Northwestern High School baseball coach Todd Houseman had plenty of optimism going into last season because of a slew of solid hitters. After what he’d seen the previous year, he figured he had tough outs up and down the order.
But that high-powered offense never materialized. Instead of consistently hearing the crack of the bat, the sound most often heard was the thud of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt after a swing and miss.
The Warriors scored six runs per game with a team batting average of .296 in 2016, but they fell off to just under four runs and a .235 mark last year while their record dipped from 15-12 to 13-14.
“To be honest, every one of my guys had down years hitting from what they wanted to hit,” Houseman said. “I thought we were a much better hitting team, but the average didn’t end up that way for the whole team.”
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The Warriors made a commitment, though, to get better in the offseason, and it’s already starting to pay off.
Houseman held voluntary workouts over the winter with weight-lifting three days a week and hitting sessions on Sunday. As many as 18 players regularly showed up to pump iron and 24 to sharpen their strokes.
“One thing we really put an emphasis on is cutting down on strikeouts, put the ball in play and upping that average,” the fifth-year coach said. “The guys have really worked on that and they look good so far.”
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The Warriors began the season at Myrtle Beach, S.C., during spring break. They went 3-2 and outscored the opposition 38-23.
They’ll contend in the Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division if they keep that up because pitching shouldn’t be an issue.
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Senior Gage Voorhees was first-team All-CBC last season after going 5-0 with 50 strikeouts in 47 innings and a 1.94 ERA. Left-hander Evan Crew and fellow senior Christian Highfield give the Warriors a solid rotation. Senior Jake Parks and sophomore Dane Sowards also will be back-up pitchers again.
Crew, primarily a first baseman who hit a team-best .276 last year, had a 0.68 ERA in 41 innings. Highfield had 37 strikeouts in 38.1 innings with a 2.92 ERA.
As good as Voorhees was a year ago, Houseman said, “Those three are my 1A, B and C starters.”
In a selfless move, Highfield, a first-team all-conference outfielder last year, is making the transition to catcher to fill the void left by graduated star Derek Whip.
“I have a couple good, young catchers — freshmen and sophomores — but I didn’t know how strong they’d be with this pitching staff and the team I thought we had,” Houseman said. “Christian had caught a while back and he said, ‘Listen, I think I can learn to catch again and I want to do it.’ ”
Highfield, who batted .415 in 2016, was among the many Warriors who went through a hitting slump last year. Houseman hopes he and the others can recapture their form because pitching alone won’t get them where they want to go.
“I’m blessed to have a lot of pitching, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to wins,” Houseman said. “You have to play defense behind him and hit the ball and score some runs.
“A lot of teams in the CBC also have good pitching and hitting back this year. It’s going to be a fun league. I think it’s wide open.”
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