They had crossed paths before, working out at the Cressey Performance gym in Hudson, two baseball players trying to get stronger. Kevin Brown, from Northborough, was two years older than Carl Anderson, a Sudbury kid. A small age gap, but enough for Anderson to realize that Brown was someone to emulate.
“Kevin was a hard worker. He was a good role model for me,” said the 20-year-old Anderson. Both had outstanding high school baseball careers, each winning a state title, Brown at Algonquin Regional, Anderson at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional. Brown went to Bryant University in Rhode Island. Two years later, so did Anderson. “I didn’t recruit him,” said Brown. “That would be illegal.”
The Bulldogs have won a schoolrecord 44 games this season, punctuated by a 19-game winning streak, the longest in Division 1.
Brown, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior third baseman, and Anderson, a 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore center fielder, have played big roles.
Brown started the week hitting a sizzling .368 with 16 doubles, six home runs, 46 RBIs, 47 walks, and 22 stolen bases, numbers that left no doubt why he was chosen as the Northeast Conference’s Player of the Year. Anderson, also a left-handed bat, was hitting .340 with a team-leading 47 RBIs, along with 19 stolen bases, joined Brown on the conference first team. Senior shortstop Dan Muscatello of Hopkinton has been stellar, hitting .289 with 34 RBIs in 61 games.
After staving off four elimination games last weekend to capture the Northeast Conference tournament, the Bulldogs (44-16-1) have advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time. Bryant will take on Arkansas at 8 p.m. Friday in the first round of the regional at Kansas State University.
In the conference tourney, Brown hit .400 (8 for 20) with a home run and six RBIs, and scored five runs. Anderson swung at a .350 clip (7-20) with a double, four RBIs, and six runs scored. Both were named to the all-tourney team.
“Kevin’s work ethic and leadership are the most important reasons for our success this season,” said head coach Steve Owens. “He sets the benchmark for how we act, how we practice and how we play.
“He’s become an elite hitter. He’s been the rock in our lineup.”
Brown has played in every one of Bryant’s games — 224 — in his four years.
As for Anderson, Owens said he “played with more confidence this year. He’s bigger and stronger and tougher to strike out, which allows him to drive in a lot more runs. If our lineup is struggling, he’s always there to pick us up.”
On March 22, Anderson was hitting .239. Then he went on a roll, lifting his average by 100 points.
“I started slow, but hitting is a process. I figured out what the pitchers were trying to do,” he said.
Anderson can flat-out fly. He’s quick out of the box, getting his share of infield hits. He hit two homers, but he’d rather hit the ball down than up. “I have a better chance of hitting ground balls through the hole.”
To be an RBI leader you have to hit in the clutch. Anderson delivered. “I was put in the middle of the lineup,” he said. “My job is to get guys in.”
Attending Bryant turned out to be a no-brainer for Brown.
“I found it very comfortable here,” he said. “It was close to home. My parents could go to most of the games. And I knew I’d get a chance to play.”
In high school, he first impressed coach Neil Burke with his glove.
“I only had about 10 at bats my freshman season. I was a defensive replacement. I’m glad Coach Burke trusted me. I always took pride in my defense.”
Burke’s faith in the freshman reaped its biggest reward that year in the Division 1 state championship game against powerhouse St. John’s Prep, at LeLacheur Park, home of the Lowell Spinners.
“I came into the game in the seventh inning” to play left field, said Brown. It didn’t take long for him to get involved in the drama. St. John’s had two runners on when Brown streaked to the foul line and made a spectacular, game-saving diving grab.
Eight years later, Burke still refers to it as “the catch.”
Brown attended Burke’s baseball camp when he was 6. Later he became a counselor.
“Kevin was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had,” said Burke. “Very determined. He was a solid hitter who got stronger as he got older.”
The strength came from his workouts at Cressey. “That’s where it all changed for me,” said Brown.
Another big help has been Bryant hitting coach Mike Gedman, a Framingham resident and son of former Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman. “Mike worked a ton with me,” said Brown.
Brown hopes he’s not done with baseball. “If I get an opportunity to play somewhere I’ll jump on it. I expect to play at the next level.”
Anderson has two more years of college ball. A pitcher-outfielder at Lincoln-Sudbury, he chose Bryant because “they gave me the opportunity to come here as a two-way player. That was important to me.”
Not so much now. The Bulldogs have a strong staff. It’s Anderson’s bat they needed. “The game’s a lot faster in college,” he said. That’s the biggest adjustment. Everyone’s stronger. There aren’t as many mistakes made.”
Lincoln-Sudbury got off to a sluggish start in Anderson’s senior year. “We lost three of our first five, then we just turned it on. The run through the playoffs was memorable.”
The Warriors downed Minnechaug Regional in the state championship game.
Anderson pitched and played center field.
“He was 13-0 in his sophomore and junior year,” said Warriors coach Kirk Fredericks. “In his junior year he was the best player in the state. He hit about .580. He carried us. Every time up it was smash, smash, smash!’’
Fredericks “had a winning tradition and passed it on to his players,” said Anderson. “He teaches baseball the right way.”
So does Burke. The beneficiaries? The Bryant Bulldogs.