THE BATS ARE BACK IN TOWN
Owls' Sluggish Offense Turned Slugfest Midseason
This year has been a tale of two seasons for the Reagan County Owls Baseball team.
The first half of the year was cold for the players when they stepped into the batters box.
"Our bats just aren't there," Coach Edward Soto would say. "We keep working on it, but we aren't hitting."
Reagan County had a team batting average of .190 in the first 10 games of the season.
"It has been our strength in the past," Soto said. "We have experience on the team, so I knew it was a funk we would have to break out of."
Break out of it they did.
Soto said he started seeing strides in the team's hitting when they entered district play.
"By the time we got to our last game we were crushing the ball into the gaps," Soto said. "It isn't just what fans and parents see during games, though. They are getting really good contact in practice, and you can tell the bats are back."
Reagan County posted a team batting average of .301 during district play improving their overall season average to .256.
"We significantly improved our overall average in a short period of time," Soto said. "It was a huge jump that you don't see many teams make. You always hope you peak and hit your stride at the right time. I feel like that is happening for us."
Soto said he can now confidently add his team's offense back to the list of strengths.
"We have been great on defense all year," Soto said. "The guys have played together for so long that their instincts are amazing. Now that our bats are coming around I think we are a more complete team."
The Owls are led offensively this year by Senior Baylee Barton.
Barton, who anchors the Owls’ lineup from the cleanup position, was one of the bright spots for the team that shined early and late in the regular season.
"Baylee has been our go to guy in the four spot all season long" Soto said. "He is the guy you can count on to get that needed base hit, get it through the gap or drive it deep somewhere to bring the runner in from third. He's done a great job of it. He just produces RBI‘s and brings guys in. He is a natural fit for that slot."
Barton posted a .318 average during his team's early struggles, and improved that to a .423 during district play.
"For me it all starts with believing in myself," Barton said. "I go up to the plate and understand that I‘m batting fourth for a reason. Coach Soto and my team believes in me to bat in that slot, so why can‘t I believe in myself?."
Barton said he thinks the key to having successful at-bats lies in taking every pitch seriously.
“You have to concentrate on what you are doing,” Barton said. “All the time. In the game, and in practice. Every cut counts. From there you just focus on the pitcher’s release point and react to it. Don’t over think it. Just feel it.”
Another player that helped turn the team's offense around is Junior LJ DeLeon.
"I think for LJ it was a simple matter of getting enough cuts in," Soto said. "There are theories on hitting out there, but a lot of them say you won‘t get your timing down until you‘ve taken 10,000 cuts in a season. That is why we stress taking every cut seriously with good form during our drills and in the cages. LJ simply improved his timing by piling up quality cuts."
DeLeon began the year with a .240 average and improved to a .300 hitter in district play.
"I really look up to my role model Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros," DeLeon said. "I watch his videos on YouTube, and he motivated me to do better. He stresses being mentally prepared every game, so I started focusing harder and having confidence out there. I think that helped me a lot. Being prepared for each pitch and being confident in everything I do."
The player with the biggest swing in average from the beginning of the season to the end of district play is Senior Josh Hernandez.
"Josh hit a bomb of a home run in his very first at-bat of the season," Soto said. "Next thing you know he is trying to hit everything deep and hard. He was pulling his front shoulder out and stuff like that. It is just a mental thing. Sometimes when you start off with a bang you want to do it every time. You are better off settling down and getting back to your regular swing. Once he figured that out he hit the ball better."
Hernandez started the season with an anemic .172 average in the first 10 games. He then went on a tear in district play with a .500 average when it counted.
Hernandez also leads the team on the year with five doubles, one homerun, 20 RBI's, 24 runs scored, 13 walks with only six strikeouts.
"I can tell when I am forcing it," Hernandez said. "I put too much pressure on myself early on. Once we hit district I was just looking to make contact and hit line drives. I hit a good rhythm with it. During our playoff series I was trying to do too much again, and it threw me off. I need to get back to being patient."
Reagan County had an up and down series against Grape Creek in the Bi-District round of the playoffs over the weekend. The one thing that was clear though, the Owls were hitting the ball hard.
“Most fans felt like something was wrong in the second and third game because we weren’t getting a lot of official hits,” Soto said. “But we were hitting the ball hard, and putting it in play. It was unfortunate for us that most of those balls were hit directly at defenders, but that is how baseball goes sometimes. We were crushing the ball in all three games. Our timing was just a touch off resulting in outs.”
The Owls continued their upward climb during their Area round win over Dublin in Hermleigh.