By Ryan Butler
Coming off a state championship game appearance last season, the 2013 Brandon High School baseball team expects big things for this season as well. With several veterans returning and an influx of new young talent, the Eagles believe that, combined with the right attitude, they may very well improve on their state runner-up finish from last year.
“Coming off of last year, there’s a tendency to think it’s going to happen again,” said head coach Matt Stallbaumer. “We’re in the mindset that we earned it last year; we’re going to have to go earn it again this year. “
If this year’s start is any indication, the Eagles look like a team that can earn a title. Facing a perennially strong Newsome squad, sophomore Drayden Williams pitched six shout-out innings. Freshman Antonio Valez then closed out the Wolves, retiring the side in order in the bottom of the seventh to secure an exciting 1-0 win on Feb. 12. Along with his two young arms, Stallbaumer said the team will try several other pitchers in different situations to figure out the optimal rotation and bullpen.
“It’s early in the season, so everybody is trying to figure out who they’re guys are, what direction they’re going and playing a quality opponent like Newsome helps us out,” Stallbaumer said. “These are types of situations that help make your team better.”
Brandon’s outfield is already set. Veterans Ryan Anderson, Eric Hinostroza and Miguel Fajardo man the three outfield spots and bat 3-4-5, respectively. Stallbaumer expects these three returning players to carry the team offensively.
The team hopes the outfielders will have plenty of RBI opportunities set up by the infield. While Stallbaumer expects to switch around his corner infielders situationally, he expects everyday second baseman Austin Sullivan and shortstop Jordan Feist to control the middle of the field and get on base.
With 10 runners on base against Newsome, Brandon has showed early, it can get men on. Scoring them may be more difficult. Stallbaumer is stressing clutch and situational hitting, especially with runners in scoring position.
“We have to understand that we’re not the biggest of teams. We have to move runners along. We had a few opportunities (against Newsome) and we struck out too much,”Stallbaumer said. “We’d like to put the ball in play a little more where (our opponents) have to defend those situations. “
Like all teams, Brandon will look to improve its success in clutch situations as the season continues. Stallbaumer said that will extend to batting practice. He’s instructing his players to imagine hitting with runners on base, not just like a practice. The Eagles should see improvement in one of their few weak points and together with a strong lineup, talented pitching and a strong mix of players will be in position for another strong season.
For the Brandon High School softball team, improvement may come simply by getting mean.
Head coach Elizabeth Holloman is proud of her team’s happy-go-luck demeanor and positive attitude, even when facing adversity. But on a relatively care-free team, Holloman and her staff are trying to install a more aggressive attitude on the field.
“The girls just don’t have what I call ‘the kill switch’. They’re very good at laying back but we’re trying to teach them to go after the ball. We want them to get up to bat and hit the ball harder instead of just a back seat role,” Holloman said. Pitching will be a major focal point for the Eagles this season. Holloman said she is looking for someone to become a leader on the mound because most of the team’s pitchers are primarily position players who merely pitch in the background. Freshman Casey Miller has been groomed as a hurler but may have some trouble this season adjusting to more experienced players at the high school level.
“We’re throwing her into the lion’s den expecting her to do well against girls who are 17 or 18 years old,” Holloman said. “It’s something we’re working on at this point.”
Though Brandon may take its lumps this season, Holloman said she’s pleased with her team’s upbeat attitude. But for an inexperienced squad looking to improve, an angrier attitude may be the most important step.
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