Branham Gets The Nod From The Padres
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Senior Matt Branham (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley) made a little more history on Tuesday evening to officially end his time at USC Upstate. The Spartans' all-time strikeouts king was selected in the 27th round of the 2010 MLB draft by the San Diego Padres, becoming both the first player in school history to enter the Padres organization and the first player in school history to be drafted twice as a Spartan.
“I'm proud and happy for Matt,” USC Upstate head coach Matt Fincher said. “He came back to college to improve his draft status and I feel good that he did that. This is the culmination of a lot of hard work he put in for the last four years. On the other side of the coin, this is just the beginning. I have all the faith in the world that he will do well.”
Branham, who was drafted in the 47th-round of the MLB draft by the Houston Astros in 2009, joins current USC Upstate softball coach Chris Hawkins as the only players in school history to be drafted twice, as Hawkins was selected in 1985's January draft while at Anderson Junior College before transferring to USC Upstate. Hawkins was selected in 1987 in the 15th round by the Houston Astros after wrapping up his two-year career at Upstate.
“It's cool,” Branham succinctly said. “I am glad I went back to school and then got drafted higher. It worked out well.”
Branham finished his senior year third in the Atlantic Sun Conference in ERA (4.20), tied for third in strikeouts (86), tied for 10th in wins (6-3), tied for fourth in games started (14) and tied for second in runners picked off (7). Throughout the season, Branham lasted at least five innings in 13 of his 14 starts, falling to reach five innings only due to a postponement of a game against FGCU, and he rolled through at least seven innings four times, including in the final three starts of his career, when he posted wins over Stetson, Kennesaw State and William & Mary.
“It's funny, I actually seemed to pitch a little bit better early in the year, but we weren't scoring a lot of runs,” Branham said. “At the end of the year, we started to hit a little bit and I pitched OK and I happened to be getting the win.”
Along the way, Branham chased several of Upstate's pitching records, lifting himself to the top of three lists in his last game, as he set the school's record for career starts with his 51st on May 19 against William & Mary. Later in the game, he broke his own single-season record for strikeouts and he went on to break the school record for career strikeouts, finishing the year with 86 strikeouts and his career with 264.
“I was glad I was able to accomplish what I did at the end of the year,” Branham said. “I knew about the records but I tried not to focus on them. It ended up happening. By the last game, the guys in the dugout were all talking about it and saying I only had one chance to get the (strikeout) records and I happened to do it.”
Branham is among the top 10 in school history in eight categories, including innings pitched (315.2, 2nd), fewest walks per nine innings (2.68, 3rd), shutouts (1, 3rd), wins (17, 5th), appearances (55, 6th), and ERA (4.08, 7th). His 83.2 innings pitched as a senior are sixth in school history and his 9.25 strikeouts per nine innings is ninth.
As a junior, Branham was befallen by several hard-luck during several of his starts, as he finished 2-5 with a 4.39 ERA, but he left three games qualified for the win before taking a no-decision. He tossed 82 innings, with batters hitting a paltry .267. He walked just 27 while his 82 punchouts were seventh-best in the A-Sun. Branham had six quality starts during the season and lasted less than five innings in just two of his 13 starts. He finished the year strong, going 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA in his last three starts. He posted a win over Wofford, tossing eight innings and allowing seven hits while striking out seven and closed the year with seven innings of work in a win over Campbell. He allowed just four hits, an earned run and struck out seven in the game.
The Columbia, S.C., native started 12 games on the hill as a sophomore, finishing with a 6-5 record and a 4.04 ERA in 84.2 innings pitched. He struck out 57 and walked just 18, while going the distance in two starts. He pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing eight hits in a start against Jacksonville, striking out six and followed that by striking out a career-high 10 in his first nine-inning complete game at Gardner-Webb. He allowed six hits and two walks in the 2-1 win to earn Upstate's first A-Sun Pitcher of the Week award. He saved the best for last, though, as he tossed a complete-game six hitter against A-Sun Champion Florida Gulf Coast in his last start. He struck out eight and walked two in the game, allowing just a ninth-inning homer in the game to help Upstate to the 2-1 win. He was the only pitcher to outduel MLB sixth-round draft pick and A-Sun Pitcher of the Year Richard Bleier of FGCU in 2008.
As a freshman, Branham immediately stepped into the Spartan starting rotation, going 3-3 overall with a 3.58 ERA. He finished third on the team with 65.1 innings pitched and posted five quality starts. He tossed Upstate's only complete-game shutout of the season, an 8-0, seven-inning three-hitter of Augusta State. He also threw a season-high eight innings, allowing five hits and one run in a no-decision at national runner-up Columbus State and took a hard-luck 4-2 loss in opening-round of Peach Belt Tournament, tossing 6 1/3 innings, allowing eight hits and three runs to 22nd-ranked Francis Marion.
“Coach Fincher always talks about how you have to throw, throw, throw as much as possible,” Branham said. “That is one of the best things I did when I was there. I got my arm stronger and I threw as much as possible and it worked out well. Assistant Coach Russell Triplett was always supportive and there for us. He gave everyone a boost of confidence.”
USC Upstate finished the 2010 season with a 19-37 record under 13th-year head coach Matt Fincher.