Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

April 23, 2013

NCAA Baseball: Former Tiger, Melton, gets chance at A&M, and hasn’t let go

By Todd Wills
Special to the Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Hunter Melton waited almost two months to get his chance to play every day for the Texas A&M Aggies. It made his first college hit all that more special.

Well, that and the fact that the baseball went over the left-center field fence.

Melton’s first hit as an Aggie was a home run with two outs in the ninth inning on April 13 in a Southeastern Conference game against Mississippi State. The Aggies lost to the Bulldogs 9-3, at Blue Bell Park, but the freshman got to circle the bases with his family in the stands.

“It was awesome,” Melton said Tuesday in a phone interview. “It was at home. And for my first hit to be a home run, it was pretty cool.”

Melton, an all-state third baseman at Corsicana last year, was scheduled to start his ninth consecutive game for the Aggies on Tuesday night at Texas State in San Marcos. He expects to start all three games when A&M resumes SEC play this weekend at Alabama. All of this after he started just one of the Aggies’ first 33 games.

Melton has made the most of his opportunity since he started April 9 against Sam Houston State. He has six hits in his last 22 at-bats, two of them home runs. He has five RBIs. Melton was 1 for 9 in the Aggies’ weekend series against No. 10 Arkansas, but he did draw three walks in Friday’s game and scored a run. He had an RBI single in Saturday’s game.

He has adjusted well to the pitching in the vaunted SEC.

“The pitching at this level is tough,” Melton said. “I’m sticking to going up the middle and whatever happens, happens. I’ve figured out home runs will come on their own.”

He finally got his opportunity to play when sophomore first baseman Cole Lankford went out of the lineup with an illness a few weeks ago. Melton started five straight games at first, twice against Sam Houston and three games against Mississippi State.

“I hated it for (Cole). He was hitting good,” Melton said. “They asked me to come and play. I tried to do what’s best for the team and help us win.”

Aggies shortstop Mikey Reynolds has since been put on the shelf too, injuring his knee, and with a reshuffled infield Melton started all three games this past weekend against Arkansas at third base. Melton prefers first, but spent plenty of time at third for Corsicana.

Melton was biding his time for the first two months of the season, getting only 10 at-bats and one start against No. 1 North Carolina. He stayed ready by doing mental at-bats in the dugout during games and then hitting live pitching on Wednesdays during practice.

“It’s all worth it in the end,” Melton said. “I was doing what I can to cheer on my teammates. I knew the game was going to pay me back. I focused on helping out everyone else.”

He doesn’t intend to give up his starting position. Melton has hit well enough that when the Aggies are completely healthy again, he’ll likely still be in the lineup playing first, third and being the designated hitter.

The Aggies have struggled in the SEC, sitting in sixth place in the SEC West with a 7-11 conference record. They are 22-19 overall. There are tough matchups coming up against Alabama and LSU.

Melton said A&M still can play its way into the 64-team NCAA Tournament field.

“We belong in the SEC,” Melton said. “We’ve given away some games. In the end, we’ll make a run. Forget about the last 30 and focus on the next 20.”

Melton has been following the No. 7 Corsicana Tigers as they’ve put together a 24-5-1 record with one game left in the regular season. He stays in contact with his coaches and former teammates.

His parents Keith and Kristie Melton and sister Logan have made several trips to see their favorite Aggie play, even early in the season when Hunter wasn’t getting at-bats.

That made that Saturday against Mississippi State all the more worth it. Melton took an 0-1 pitch and crushed it, just like he always has playing in Dawson, where he played his freshman year of high school, and in Corsicana.

“It’s great to have parents like mine that come out and support you no matter what,” Melton said. “My parents were great. Whenever I hit my first home run, I saw my dad up in the stands crying. That was special.”