By Matt Leon

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The St. Joseph’s University baseball team seems to be hitting its stride at just the right time here as the regular season rolls into its final few weeks.

The Hawks are 21-15 and they have won eight of their last nine after beating Rider Wednesday night, 5-3, to win the Liberty Bell Classic at Citizens Bank Park. They enjoy an 8-4 record in Atlantic 10 action and that has them in a six-way tie for second place in the conference.

The Hawks are getting a lot of contributions up and down the roster this year, but they are getting a really special season from catcher Deon Stafford Jr.

Just a sophomore, Stafford, a Harrisburg native, has been hammering opposing pitching all season long. He leads the team with a .379 batting average and a .470 on-base percentage. He is tops in the Atlantic 10 with 13 home runs, a total which has him tied for 10th in the nation. That home run total also has already tied the St. Joe’s single-season record, which was set last year by his teammate John Brue.

“So far, from the beginning, I’ve felt pretty good,” Stafford tells KYW Newsradio. “The team’s playing well together, we’ve good a good chemistry. So stepping on the field everyday, it’s a really good time. It’s pretty easy for me.”

Listen to the entire interview with St. Joe’s catcher Deon Stafford Jr.:

 

This success follows an outstanding freshman season for the right-handed hitting Stafford in 2015, when he led the team with a .341 average.

“He works very hard at his game,” St. Joe’s head coach Fritz Hamburg tells KYW Newsradio. “He works very hard in the weight room and with his training. The numbers are indicative of the player that he is. We’re excited that he’s having the success he has and he’s been huge for our success. He’s going to play in the Cape Cod League this summer. I mean he’s a real prospect.”

Listen to the entire interview with St. Joe’s head coach Fritz Hamburg:

 

While Stafford has been an offensive force since he arrived on Hawk Hill, his home run power this season is something new. He had just two as a freshman.

“Yeah, this year I definitely did surprise myself (with the home run number),” Stafford says. “I just focus on seeing the ball all the way in and trying to make contact and hitting it hard. I am surprised with how many home runs I’ve hit so far this season, but I’m blessed that the numbers are high.”

Hamburg talks about Stafford’s power development.

“I think it’s a maturity piece,” Hamburg says. “Teams recognize what he has done offensively and are trying to work around him and he’s disciplined enough to wait for the pitch. And when he gets it, he gets it. I think it’s a combination of his physical development, his mental development and just really him maturing as a person and a player.”

Of course for a catcher, defense is another critical aspect of the game, and Hamburg says Stafford is getting better and better.

“Coming out of high school, his throwing was, I would say, average and now its really coming along,” Hamburg says. “He still has things he’s got to get better at. But, from a leadership standpoint and the way he works our pitching staff – that’s one of the things that we do here, that’s part of his growth process, because when he gets to the next level, I want him to understand how to call a game. He really does a great job working our pitching staff. He’s a leader, he’s fiery, he’s a competitor and all of those things together, the team really looks to him and he’s certainly one of our leaders in this group, even though he’s only a sophomore.”

Stafford keeps it simple when he talks about goals going forward.

“You know every single day we come to the field, the target is to get better every single day,” Stafford says. “I think we’re doing that. Win an A-10 Championship, go to regionals and hopefully Omaha (site of the College World Series). That’s always the goal.”

St. Joe’s returns to the diamond on Friday afternoon to open an A-10 series with Rhode Island.