Bobby Ison is flirting with baseball's magical number for offensive production and powering the surging Charleston Southern Buccaneers.
With three games left in the regular season, the CSU junior has a .395 batting average, well within reach of the gold standard of .400. The former Stratford standout has hit safely in 46 of 51 games with only five strikeouts in 244 plate appearances.
“I just try to get myself in good counts,” Ison said. “Being a .400 hitter would be awesome but there's not really any pressure. I have something like 220 at-bats this year. You can go 4 for 4 one day and see your average go up 10 points or go 0 for 4 and it only go down five points.”
Ison, CSU's leadoff hitter, has three home runs, 33 RBIs, 45 runs and 15 stolen bases. His two-run single in the top of the first inning on Tuesday at USC Upstate was his 85th of the season, setting CSU's single season hits mark.
The Buccaneers (29-22) begin the final three-game series of the regular season at VMI on Friday. CSU has won 12 out of 14 games, a stretch that includes a 4-1 victory at then-No. 11 South Carolina.
A 3-13 tailspin in the middle of the season is a distant memory.
“We started off really hot and then we hit a rut,” Ison said. “We thought we had it figured out but we didn't. Coach Lake was just telling us it will work out and it finally has. We're putting everything together.”
Ison's junior campaign has been business as usual. He goes to battle with an aggressive mindset and slides or dives whenever the opportunity presents itself.
“I've always wanted to be the dirtiest kid on the field,” Ison said. “I put all my energy in to it.”
Offensive success is nothing new to Ison. He batted .332 as a freshman and .367 as a sophomore.
But now he's got a chance to do something special. He figures to get between 12 and 15 at-bats against VMI.
He's going to need six or seven hits to pull off the .400 feat.
Patience and better-than-normal eyesight has helped Ison put up those mind-boggling numbers. Last season, he finished as one of the toughest players to strike out in Division I baseball and is well on his way to a similar distinction this spring. The most recent NCAA stats showed he is the toughest player to strikeout in college baseball.
It's been proven he has a super eye for the ball.
At the request of the Major League Baseball scouting bureau, he had his vision checked last November and found out he has 20-15 vision.
“I pick up the spin a little better than most people,” Ison said. “… It was just the luck of the draw. My mom and dad both wear glasses and my grandparents wear glasses.”
Because of how sharp his eyes are, he doesn't get as anxious in the batter's box as somebody else might.
He's comfortable letting a borderline pitch sail by so he can get a look at another. Another player might be coaxed into swinging at the pitcher's pitch rather than getting the exact one he wants.
“I really just try to spark the team,” he said. “If I'm hot, then we're hot. If I lead off with a double, then it's going to be a good day.”
The Buccaneers have had a lot of those lately and are peaking at just the right time. The Big South Tournament will be held May 20-24 in Rock Hill.
Liberty, ranked No. 21 in the country, will be the heavy favorite to win the tournament and automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Charleston Southern will be just an afterthought.
But crazier things have happened as recently as last week.
The CSU softball team was seeded seventh out of eight teams but rolled right through their tournament foes.
They're in the NCAA Tournament with a losing record.
It doesn't take someone with Ison's eyesight to see anything is possible this time of year.
“They knew they were underdogs and that's what kept them going,” Ison said. “It gave them the strength and the courage to fight. Right now, we could be the seven seed as well.”