QUINCY -- Justin Eads didn't have time to think. All he could do was react.
That might have been for the best.
Quincy University center fielder Nolan Snyder attempted to go from first to third on a single to center field in the seventh inning on Friday in the first game of a four-game series with Wisconsin-Parkside. Snyder was thrown out on the play, but at the end of the sequence, Snyder's foot awkwardly got caught of the edge of the base. He fractured his leg just above the ankle.
In a blink, Snyder's season was over and Eads became the Hawks' center fielder.
"Honestly, I didn't say a word to him," QU coach Josh Rabe said. "I was like, ‘Eads, you ready?' He's like, ‘Yep.' He went out there and played."
His performance put everyone at ease.
Eads, a sophomore from St. Louis, collected his first collegiate hit an inning later, delivering a two-out RBI single with runners at the corners. He finished the weekend with five hits in 10 at-bats with a double and three runs scored. He will take a four-game hitting streak into this week's series at Southern Indiana.
"We've been trying to prepare for anything all fall and all spring," Eads said. "It's about being ready when your time is called. That's what happened when Nolan went down. It's not replacing him but filling the void that he left."
Snyder underwent surgery Saturday at Blessing Hospital and is facing an estimated three-month recovery. Because the junior had played less 30 percent of the Hawks' games -- he started the first 11 games in center field -- Snyder will qualify for a medical redshirt.
Meanwhile, Eads gets the chance to be an everyday player.
"As a team, we have faith in all of our guys," senior right fielder J.C. DeMuri said. "Someone like Nolan is going to be hard to replace, but Eads is going to do a really good job in that spot and playing center field for us."
Now, it becomes a matter of settling in to his role.
Eads and Rabe walked into QU Stadium at roughly the same time Saturday before a doubleheader against Wisconsin-Parkside. They had the chance to talk about the sudden change in playing time and expectations.
"I said, ‘Do you have question for me about center field?'" Rabe said. "He said, ‘Sometimes I get out of whack position.' I said, ‘All right, just look in the dugout. Dude, you're going to be fine.' He was good. He was good out there."
Eads had six chances defensively in the three starts in center field and handled them all.
"It was very easy to relax and settle in on my own," he said.
Eads spent last season on the junior varsity team. A quality fall and solid preseason put him in position to a factor in the outfield, even as a backup.
"It's tough when you have an All-American in right, a really good player in center and two all-conference guys in left," Rabe said. "It's tough to break in. He's got his chance now, and hopefully he does his best with it."
His only wish is it would have come under better circumstances.
"It was brutal," Eads said of seeing Snyder injured. "He's a great guy, and he means so much on both ends, obviously when he's playing but in the dugout, too. He's a team player, and he will be missed."