March 11, 2010

Graduating with plenty of honors

TOM CHARD

— By

Staff Writer

Justin Collett of South Portland credits his stellar college baseball career at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., in large part to always having a plan at the plate.

''I was always looking to get in good counts,'' said Collett, who graduated Sunday with an accounting degree. ''That way I would have good pitches to hit.''

And Collett, 23, did the rest. An outfielder, he batted over .400 in three of his four seasons and became the school's first three-time All-New England Division III player.

Collett made first team All-New England his freshman year and then second team his sophomore and senior seasons. If not for a hamstring injury his junior year that limited his production, Collett might have made All-New England all four years.

Upon graduating from South Portland High in 2005 where he was an all-state player, Collett looked to play baseball at Maine, Southern Maine, Wheaton or Salve Regina.

''Maine had a new coach so that didn't work out,'' said Collett. ''Coach Ed Flaherty at USM wanted me to come there. I visited the school all the time and I was going to go there. But my brother, Jerry, was at Salve Regina and after I thought about it, I decided that having him at the school and the fact that I wanted to attend school out of state, Salve was the place for me.

''I liked the size of the school and the weather was warmer. Academically, it was what I wanted. There were never more than 20 in my classes and the teachers all know you. If you missed a class, they wanted to know why.''

Salve Regina is located in and around the Newport mansions, some of which are used by the school for student housing.

''The campus is beautiful,'' he said. ''I lived in a couple of mansions.''

Collett finished his career as the school's all-time leader in stolen bases (93) and total bases (306). He led the Seahawks in most every offensive category this season, including batting average (.432), slugging percentage (.712), runs (43), hits (60), triples (seven), home runs (five) and stolen bases (30). Collett used his speed and discipline at the plate to be a team leader all four seasons.

Steve Cirella recently finished his 10th season as Salve Regina's head coach.

''With Justin, it's hard to put into words his value to our baseball program over the last four years,'' Cirella said.

''I've coached two All-Americans, 13 All-New England selections and a number of all-academic players, but I would have to say that Justin is the most complete player I've coached.

''I think Justin is the type of player who could play at the next level. He has the tools to do that. It's just a question of someone or team giving him the opportunity. Hopefully someone has him on their radar, like a Class A rookie league team that would give him a chance.''

Collett stands 5-foot-10 and weighs about 180.

''I haven't grown a lot since high school, but I'm 15 to 20 pounds heavier,'' said Collett.

Most pro organizations are looking for the bigger player with a Division I background. But as Cirella pointed out: ''You don't have to be real big to play baseball. Justin uses his strength well. He hit 17 career home runs. I would have loved to hit him in the third slot, but we didn't have a leadoff hitter so I used him there. He would have had more RBI if he had batted third.''

Salve Regina (18-23) started the season 1-10, but finished 17-13 to place fourth in the Commonwealth Coast Conference.

''We had 13 new players this year,'' said Collett. ''We were in most every game, but when the pressure was on, we would make an error that would hurt us. Midway through the season we started to relax and put a good win streak together.''

Collett said playing at South Portland and in the competitive Telegram League prepared him well for college baseball.

Collett plans to play again this summer in the Portland Twilight League. He has plans to get his MBA.

''I just don't want to stop playing baseball yet,'' he said.

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:

tchard@pressherald.com

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