Mark Armstrong wasn’t ready to give up the game of baseball.
After three surgeries in three years derailed his professional career, Armstrong — a third-round pick by the Cincinnati Reds in 2013 out of Clarence Center, N.Y. — found his way to Shawnee High School.
The 24-year-old Armstrong was an assistant with team last year and took over the program this season after coach Brad Olinger left to take the job at Northwestern.
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The Braves are 7-6 and 5-5 in the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division. Shawnee picked up a big win on Wednesday, beating league-leading Jonathan Alder 9-4.
“It’s been a great first year,” Armstrong said. “This is a great group. They’ve had some ups-and-downs but I couldn’t ask for a better group for my first year.”
Last Saturday, Matt Fowler pitched a five-inning no-hitter as the Braves beat Triad 10-0 at Wright State University’s Nischwitz Stadium.
“We were relaxed,” Armstrong said. “We just wanted to play baseball, especially after two tough losses (to Kenton Ridge). They just came out and they wanted to play instead of putting pressure on themselves. That’s what they need to do. They’re the type of group that they just gotta have fun.”
In 2015, Armstrong blew out his elbow while pitching for the Dayton Dragons. After three surgeries, he retired in 2017, but knew he wanted to stay around the game.
“I think that’s where I can help them because I have so much experience they can hopefully learn from,” Armstrong said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
He played for current Dragons manager Luis Bolivar and said he draws plenty of inspiration from his former skipper.
“He knows how to read the players, when to press on them, when not to and when to have fun,” Armstrong said.
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In some cases, Armstrong isn’t too much older than his players.
“I relate to them really well,” Armstrong said. “It’s nice we have some older coaches, some younger coaches. They respond well because they know we have that relationship. When I get on them, they know it’s not for too bad of a reason because they know they can do better.”
The Braves are led by their two seniors, shortstop Ben Ross (.400, 8 RBIs) and catcher Bryce Cox. Ross recently committed to Division II Notre Dame College.
Junior Connor Lyons leads the Braves with a .410 batting average, 10 RBIs and 10 stolen bases and freshman Patrick Fultz is hitting .293. Sophomore Luke Myers (1-1, 1.46 ERA in 24 innings pitched) and junior Trevor Whalen (3-0, 2.03 ERA in 31 IP) lead the Braves’ pitching staff.
Shawnee is young with just two seniors and four juniors on this year’s squad, meaning the future is bright.
“Within the next couple of years, we can be really good,” Armstrong said.
First, the Braves must learn what it takes to be successful. After several up-and-down seasons, the Braves motto this year is ‘Trust the Process,’ Armstrong said.
“If you want something, you have to go through a process,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. There’s a process to everything. Kids nowadays just want, want, want. If you want something, you have to absolutely do it. You have to learn that if there are ups-and-downs, that’s the process.”