High school baseball: Shawnee’s Gray earning respect of foes

Shawnee opponents are so wary of sweet-swinging Seth Gray that they sometimes walk him intentionally even when first base is occupied.

That’s the ultimate sign of respect, and coach Rob Cassell isn’t surprised his No. 3 hitter is getting the Barry Bonds treatment.

As the Springfield High coach two years ago, Cassell took the bat out Gray’s hands, too.

“I intentionally walked him as a sophomore, and I think we won the game because of it,” Cassell said.

“That’s why I try to tell him, ‘Seth, I completely understand where these coaches are coming from. I try to go into a game thinking I’m not going to let their best player beat me.’ ”

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior is not only Shawnee’s top star, but there might not be a better all-around player in the area.

The shortstop and pitcher — who signed with Wright State in November — is batting a modest .300, but he’s averaging about two walks per game, and his on-base percentage is a whopping .576.

He’s also ridden his a 90-mph fastball to a league-high 32 strikeouts in 20 innings and a 0.33 ERA. He worked as a closer to open the season to preserve his arm, but he made his first start against fellow CBC contender Ben Logan on the road Wednesday and tossed an eight-inning shutout, winning 1-0.

“My arm has been feeling really alive lately,” he said. “But I give all the credit to my defense. They’ve helped me out a ton.”

He added: “I know I’m struggling at the plate as of late — my average isn’t very good — but I’m just trying to keep getting on the basepaths and contribute as much as I can.”

Cassell is confident Gray’s bat will come around.

“This is my 18th year as a coach or assistant in high school, and he is probably the most complete player I’ve ever coached,” he said.

“He just has what you call the it factor. I don’t have to teach Seth a whole lot. What I love is he challenges me as a coach because he poses questions that make me think about things. Seth understands what goes on behind the calls.”

Gray batted .390 with a .535 OBP as a junior and hit .442 and with an .518 OBP as a sophomore.

But he’s not obsessed with personal stats. He stepped to the plate last week with teammates on first and second and Shawnee trailing Tippecanoe, 3-0, and surprised everyone — including his coach — by dropping a sacrifice bunt.

“He’s so unselfish,” Cassell said. “He’s got a scholarship and is the face of the program, and you don’t see kids laying down a bunt in that situation when they’re that high-level.”

The next batter knocked in both runners, and the Braves prevailed, 7-3. They’re 7-2 overall, 4-1 in the CBC.

“I try to reflect after every game, and that’s the thing that kept popping up in my mind,” Cassell said. “I told the team next day: ‘Look, Seth has almost a 75-percent scholarship to Wright State — that’s unheard of for baseball because that’s a lot of money — and he puts his team above himself.’

“He could have driven in a run there if he wanted to, but he believed in his teammates and the guys behind him. As a coach, you couldn’t ask for anything more.”

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