By Brent Ingram, UTA Athletics Communications
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Kadon Simmons can still remember the crowd getting on its feet in the eighth and ninth innings.
As the right-handed starting pitcher worked against Georgia Southern in 2016 in an effort to secure his first career complete-game shutout, he fed off the energy generated from the crowd.
"It was exciting hearing the crowd get on their feet at the end of the game, that's not something you hear a lot," Simmons remembered. "It gave me just a little bit extra when the tank was empty."
A native of Cut & Shoot, Texas, Simmons closed out the win to improve to 7-2, allowing only three hits and two walks, while striking out a career-high 10.
"I definitely remember that start, although those first few innings kind of fly by," Simmons said. "The ones that stuck out the most were the eighth and ninth, just because the eighth – I knew if I could get through that then I could have a good chance to go into the ninth. I had gotten close a couple of times earlier in the year to getting to keep on pitching the full game but didn't get to because of pitch count or a long eighth inning. I was excited to go out for the ninth."
His journey to UTA came after two seasons at North Central Texas College, where he earned the attention of Mavs head coach Darin Thomas early in his career.
"From the time we saw him last fall of his sophomore year in junior college to the spring of his junior year with us, he got better," Thomas said.
As is always the case with the sport, there are going to be challenges over the course of a season. Simmons faced those challenges the first time he took the mound in a UTA jersey. He didn't last through the third inning and allowed five runs on opening weekend vs. Stephen F. Austin.
After experiencing his first taste of adversity with the loss in his NCAA debut, Simmons was called upon to make a start five days later vs. Baylor. He twirled a gem in a win over the Bears, allowing two runs in 5.1 innings, with six strikeouts.
"That start was huge for me," Simmons said. "Just to show the team that I was able to get up and compete as a starter, and to show it to myself and the coaching staff. I knew I had it in me. My first outing did not reflect that by any means. It was good to go in there a couple of days later and prove that I belong. Was able to set the tone for a much better rest of the season after my first one."
After that start at Baylor, Simmons settled into his role as staff ace. He led the league in wins (nine), while ranking third in the league in innings pitched (103.1) and ninth in ERA (3.05).
"Catching him was awesome last year," UTA's primary backstop Brady Cox said. "He knows what he needs to do when he gets up there. He is one of those guys that you can send him out there and you don't have to say a word to him because he knows what he is supposed to do. You can just see it when he is on the field, bullpen, or practice, you can just tell that he knows what he needs to do to be successful and he holds himself accountable. That is the big thing. When guys like that hold themselves accountable you know you have a special teammate."
Simmons totaled a 9-4 record in 16 games and 15 starts, allowing only 95 hits and 24 walks with 64 strikeouts. He worked eight quality starts and tossed into the seventh inning in 11 of his 15 starts. He finished the year on a strong run, working into the seventh inning in seven consecutive starts.
"He has always been a strike thrower but now he is a strike thrower with a little more velocity," Thomas said. "He's a competitor. He's very sure of himself and doesn't want to walk anybody. He is always going to get you into the seventh or eighth inning. That's good to see, especially out of your Friday-night guy. We never had to tax the pen. Even if he struggled early we could leave him in and you knew he would figure it out."
Simmons, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has worked diligently with pitching coach Jon Wente to continue to develop his game. He has his sights set on building off the success he had as a junior.
"Really just trying to fine tune my craft," Simmons said about what he's worked to improve. "Trying to not get away from what made me successful last year is the main thing. I don't want to try and do too much. What I did last year was pitch deep in games and try to keep us in it. That is my main goal this year. Just to do the same thing. Been working on a couple of pitches, just trying to develop them a little more. Fine tune them for when the season comes and use it more than last year. At the end of the day it is going to be the same mentality as it was."
Having experienced the grind of a 30-game conference schedule and a 14-week season in 2016, Simmons feels more prepared for his NCAA encore.
"More comfortable from the sense of knowing what to expect from the conference," Simmons said. "On what it is going to take to be successful day in and day out. Coming in, I didn't really know fully, to what extent, the type of hitters we would be facing, the types of ballparks we would be playing in, or how tiring it can be to take a plane ride and get to a town late and then play the next day. I know at least what to expect from that aspect but at the end of the day you just have to use that knowledge to elevate your game and continue to improve. There are going to be guys on the staff that are eager to get innings too and if you don't use everything you have – the knowledge that I gained from last year – you are missing an opportunity."
Now as a proven commodity in the league and headlining the UTA pitching staff, Simmons faces the challenges of being in the spotlight as the season-opening, Friday-night starter in 2017.
"I've taken it the same way as I did last year," Simmons said. "I don’t really see myself as the Friday guy, a weekend guy, a starter or a reliever. I just take the same mentality I had last year. Coming in I have to prove everything. We have great guys and some great new guys on the mound so I'm not taking anything for granted. Everyday, every pen, I am just trying to prove my worth and when the season starts, guys start getting more innings and everything will fold out. I am not going to take it for granted. I don’t think of myself as the Friday guy or a weekend guy. I just look at myself as a pitcher who is here to help the team."
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