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MIHALICS THRIVES AS UB'S HIT MAN
ADJUSTING TO PITCHING IS SHORTSTOP'S SPECIALTY

When Joe Mihalics steps to the plate, he keeps it simple.

The simplicity is his strength.

He doesn't look to hammer awe-inspiring home runs. He doesn't look for anything specific. Just get a hit and help the team. It's as simple as that.

"I'm pretty basic. I don't want to complicate things," the senior shortstop said. "You just let your talent take over, swing at a good pitch and stick with it."

That approach has helped the Town of Tonawanda native become one of the all-time best offensive baseball players at the University at Buffalo -- all in a rather unassuming manner.

Mihalics became the first UB player to reach 200 career hits with an infield single at Akron last Friday. He reached the milestone in 610 at-bats while sporting a career .328 batting average.

The numbers themselves are impressive. He ranks in the top 10 at UB in career doubles (26), triples (nine) and RBIs (82) while being 10 runs shy of becoming the school's all-time leader in runs scored. That mark of 127 was set by Gene Dudek from 1979 to '82.

It's easy to get lost in the numbers. The statistics provide the instrument to measure success, but for UB coach Bill Breene the true worth of Mihalics' ability comes from his approach to hitting and to the game.

"First of all, he knows his limits as a hitter," Breene said. "He doesn't try to do more than he's capable of doing. He's just as happy hitting four singles up the middle as he is hitting the long ball."

Mihalics has become very good at adjusting to pitchers, reading what's coming at him from the mound. His speed has developed into an offensive weapon, too. On days when he's not hitting the ball particularly hard, Mihalics can still earn base hits by running out throws.

Breene at times uses him as the poster boy for UB baseball -- a kid who hustles, hits to all fields, works the count. "I'd be fooling you if I tried to say it's because of anything we've done as a coaching staff," Breene said. "He's just a kid who understands the game and focuses. He's the type of kid you want on your team. He leads by example and works hard at his game. Baseball is a game of repetition, and he puts in the hours."

Those extra hours may pay dividends in his life after college. Mihalics has a chance to become the first UB player in 19 years to sign a professional baseball contract.

Between 1968 and 1986, UB sent 28 players to the pros, but the program has not had a player drafted since pitchers Bob Williams (Baltimore) and Marty Cerny (Texas) in 1986.

"A number of major-league clubs have been interested, and about three or four scouts have said they were going to submit his name for the amateur draft," Breene said. "We try to promote him every chance we get, and I think he has a good shot at getting drafted."

But before Mihalics thinks too much about his potential as a professional ballplayer, he still has plenty of work ahead of him this spring. The Bulls are hoping to turn the corner in their sixth season since the program returned from a 13-year hiatus. Resurrecting a dormant program requires patience and character -- things Mihalics brings in abundance.

The Bulls are off to a 10-12 start overall, 0-1 in the Mid-American Conference with a loss at Akron. The ultimate goal is not only to qualify for the six-team MAC playoffs for the first time but to contend for the title -- a standard Mihalics believes his teammates can set this season.

"I think we have the best shot at the MACs in my four years here," Mihalics said. "We have all three aspects working for us -- pitching, fielding and timely hitting. When we have all three going at the same time, we can play with any team.

"Overall, we're a tight group of friends, and that's really important. I just think we're playing our game right now. We're not killing ourselves with errors like we've done in the past. Yes, you play against another team, but you also play against yourself, and as long as we don't beat ourselves we always have a chance."

UB'S GREATEST HITS
Top 10 in career hits at UB

1. Joe Mihalics (2002-) 203
2. Brandon DiCesare (2000-03) 173
3. Phil Vanhorne (2002-) 161
4. Bryan Sanchez (2000-03) 159
4. Rudy Pettiford (1979-82) 159
6. Adrian Daniels (2000-03) 158
7. Pat Raimondo (1978-80) 153
8. Mike Groh (1975-78) 152
9. Mike Dixon (1974-77) 151
10. Gene Dudek (1979-82) 148

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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