BY STEVE KRAH
After making three other college baseball stops, Carter Bridge is a productive player with a perennial NAIA powerhouse.
Bridge, a 2016 graduate of Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., spent time with Western Michigan University, Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., and Indiana University has been at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., the past two seasons.
He has been introduced to a winning culture established by Fire head coach Adrian Dinkel and his staff.
“I didn’t know about Southeastern when I was getting recruited,” says Bridge, 22. “I just needed to find a school in Florida. I wanted to play down there.
I get here and find out they are a top five team in the country. They win 40-plus games every year. This team we have right year can go and compete with most (NCAA) D-I ’s.”
Bridge says the Fire’s first mission was to win the Sun Conference and then set its sights on the NAIA College World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
No. 2-ranked Southeastern (47-7) host the five-team NAIA Opening Round Lakeland Bracket. SEU’s first game is tonight (May 17) against the USC-Beaufort (S.C)-Fisher (Mass.) winner in Winter Haven.
The righty-swinging Bridge is a utility player. As he grew up, Bridge played all over the infield. In college, he’s been in the infield and the outfield. Last year at Southeastern, he was in center field. Now he’s in right field.
In 47 games (30 starts) this spring, Bridge is hitting .357 (45-of-126) with seven home runs, eight doubles, 33 runs batted in, 39 runs scored, 7-of-9 in stolen bases and a .986 OPS (.399 on-base percentage plus .587 slugging average).
“The confidence I have in the (batter’s) box is unmatched right now,” says Bridge. “I get in there and I’m like, ‘throw me something I can hit.’
“I’ve always been a pretty good hitter. I’ve known that I can hit. It’s always like a mental thing for me.”
A pinch-hit home run April 17 against Florida Memorial led to a start in SEU’s next game and built Bridge’s confidence.
“My mindset’s been a complete 180 (from the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021,” says Bridge, who is in his last year of college eligibility. “I stopped putting pressure on myself and starting playing the game like I did when I was a little kid. It’s fun. Enjoy it.”
In 2020 — a season that ended prematurely because of the COVID-19 pandemic — Bridge played in 26 games (21 starts) and hit .370 (27-of-73) with four homers, five doubles, 20 RBIs, 21 runs, 4-of-6 in stolen bases and a 1.056 OPS (.453 on-base percentage plus .603 slugging average).
Bridge completed an Executive Leadership undergraduate degree at Southeastern last year and is well into earning his Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Executive Leadership.
“I’ve always focused on baseball,” says Bridge. “These degrees are definitely helping me further my knowledge in the business world. That’s what I want to do when I’m done with baseball.
“It’s also really helped with my leadership skills. I’m able to communicate better with people.”
Brian and Shanna Bridge have two children — daughter Hunter and son Carter. Dad works for Lafayette Masonry, Mom for State Farm Insurance and sister for Purdue University. Only Carter did not attend Purdue.
Bridge was at Western Michigan for the fall semester of his freshman year then transferred to Heartland, where he spent his freshman spring and all of his sophomore year.
With the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II member Hawks, he was able to build a brotherhood.
“I was able to build those relationships with those guys I knew absolutely nothing about,” says Bridge. “In my sophomore year (2018), we were the No. 2 team in the country. We were a really good team. That stemmed from the brotherhood that team had built.”
Bridge was recruited to Indiana by Chris Lemonis and Kyle Cheesebrough, but both coaches left for Mississippi State. Bridge got into three games with the 2019 Hoosiers and transferred to Southeastern.
Bridge was born and grew up in the West Lafayette area. His first travel ball team — the Tippecanoe Wolfpack — was started by his father.
Then came the Northern Baseball Club Stars and Indiana Bulls with head coach Dan Held.
Bridge played for Pat Lowrey at Harrison.
“He introduced me to what I should expect at the college level,” says Bridge, who was the Lafayette Journal & Courier Big School Player of the Year with the Raiders. “He’s also big on the little things — the fine little details of the game.
“That’s what makes him really good coach. He doesn’t let things slide. He’s really stern and he knows what he’s doing.”