Owensboro High School has had a talented but young baseball team navigate this season.
The Red Devils are 2-14 and have lost 12 straight games, but they are learning lessons a little at a time along the way.
“You can see the talent is there,” OHS coach Logan Johnson said. “It’s a big adjustment going from a Little League field to a high school regulation field, and with them having missed the seventh- or eighth-grade years, or the freshman year of baseball, that’s not easy.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down 2020 spring sports, which meant high school baseball and softball, among others, lost their entire seasons.
Johnson is leaning on a lot of eighth-graders (7), a couple of seventh-graders and freshmen, and a lot of sophomores (6), with three juniors and a senior, Ethan Gibson.
“With the exception of Ethan, most of these guys are seeing varsity play for the first time in their lives,” Johnson said.
That means a lot of adjusting in a lot of different areas.
“For some guys, the speed of the game is different too,” Johnson said. “These are seventh-graders, eighth-graders, and they’re going against high school athletes.”
Speed of the game also means speed of pitching. Being on time for a fastball in a high school game is vastly different from seeing a fastball in a Little League or freshman game.
Reactions in the field are affected also.
“It’s not so much the throw across the diamond, it’s the speed of baserunners around the bases,” Johnson said. “A lot of times you’re dealing with kids throwing behind the runner and they can take extra bases that way.”
Johnson is a coach who has been around baseball at a lot of levels, including the top rung of college baseball at the University of Louisville and in the minor leagues.
He thinks this team has stayed together pretty well from a mental aspect, not getting too low while trying to find some wins.
“I think they’ve hung in pretty well, given the amount of stress and newness to the game they’ve had to endure,” Johnson said. “Part of baseball is dealing with failure. One thing we try to preach is not dwell on things you’re doing poorly, but try to make one adjustment, it’s a lot of single-step adjustments.”
As they’ve gotten more games in, OHS has tried to get its younger kids more JV at-bats. Or, they go down to the freshman team, where they can have some success, and as Johnson said, they can see they’re still good baseball players.
“They’ve had individual battles, and that experience will be invaluable,” Johnson said. “Baseball is a team sport with a lot of individual battles in between. You win those small battles, win your battle and stay focused the whole game for two hours.”
Winning those individual battles, as Johnson calls them, needs some good execution as well.
“It’s hard for us to string together four or five hits in a row, and given their small individual battles, you’ve got to do some things to put the ball in play,” Johnson said. “Hustling down the line, hitting behind runners. When you have a hard time hitting the ball through the infield, hustling down the line matters a little bit more.”
The Red Devils have used eight or nine pitchers during the season as they try to build experience. They generally use two or three pitchers each game.
Last spring, OHS had a veteran team with several seasons of experience that was poised to make a run for a 3rd Region championship.
When the core group of that team was younger, it also had a learning curve to deal with, but those teams also found success on the scoreboard.
“The biggest difference in them was there were just a couple of them playing varsity, a lot of them got good JV experience,” Johnson said. “These guys have to replace more. It’s something we have to adjust to too, how we coach. I like getting in-depth, talking about pitch counts, spin of pitches — right now we’ve pulled it back, we’re hammering on fundamentals every day in practice.”
This team has also caused Johnson to adjust his methods of teaching the game.
“I’ve learned some things about myself,” Johnson said. “For me instead of teaching steps 6-7-8, we want to do step 1-2 really well. The last group was a lot of teaching steps 6-7-8. This group, they need a foundation and the fundamentals.”
OHS is scheduled to return to action at home against Whitesville Trinity on Friday.