by Mary Ramsaier
Whitewater baseball is no stranger to successful seasons and producing college-level talent, but perhaps none of their alums has made a first-year splash like 2015 graduate Jabari Richards. Richards was named to the 2016 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team and was also the consensus Southern Conference Freshman of the Year as selected by league coaches and media.
Though it seemed like he breezed through his first season of college ball, he had to work hard to get there. Arriving at Furman, Richards didn’t open up in the starting lineup, he worked his way up through six outfielders.
“When I signed, my only set goal was to start.,” Richards said. “As long as I was starting, I felt like I would be able to showcase what I had.”
Richards displayed his talents in a big way, hitting .343 with 10 home runs and 25 RBI in 31 games. Seeing most of his time at designated hitter, he also piled up 11 doubles, 3 triples, 10 stolen bases, and 21 multi-hit games. Even missing 17 games this season, Richards’ 10 home runs were still the second-highest total for a freshman in Furman history.
He posted his fair share of signature plays for the Paladins. His leadoff home run sparked Furman to a 15-10 win over UNC Greensboro in the Southern Conference Tournament. Earlier in the year, he smashed a walk-off, three-run home run to beat UNC Asheville.
Richard said that playing at the next level wasn’t as daunting as he expected. He felt that playing at Whitewater left him well prepared for Furman. The biggest challenge he faced was playing in the outfield against guys that were older and stronger than any high schooler he encountered. Reading the pitcher’s hand from the batter’s box and analyzing plays from the outfield were things he has improved on at the collegiate level.
“I was definitely challenged growing up since Georgia has some of the best baseball in the country,” Richards said.
When situations were difficult for Richards, he looked back to his sophomore year at Whitewater when he pushed himself to make the varsity team. He followed that same path in his first year at Furman, despite heavy odds.
“Not giving up and pushing myself when it seems like everything is against me,” Richard said, “that’s how I got to this point.”
Right now, he is hard at work training for his sophomore year with the team. With a young team heavy on freshman and sophomores, they still have growing to do, but the Paladins have high hopes for a conference championship.
“We definitely feel like the next two years will be the best years for us,” Richards said.