing both offense and pitching the way he's done it," said Hogan, in his 13th season at Southeast. "He's really been remarkable. He's having one of the better seasons I've seen for a two-way guy."
Shah also was a two-way player for the Redhawks last year after transferring from Wabash Valley (Ill.) Junior College, although not nearly with the kind of success he has experienced this season.
A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Shah batted .250 with one homer and 14 RBIs as a part-time outfield starter in 2006.
On the mound a year ago, where he was primarily a mid-week starter, Shah was 2-3 with a 5.95 ERA, but he did have a memorable complete-game win over nationally ranked Missouri.
"We felt when we signed him that he could be a great two-way guy," Hogan said. "He showed some of it last year. He had his moments, but he really wasn't a full-time player.
"This year he's really kicked in. We knew he would be prominent for us on the mound and at the plate, and I think he felt a lot more comfortable knowing he would be in the lineup every day and that he would get the ball to pitch on a regular basis."
Said Shah: "Last year I think I was doing some things wrong mechanically at the plate, and I've worked it out. With the pitching, I think it's just being more consistent."
While Shah said he enjoys both hitting and pitching, being on the mound tops his list.
"I started pitching when I was like 9 or 10, and I've always liked it," he said. "There's nothing better than standing on the mound. There's just a different feeling."
Shah has a unique routine when he pitches, taking a different glove to the mound each inning of a game.
Although he has primarily been the Redhawks' starter during the seven-inning games of OVC series, Shah has as many as nine gloves at his disposal.
"Last year at Missouri I used all nine, but this year I guess I've only needed seven," he said, laughing. "In junior college, I wasn't throwing very well, and a teammate told me I should take a different glove out every inning.
"I've done it the last two years here. Some of my teammates joke around about it, but I actually hear more stuff from the other team. But it's not a big deal. It's fun."
At the plate, Shah is deceptively strong, much more so than his relatively slender frame would suggest.
On the mound, he is not overpowering but still racks up plenty of strikeouts.
"I rely on a lot of movement," Shah said. "As long as my cutter is working, it's usually a good day. My fastball, some people say it's a mystery pitch because I don't always know where it's going to go, but that can help me. But this year I seem to have more control with it."
Shah, whose parents were both born in Pakistan, is considering getting into coaching after he graduates from Southeast in December.
He would love to compete professionally, but if nobody picks him up, he's planning on staying in Cape Girardeau this summer to play for the Capahas.
Right now he's focused on helping the Redhawks reach the NCAA Division I regionals for the first time since 2002, and for just the third time ever.
"I have a really good feeling about the [OVC] tournament," he said.
And winning the conference's player of the year award would simply be icing on the cake.