“The Young and the Restless” — a TV soap opera or the perfect phrase to describe Bryan Station’s baseball lineup?
The Defenders are young. Like, only-one-senior-on-the-entire-roster young. Its starting lineup most days features just one junior to go along with six sophomores and a freshman. But, they’re speedy. Like, almost-everyone-in-the-order-can-steal-multiple-bases speedy.
Bryan Station has stolen 74 bases, or about three per contest. Sophomore Haiden Hunt leads the way with 14, but only one stolen base behind him are Tyeler Hawkins (who leads the team in hitting and runs scored) and Camren Probst. Micah Lowe has 12.
“Our whole team’s based off the fact that we can run,” said Coach Eddie Brooks, in his ninth year leading the program. “We spend a lot of time running bases and it’s not just one; it’s pretty much up and down our entire lineup. There’s two guys that are fairly slow but one of ’em we get to pinch-run for.”
That one is Corban Ellis, the lone senior in the midst of Station’s youth movement. The catcher, who has been part of the program for five years, joked that the Senior Night festivities this past Monday would be the shortest in school history.
Ellis, who will join Midway University’s fledgling program in the fall, may be “old” in age, but he doesn’t feel alone in experience.
“We have a bunch of mature sophomores and they might be young in age but when we get on the field they play like any senior or any junior,” Ellis said.
Brooks expects that at this point in the year.
“I don’t let them use youth as an excuse,” Brooks said. “We’re 25 games into our season, so sophomores don’t exist no more. Now they’re juniors.”
It’s one thing to be fast, but high-quality base running is as much mental as it is physical. Hunt is cognizant of the advantage he can create for his team by running smartly between the bags.
“I was naturally blessed with the speed God gave me. But I think it’s a big mind game as well,” Hunt said after a recent four-steal performance against Danville. “When I’m on first and I get my lead, I’m already thinking, ‘I’m gonna steal on you, I’m gonna be on second right after this pitch and I’m gonna be safe.’ I’m gonna be in your head. I’m gonna make you know I’m here and then I’m gonna get to third and I’m gonna be safe. It’s a big mind game.”
Ultimately, Bryan Station’s hope is to create havoc in the infield. When its first three or four batters can get on, things usually turn out nicely for the Defenders on offense.
“We’re not gonna hit the ball out of the ballpark. We’re not knocking down fences,” Brooks said. “What we can do is turn singles into doubles and triples, then the next guy gets a single and that’s how we gotta go. … Boom, boom, steal, steal. Next guy, base hit, steal, steal. Next guy, base hit, steal, steal.”
Lately, Station (9-15 entering play Wednesday) has been able to play the type of game it wants to play. Three of its five highest-scoring games have occurred over its last four games, including a 14-run downpour against Danville. That was the most runs the Defenders have scored since 2015 and three more than they put up in any contest last year, when they won only six games.
Players have been more determined in practice in recent weeks, Brooks said. They’re beginning to extend their pregame routine by involving a longer stretching regimen — to get their bodies looser for their base-pad pilfering, of course. Brooks hopes that increased focus and attention to detail translates to the field, where Station throughout the season has allowed errors to snowball and balloon scores that aren’t reflective of a reliable pitching staff.
“All of our pitchers, other than one game, have thrown lights out,” Brooks said. “We have hurt them defensively. … In the past we’ve had a tendency, when we’ve made that bad mistake, to hang our heads, so that one error became two, three, four, five.
“That’s what I’ve been preaching. ‘I need one error to be one error.’”
Defenders’ last stand
Bryan Station went 1-5 in 42nd District play and will meet top-seeded Scott County, currently the No. 1 team in MaxPreps’ state rankings, in the district tournament two weeks from now.
The Defenders’ two regular-season meetings with the Cardinals both ended in lopsided losses (9-0 and 12-4) but their other district bouts were closer affairs. Two losses to Henry Clay were both by a run, and Station followed up a four-run loss to Sayre with a 4-1 win over the Spartans the next day.
Whenever Station doesn’t get in its own way on defense and generates chaos on offense, it’s capable of being “a special, special group,” Brooks said. They know a tall challenge is ahead of them, but the Defenders are confident they can show up and play David to Scott County’s Goliath.
“We’ve got our hands full with that one but if we play like we’re capable of, it could be a dogfight,” Brooks said. “If you’ve been around baseball as long as I have, in one game, anything can happen. If you look at the lineup cards and who everybody has on their rosters, the Yankees should win a World Series every year. Obviously they don’t.”
Ellis was succinct in his assessment of Station’s outlook.
“In every Bible I’ve read, David’s always been the winner,” he said.