Opp boys have will to win in playoffs

Published 12:03 am Friday, April 18, 2014

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Opp’s Eli Johnson (right) runs to first for a force out. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

Instead of relaxing and watching TV on a Wednesday night, a group of about 10-12 Opp Bobcats decided their time would be best spent inside the batting cage.

Their dedication to the game of baseball and will to want to get past the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs will be on display tonight as the third-ranked Bobcats host No. 2 Bayside Academy at Merchants Field in the best of three series.

“They didn’t have to go do that on Wednesday night,” OHS baseball coach Michael Cassady said. “That’s what it means to these kids. They realize that if they lose (today), then there’s no practice on Monday.”

Today’s doubleheader, which first pitch is slated for 4:30 p.m., puts together two teams who are similar to one another.

The Admirals (20-5), like Opp, have played a tough schedule, play fundamentals well and are balanced in the field and behind the plate. Today’s playoff series will be the third straight meeting both teams have had in the postseason.

“What we’ve told our kids all week is that they’re not going to lose the game, you’re going to have to beat them,” Cassady said.

Additionally, Cassady and his assistant coaches have also stressed the importance of taking the playoffs one game at a time, according to seniors Ethan Davis, Holt Hall and Brady Vidich.

A big threat for the Bobcats is Admirals shortstop Hunter Slater. In 100 at bats, the Southern Mississippi commit has only struck out four times, and has made four errors this season at his position in the field.

“He hits the ball gap to gap,” Cassady said about Slater. “We call it gap to gap because he can hit it wherever he wants to.”

In fact, Cassady and another assistant coach stayed at work until midnight Wednesday completing spray charts and working on other things to get ready for the game. Hunter’s spray chart had several lines drawn closely together going to both left and right fields.

Organization at this stage of the game is critical because it lets the players know that the coaches aren’t leaving unprepared for the game, Cassady said.

“You’ve got to give your team a chance,” the coach said, “because when it’s said and done; if you happen to win in the first round and you’ve done all of this work for your kids, then you get a satisfaction and can say, hey you’ve done your job as a coach and feel like you gave them a chance to win.

“If you don’t do that for your team and you lose, then you sold them short. I think our kids realize the work we do, but (today), all of these scouting reports don’t mean anything if you can’t throw strikes, play defense or hit the ball. We (the coaches) can’t play. We can only give them an opportunity to win, and I believe we’ve done that.”

Davis said the 10 seniors, along with the rest of the team, are dedicated to winning.

“We sure are,” Davis said. “We just need to score more runs than them, and played good defense and pitch well.”

Having prior experience at this stage also helps a lot, Cassady said.

“I’m hoping it helps us,” he said. “These kids have been here in the first round the past three years and been fortunate enough to advance past it to get to the second. For these kids, it started in January. They go do things together, like last night at 8, one of them called me to get a key to go hit.

“It’s a good group of kids,” he said. “They want to see this thing out and hopefully they’ll get an opportunity to advance to the next round.”

The second game will start at around 7 p.m. If there is a split today, then an if-necessary game will be played at 1 p.m. tomorrow.