High school baseball notebook: Young Wildcats playing the role of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’

Warren County shortstop Cameron Ford attempts to turn a double play ball as he outs Skylline's Bailey Smeltzer during third inning action March 27 at Bing Crosby Stadium. Ford couldn't connect to complete the double play. Rich Cooley/Daily

Warren County High School’s baseball team opened the 2017 season with a loss to a talented Riverside squad, followed that with a trio of victories that included a blowout win over streaking Skyline, then lost two straight before picking up its second consecutive victory Thursday night.

Don’t bother trying to decipher which outcome truly defines this season’s Wildcats – head coach Mike Minch is having a hard time doing so himself.

“(It’s) kind of like a Jekyll and Hyde kind of thing. We as coaches never really know what we’re gonna get out of these kids,” Minch said with a laugh on Friday morning.

Some inconsistency was probably expected of the Wildcats (5-3), who returned just two starters from last year’s squad and brought up 11 players new to the varsity level this spring.

But all the youth hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing. Of Warren County’s top five batting leaders, only one – Cam Ford – is a senior. Sophomore Ronnie Dodson, a first-year varsity player, leads the team in batting average (.458) and RBIs (nine), and juniors Hunter Wines (.385) and Jacob Dodson (.333) and sophomore Dylan Johnson (.318) each have three doubles and at least four RBIs.

“I think our strength right now is offensively we’ve got some young guys that can really swing the bats and we’re rolling with it, for sure,” said Minch, whose team is averaging six runs per game.

The second-year head coach added that he’s seen growth among the Wildcats more inexperienced players on a game-by-game basis as they buy into the team’s system and “relearn” the game of baseball as seen through the eyes of the coaching staff.

“They’re starting to realize why we do things the way we do things,” Minch said. “That’s a big part of our success is those kids realizing why we’re doing it so they have a reason to do it and they can get it done offensively, and that’s what we’re seeing right now so far.”

Warren County has picked up two straight wins with Thursday night’s 2-0 Bull Run District victory over Central at home. Ford, the team’s leader by example according to Minch, pitched the full seven innings for the Wildcats, blanking the Falcons to the tune of just two hits allowed and 11 strikeouts.

Ford has a record of 2-1 in four starts on the mound, a 1.83 ERA and has struck out 25 in 23 innings pitched. At the plate, where he’s been batting third, the senior has a slash line of .444/.516/.519 with two doubles, three RBIs and 12 runs scored.

“We expected him to succeed definitely at the plate. At shortstop I mean he goes unnoticed really. I mean the ball’s hit to him in his general area he’s gonna make the play,” Minch said of Ford.

“At first it was a little tough because people weren’t pitching to him and now we’ve worked it out to where he’s not frustrated and really worked on his body language, his attitude and he’s leading on the field by example, for sure, and those younger kids see that. He’s produced and he’s a heckuva player.”

Mounting mistakes

The miscues have continued to pile up on the diamond this season for Strasburg, which has committed an alarmingly high 36 errors through its first 10 ballgames.

In Thursday night’s extra-inning loss at home to Madison County, the Rams committed six errors, including three costly miscues between the seventh and eighth innings that helped the Mountaineers push across five runs in that span and erase a two-run deficit in the top of the seventh inning.

Strasburg has played just one error-free game – a win at Clarke County on March 30 – and has committed multiple defensive miscues in eight of its 10 games. Incredibly, five of the Rams’ six wins have come in games during which they’ve committed at least three errors – twice they’ve committed five and yet still managed a victory, and Strasburg somehow pulled out a win at Page County on March 22 despite seven errors.

But the frustration from first-year head coach Joe Bauserman was very apparent after the Rams blew a late lead for the second time in as many games on Thursday.

“It’s, I guess, just one of those things we’ve gotta learn from and move on. But not happy,” Bauserman said, adding that the Rams work on defensive drills every day in practice.

“It’s nothing new. It’s not like these guys have never done this stuff before. They know what they’re supposed to do. We practice it. It’s up to them now.”

Strasburg’s mistakes haven’t been confined to the defense, either. Bauserman said that the Rams had left 70 runners on base in their first nine games, and they stranded 11 more – eight in scoring position – against Madison.

“We’re young. We’re still learning. Hopefully we can learn from these situations and get guys in,” Bauserman said after Thursday’s loss. “We scored runs tonight but we’re just not doing the little things again. We have a couple good games doing the little things, and we took a step back tonight.”

Lessons learned

After earning back-to-back wins against Conference 21 West foes Millbrook and James Wood earlier this week, Sherando has learned lessons in rallying from deficits and putting ballgames away.

In Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Millbrook, the Warriors fell behind 3-0 after the Pioneers struck for a trio of runs in the top of the fifth before countering with four runs of its own in the bottom half. The comeback reversed a trend in which Warriors head coach Pepper Martin said Sherando – which had outscored opponents 67-11 in its first seven games – had struggled to respond after trailing.

“Definitely (Tuesday night’s) game gave us confidence because we weren’t coming back once teams got on top of us,” Warriors senior Adam Miller said after beating James Wood Wednesday night.

The Warriors had no need for a rally against the Colonels the following night. Instead Sherando’s coaching staff cautioned the Warriors about becoming complacent with large leads after James Wood nearly erased a 7-0 deficit with five runs over the last three innings.

“I think now it’s come across to them that they need to keep competing,” Martin said after the win, “and if they have a lead they need to keep trying to add to the lead. The good thing is we didn’t have to learn a lesson by taking a loss tonight.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com