Shawnee shortstop shines as sophomore

Seth Gray doesn’t mind dirt on his uniform. Baseball was that way playing on grassless infields as a Little Leaguer.

But grass became an issue when Gray won Shawnee’s starting shortstop job last year as a freshman. That lip where the infield grass meets the dirt of the basepaths presented an unexpected challenge.

“Last year I felt like I wasn’t being very aggressive in coming to get the ball,” Gray said. “I was playing back and letting that lip of the grass play me. I’ve really been trying to attack the ball more and come and get it.”

Gray committed 19 errors as a freshman, mostly fielding the ball. As a sophomore Gray has more than adjusted to the grass and has six errors and 76 assists.

“He’s making plays that I see college kids make,” Shawnee coach Andy DeWitt said. “He’s made a couple plays out of those 76 that are eye-openers. And you’re just like, ‘Wow!’ That’s a good play for a high school kid. He’s definitely an elite shortstop.”

Gray could also have been considered rusty last year because just before the season began he got a doctor’s OK to play. Gray, who throws right-handed, had surgery on his right elbow after a fall during basketball season. His elbow has four screws that his doctor says he can keep or have removed.

“Going through the injury he’s kind of re-creating himself and understanding what his potentials are,” DeWitt said. “How well he can grow and what he can be is off the charts right now from what this season has shown.”

DeWitt says Gray’s play at shortstop has been the most impressive part of his season But it’s only a third of what Gray has contributed to the Braves, who are riding a hot streak into today’s Division II sectional tournament game at Bellefontaine.

Gray’s other position is pitcher, a role he did not play last year because DeWitt wanted to protect the elbow. Gray is 3-3 with a team-best 1.37 ERA. His 35 2/3 innings are second on the team and he has 27 strikeouts.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Gray said. “I just have fun at both positions.”

Gray grew up batting second or third, but the Braves need him in the lead-off spot. He has flourished by leading the team in batting at .456, on-base percentage at .533, runs (33) and stolen bases (12).

“I want him up to the plate as much as I can right now,” DeWitt said.

Gray doesn’t see himself as the typical lead-off hitter.

“I’m trying to adjust into it, but I feel I’m more of a two- or three-hole hitter,” he said. “I feel like I can do the lead-off position, but I’m more of a line-drive hitter.”

Gray and the Braves have been hot at the plate lately with run producers like Joey Chapman, Evan Lyons and Wes Doyle. The defense has been strong, including the double-play combination of Gray and fellow sophomore Drew Fultz. And the pitching staff has four shutouts in the last five games.

The sixth-seeded Braves (16-11) started 2-7 but are 14-4 since May 12. They lost to second-seeded Bellefontaine (22-5) 9-2 and 6-3, but the Braves are confident. They entered tournament play last year at 15-10 and won their first district title since 1979.

“We’ve been hitting the ball better,” Gray said, “and I just feel like we’re really prepared for this game.”

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