By Andrew Browning
For the past three years, pitcher and senior Kyle Lloyd has watched as the varsity team has cruised through the regular season—winning conference championships in 2006 and 2008—and then faltering in the Sectional playoffs. This year, Lloyd said he hopes to help lead the team to heights it hasn’t reached in the history of this school: a State championship.
“Our goal is to win State,” Lloyd said. “We want to make it all the way.”
Yet to capture the Class 4A State title, the Hounds will have to find an answer to the timeless debate: what wins titles, offense or defense? Head Coach Eric Lentz said to be consistently successful in the post-season, he believes the team will have to be able to shut down opposing offenses.
“I think pitching and defense wins big tournament games. If you have the ability to manufacture runs, that’s great. Historically we’ve always, offensively, been a pretty solid team in terms of overall team batting average and also the ability to do the small part of the game,” Lentz said. “But I think in tournament play it really comes down to if you have the ability in terms of pitching and defense. If you can get good pitching and prevent the other team from scoring…I think that’s the key to advancing in the tournament.”
However, in the past seven 4A State championship games, the winning team has consistently put on an impressive offensive performance. The championship team has averaged nine hits and six runs, both solid totals at the high school level.
Yet Lloyd said he remains convinced that he and his fellow pitching staff will be a more critical component of the Hounds’ tournament success.
“Probably pitching (will be more important) because pitching is defense and defense wins championships. You’ve got to have a good defense before you have a good offense,” Lloyd said.
Despite the solid offensive numbers put up by the last seven 4A State champions, the numbers prove Lentz and Lloyd’s belief about the power of pitching true. During the last seven 4A title games, the starting pitcher for the winning team has failed to pitch a complete game only once, and those seven winners have averaged less than two earned runs during their championship outings.
Conrad Gregor, junior and right fielder, might be the last person anyone would expect to admit the importance of pitching. Lentz said Gregor has made a name for himself at the varsity level with his performance at the plate, and Gregor said that much of his off-season work has been focused on his hitting. However, even Gregor said he concedes that pitching is the cornerstone to a successful baseball team.
“Pitching wins close games,” Gregor said. “Being a hitter, I like to hit, but I know you can’t win close games without pitchers.”
Luckily for the Hounds, Lentz said the team will return with a strong core of senior pitchers who should carry the team through the regular season. Once the post-season rolls around, Lentz said he hopes to have developed two strong starters to carry the team to a title.
“I think the key to advancing in the tournament is really the pitching element…That’s why you have to develop those one-two pitchers, so you can advance in the tournament,” Lentz said. “I think that for us, obviously, we work pretty hard at it, and we’ve had a lot of success during the regular season. I think everybody would like to see a nice tournament run, and I think the pieces are in place. We just have to go out and get it done.”