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Local college notes: WMU's Allison a hit with the stick

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Younger and younger, you just don’t see too many baseball players excelling at both hitting and pitching anymore.

There are rare exceptions, of course, at varying levels, from Alex Troop at Michigan State to Japan’s Shohei Otani, who soon will be putting an MLB team to the test, in whether to hit or pitch him, or — gasp! — both. The topic even caught up recently with Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who said the game has become specialized, starting in high school travel ball.

Obviously, doing both — and especially excelling at both — is darn hard. And one kid who gets it — Western Michigan’s Tanner Allison, who arrived in Kalamazoo as a top-flight pitching prospect, and has all but shelved that part of his game while becoming one of the nation’s top hitters.

Allison, through Sunday’s games, led Division I in RBIs per game, at 1.52 — with 47 RBIs in 31 games.

“I think instead of being a jack of all trades and the master of none,” said Allison’s coach, Billy Gernon, “we’ve just focused on offense.”

Allison, 21, a junior from Portland, Mich., split much of his time as a freshman, “and it didn’t go too well,” Gernon said.

That summer, he played in a renowned prospects league and really excelled on the mound, convincing Gernon to give the two-role plan another try — until early in the season, when Allison rolled his ankle. The last quarter of the season, Gernon estimated, they transitioned him more to a full-time position player.

Finally, the two met last summer, after Allison’s sophomore season, and discussed what was the best plan moving forward. Gernon asked Allison what he wanted; Allison asked Gernon what he wanted.

“It’s 2016; he’s allowed to tell me what he wants,” said Gernon, whose 14-17 Broncos visit Illinois on Tuesday. “He did and we did and he is.”

Allison, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound left-hander, has taken to full-time center field, and to the batter’s box, hitting .391 with eight homers and a .672 slugging percentage.

His first two seasons, he had 18 extra-base hits, total. This year alone, he has 19. The performance figures to get him selected in the June Major League Baseball draft, with several scouts already starting to make the rounds.

Of course, those scouts wouldn’t mind seeing a lefty with a 93-mph fastball do some pitching, too.

“I tell them, ‘As soon as he goes 0-for-4,’” Gernon said, “which he never does.”

Allison is an all-around athlete with “sneaky” power, Gernon said. He played quarterback in high school, winning a football state championship his junior year.

He didn’t play basketball, though. He was all about football and baseball — and hunting.

The scope these days is set in the box, not on the mound.

CMU gets key hoops transfer

Central Michigan men’s basketball added a little protection last week, landing transfer Shawn Roundtree.

The Chippewas, of course, are losing a pair of star guards in senior Braylon Rayson to graduation and junior Marcus Keene to the NBA.

Central Michigan coach Keno Davis, though, doesn’t like comparing Roundtree’s potential impact to Rayson’s or Keene’s, but rather more along the lines of a Chris Fowler.

“He lives in the gym,” Davis said of Roundtree, while also praising the leadership potential of the 4.0 student.

Roundtree, a 6-1, 190-pounder, comes to Central Michigan from Mineral Area (Mo.) College, a JUCO transfer who can play right away for the Chippewas. The Illinois native led Mineral Area to a No. 9 national ranking and a 28-3 record last season.

Before his one season there, he played two at the Division I level, at Missouri State, where he had a good freshman season, but suffered a hamstring injury early as a sophomore, before shutting it down to preserve a medical redshirt.

He’ll have two years of eligibility at Central Michigan, which was 16-16 this past season and doesn’t return a single player who averaged 10 points a game.

This and that

Eastern Michigan lost one of its chief fundraisers when athletic director Heather Lyke left for Pittsburgh, but the department still landed a $500,000 donation from Lions guard T.J. Lang last week. The money will go toward the grandiose athletic facility-upgrade project the university announced earlier this year.

The gift is the third-largest ever given to Eastern Michigan athletics.

... Michigan women’s basketball, fresh off a WNIT championship, got a late boost to its recruiting class, adding Texas’ Priscilla Smeenge, a 6-foot wing who is ranked a three-star. That’s nice protection, should Kysre Gondrezick, 2016 Miss Michigan Basketball, not return to the program. In the postseason, she took an “indefinite” leave; she remains on the roster at MGoBlue.com.

... Central Michigan’s 16-person search committee is expected to start narrowing down its list of athletic-director candidates sometime this week. Central Michigan is looking to replace longtime AD Dave Heeke, who left for the same job at Arizona.

... Oakland is holding its third annual Black and Gold awards ceremony at 7 Tuesday night at the Fox Theatre. Admission is free. The ceremony will be televised next Monday, at 8 p.m. on Channel 20.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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