Edwardsville slugger roars for Lions

News-DemocratMay 20, 2013 

Hitting just .167 after Lindenwood University's first four games this season, Edwardsville High graduate Michael Failoni immediately embarked on the type of hot streak most players can only dream about.

The junior first baseman posted the best batting average in the 48-year-history of the NCAA Division II Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association and shattered Lindenwood's school record this season by delivering a .500 average.

In 46 games the left-handed hitter was 86-for-172 with 24 doubles, six homers, 41 RBIs, 48 runs scored and an other-worldly .767 slugging percentage. He struck out just 14 times this season.

"There were a few times where I don't know what it was, but I literally felt like no one could get me out," said Failoni, who helped Heartland Community College in Normal to a pair of trips to the Division II Junior College World Series before signing with Lindenwood. "Any type of pitch or any location where they wanted to throw, I felt like I could hit it.

"I've never felt like that since probably junior year of high school. But I don't think I've ever had a streak like that."

Failoni led the MIAA in on-base percentage (.560), hits (86), doubles (24) and total bases (132). He reached base in 45 of his 46 games for Lindenwood (23-24), closing out the year on a 14-game hitting streak after putting together a 27-game hitting streak earlier this season.

In his final 14 games, Failoni was 30-for-51 and feasted on fastballs, breaking balls and just about anything else opponents tried to sneak by him and his Rawlings 5150 model bat.

He was voted first-team All-Central Region selection by the Rawlings/American Baseball Coaches Association.

"This conference is a tough national conference and they've been around for 48 years," Lindenwood coach Doug Bletcher said. "In the entire history of the MIAA he has the highest batting average. He's a D-1 hitter and an upper-level hitter. You can't tell me that this kid couldn't be in the heart of the LSU lineup and do well."

Failoni, 21, has always been a strong hitter dating back his days with the Edwardsville Tigers.

He said the adjustments made that brought everything into focus were starting his timing mechanism a little earlier and opening his stance a bit.

"I didn't really start out too hot, but then early to mid-April things started clicking for me," Failoni said. "I had my hitting streak going and the ball just seemed bigger to me."

It must have looked larger than a beach ball at times with 27 multi-hit games and 10 games with three or more hits. He had five hits in a game against Nebraska-Kearney and three games with four or more his.

All this from a guy who failed to hit safely in three of his first four games against Southwest Oklahoma State, after which he was hitting a cool .167.

"From that point on, Mike hit in every single game but one," Bletcher said. "That's pretty incredible. You're watching this day after day and more than the hits themselves, you're gaining a larger respect for the young man in terms of the way he goes about his business.

"It isn't the batting average that strikes veteran players or veteran coaches as much as his demeanor and approach to the game."

Along with his coaches at various levels, Failoni singled out his father for laying a strong hitting foundation. Failoni's father, Joe Failoni, played baseball and football at since-closed Granite City North High School.

"Me and my dad always went to the batting cages," Mike Failoni said. "He's been such a big influence on me and I've always looked up to him. He's always been so positive with me throughout the years that it made things easier."

The coaches at Edwardsville and later Heartland hitting coach and former minor-leaguer Ryan Knox added more levels of hitting information.

"He made me into the hitter I am now," Failoni said. "His knowledge of hitting is just incredible. Now if I'm doing something wrong or slumping, I can feel what's wrong and fix it."

How amazing was Failoni's average? Besides shattering a 48-year-old conference record, he hit 151 points higher than Lindenwood's next leading hitter, Wade Rothermich (.349).

"Any time you have a disparity between No. 1 and 2 that gets toward the 50 or 60-point mark or greater, that really catches your eye because they're all facing the same competition," said Bletcher, whose club couldn't compete for the conference championship or a playoff spot since it is in the final season of transitioning to Division II.

Just one credit short of qualifying for a Division I scholarship, Failoni has taken out his frustrations on Division II pitching.

There is a chance he could be drafted by a major-league team, but Failoni believes he will return for his senior year at Lindenwood.

Not that anyone can expect him to improve on the incredible offensive numbers he generated this season.

"It feels great, but I have to look at it toward the future now," he said. "I feel like it's a great accomplishment in my life, but I have to focus on next year and how I can get better. My goal is to get drafted, so you can't hang back and worry about how I did this and if can I do it again."

Failoni has identified the main areas he hopes to focus his improvement and will spend this summer playing for the Lexington Snipes in the Midwest Collegiate League.

"I had a ton of pitchers that would just flip up curveballs or hang changes up on 0-0 and 1-0 counts that I should have crushed," he said. "I have to get in a lot better shape, too."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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