Archive for Thursday, May 8, 2008

The eephus pitch

May 8, 2008

This is when it matters most in spring sports. The end of the school year is near, most of the make-up games played, but the games and tournaments that matter most are right on deck.

Every high school coach's objective is to have their team peaking right when postseason play starts, and looking across the board at De Soto's spring sports it's difficult to single out any one team and say they are peaking any more than the

others.

But the baseball team's play in recent weeks sticks out and I think the Wildcats could surprise some teams in their regional tournament.

I first watched the team play down at Baldwin, and they played well. It was frigid that night, though, so it may not have been a good indicator of what the team had talent-wise. But the ball team still looked decent enough to overmatch Baldwin. And cold nights can be hellacious on ballplayers, just ask the Detroit Tigers - five shutouts in 34 games despite the third highest

payroll.

Anyways, that was not the same ball team that I saw play at the Frontier/Kaw Challenge tournament.

At its home tournament, the baseball team couldn't throw the ball, couldn't catch the ball and dang sure couldn't hit it.

But watching the team now, winners of eight of its last ten, you'd guess this team's former members went and sought hired help.

It's amazing what a little confidence can do. Erik Hill struggled at the plate early, fanning about half the time he went to the plate in the first couple of doubleheaders.

"He was ready to take a bite out of his bat," coach Joel Thaemert said.

Now, he's unstoppable. If teams had seen what I've seen, they wouldn't pitch to him. He has three homers on the year, but it's not just all or nothing with him. He doesn't strike out that often. He's using two-thirds of the field instead of just a third.

Then you've got Brady Maasen and Travis Crow, two players that have been consistent producers offensively.

Paul Oswald has emerged as a solid two-hole guy, able to get bunts down or just put a ball in play to move runners around for the big boys in the middle of the lineup.

And Shane Miller is all that you want a nine-hole hitter to be. When Miller gets on a base and the lineup rolls over, he can get into scoring position for Crow.

Most high school catchers can't stop guys like Miller on the bases. He had four stolen bases Tuesday while being on base three times. He's got grease speed.

It's a fast lineup, with speed sprinkled in top to bottom. Jerin Riffel can move. The same can be said for Crow, Oswald and Dylan Burford.

That speed not only helps on the base paths, but also in the field. There's not much space for a hitter to live with Oswald, Burford and Riffel patrolling the outfield.

Speaking of the field, the pitching has come around, too. The De Soto pitchers were pounded in that home tournament, but they've all pitched well recently. Maasen has been solid all year, but Tuesday was about as good as Burford has looked so far, in my opinion. He came in with runners on first and second and no one out, a tough spot to enter a game even if you do have a comfortable lead.

He induced a come-backer, preventing the runners from advancing. Then he got a strikeout and a ground ball to the third baseman. That's as solid as it gets.

Daniel Peterson looked stellar in the second game, too. He's had some control issues sometimes throughout the year, but Tuesday he walked one batter in five complete innings. That's getting it done, pitching tactfully and locating pitches.

So I think it's safe to say that for those who have followed the Wildcats for the entire season, they may be impressed with the progression of the ball team.

But the pieces that make up quality teams are in place, and, especially if teams overlook a five seed, this team could do some damage at regionals.

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