High School Sports

Paul Dunbar baseball a model of consistency

Aaron Ochsenbein called his Paul Dunbar Bulldogs the district's 'sleeper team.'
Aaron Ochsenbein called his Paul Dunbar Bulldogs the district's 'sleeper team.'

Paul Laurence Dunbar's baseball Bulldogs have won more games (25) than anybody in the 11th Region.

They've been a model of day-in, day-out consistency, having lost back-to-back games only once this season.

They've excelled at playing "small ball," a necessity for an offense that sports a .252 batting average and has zero home runs in 33 games.

And they've got a solid pitching staff, led by ace Aaron Ochsenbein (and his 0.61 earned run average).

And yet ...

"We play with a little chip on our shoulder," Ochsenbein said. "In the district and region, we're a sleeper team. That drives us to practice hard and play hard. We want to show people we're better than they think."

Dunbar Coach Larry Poynter doesn't have to be convinced. He has seen his players cope with a devastating off-the-field injury to a teammate by channeling their emotions into steady on-the-field performances.

Travis Gaines, a senior first baseman, suffered a serious neck injury in a diving accident when the team was on spring break in Florida.

Poynter said the Fayette County school system, from superintendent Tom Shelton on down to Dunbar principal Betsy Rains, has been there to support Travis and his teammates.

"They've all reached out to help, and it's greatly appreciated," Poynter said.

"We keep talking to our players, and we've said it a million times, they've got to play with Travis in their hearts. But they also have to play for themselves and this season, and they've done a great job doing that.

"After all they've been through, they can be proud of how they've handled everything."

Poynter likes his team's businesslike approach, treating each game as preparation for the district tournament.

"The good thing about our schedule, we put ourselves in situations throughout the season that'll be like district games," he said.

Dunbar, No. 7 in the state, will play unrated Lafayette in the 43rd District semifinals next week. (Lafayette swept the Bulldogs 12-0 and 4-2 in the regular season.)

Senior infielder Grant Herald said Dunbar is "treating every practice, every game, every situation, like we're playing Lafayette in the district. That's all we're thinking about and preparing for."

Ochsenbein (4-2), a 6-foot-3 junior right-hander, will get the ball in that semifinal showdown.

"He's our guy right now," Poynter said. "He's throwing the heck out of it."

But he's not the only guy.

Tyler Brummer (4-3, 2.25) has been effective, too, highlighted by a complete-game 5-0 win over Tates Creek.

Hunter Martin and Patrick Purrachio have been reliable on the mound, too.

"Different guys have stepped up at different times," Poynter said. "The key for us is filling up the strike zone and limiting walks."

Dunbar's offense has been led by senior outfielder Joey Avioli (.342, 16 RBI), Herald (.324, 28 runs) and senior infielder Michael Marsh (.315, 19 RBI).

"We knew coming into the season that small ball would do it," Herald said. "We've got the pitching to back us up, so it's about stealing bases, laying down bunts and winning those 2-0 games."

Poynter agreed.

"That's just the style we have to play to win," he said.

That style also includes something close to the heart.

"Going through what happened to Travis, we came together as a family," Ochsenbein said. "At the end of the day, we're all teammates, so we're always playing for ourselves and for Travis."

And, Herald added, "we want to win for Travis, too."