SALEM — Sometimes you need a change in scenery to flourish and carry your game to the next level. Just ask Peabody native Traverse Briana, who entered this past weekend as the Division III leader in batting average as a redshirt junior at Salem State.
Briana, a former varsity baseball player for coach John O’Brien at Lynnfield High, started his collegiate baseball career at Northern Essex. He transferred to UMass Lowell two years later but didn’t feel a good fit with the RiverHawks. Now with the Vikings, Briana feels he has found himself a home.
“I was looking for another school with a great baseball program and kids that I’d get along with,” Briana, a first baseman, said. “They told me great things about the program. It was a pretty easy decision after talking to (Salem State) coach (Al) Donovan. I knew we’d have a great group of guys with a chance to make a run. Just having that great group of guys and a coach that has your back no matter what, that definitely played a big role in me coming to Salem.
“I’ve been used to jumping around,” Briana said. “I loved NECC but it was a two-year school. After being at Lowell last year and not fitting well, I really feel Salem State’s a great place for me. I’m close to home with guys I can relate to. It’s a great school and a great baseball program.”
Briana’s numbers this spring prove he’s comfortable. Through 19 games played, he’s batting .561 with 23 runs scored, 17 RBI, eight stolen bases and four home runs. In 66 at-bats, Briana has struck out just twice.
“I didn’t have any expectations,” Briana said. “I really don’t try to set statistical expectations for the season. I really just try to go up there, have fun and play. At Northern Essex I batted close to .500 for both seasons. I go out and play and if we’re winning, we’re winning. That’s all that matters.
“My approach is to get up there and hit strikes,” Briana said. “I’m up there hunting for strikes. If it’s a strike, I like to swing. If it’s a strike, I can hit it. That’s always my mentality going up to the plate and it tends to work pretty well.”
Donovan came away impressed with Briana’s dedication to his craft during the offseason. He isn’t surprised by Briana’s numbers at the plate.
“Coming out of the fall and watching him when he transferred in, I knew what type of player he was,” Donovan said. “He’s multi-dimensional. He can play anywhere, he’s that good an athlete. Did we expect him to hit .600? No. But we expected him to be our best hitter. He showed that and proved it during the fall and winter. He’s proven himself to be that guy. I’ve received a number of comments from college coaches saying he’s the real deal.”
In addition to giving opposing pitchers headaches, Briana also brings leadership to the Vikings.
“He has the whole package,” Donovan said. “He can run well, he can hit for power. But he’s also a leader on the field. He’s not a captain but he’s one of the more vocal leaders on the team. He leads by example and he delivers. He’s a hard worker and he competes at a high level.”
The Vikings have hit their bumps in an up-and-down season this spring. They beat Westfield State in an 18-1 rout Friday to even their record back to .500 at 11-11, but dropped a double-header to the Owls Saturday and dipped to 11-13. Salem State’s 5-7 against MASCAC opponents. Briana feels the team’s still looking to find consistency through all three phases.
“I think we’ve had spurts where we’ve put it all together, our fielding, pitching and hitting,” Briana said. “Unfortunately we haven’t been able to click all the time. MASCAC teams are all equal. Whichever team comes to play is going to win that game. We just have to click. We’ve had games where two of the three phases have clicked but we haven’t often had all three clicking.”
With 13 games remaining, six against MASCAC rivals, now would be the right time for Salem State to play to its capabilities and end the season on a high note.
“I’m looking forward to the rest of the season,” Briana said. “We can’t take anyone lightly.
We just have to execute. If everyone does their job and goes 100 percent, the outcome will be good after that and if not at least you know you’re going 100 percent.”
Briana and the Vikings travel to local Division III powerhouse UMass Boston Wednesday (3:30).