Baseball: Prescott looks for consistency, confidence before playoffs
Prescott's head coach Jeff Ryan reminded his players of the soon-approaching end of their regular season before the month of May.
"When you're playing all the time, the season goes quickly, and then it's just gone," Ryan said after Prescott's 7-3 win over Osceola on Thursday, May 16. "I was telling the players, and I don't know if they really understood, but I was looking at the calendar two and a half weeks ago and I said, 'Do you guys realize we only have four full practices until tournaments start?'"
The Cardinals have played eight games in the first 17 days of May and have encountered four of their seven losses on the season in that amount of time. Ryan and his players won't accept their limited practice time as a valid excuse for their inconsistent play, however. Rather, they turn to the Cardinals' lacking ability to play under pressure.
"We've had some close games that we just haven't capitalized on," senior pitcher and infielder Matthew Langer explained. "I don't know. I think at times people — myself included — get too down on ourselves. We're too worried about what just happened if we struck out, but we need to not worry about that and have confidence in our team and have fun."
Ryan agrees and acknowledges the necessary pressure he puts on his players.
"I think there are kids who put a lot of pressure on themselves," Ryan said. "I certainly put a lot of pressure on them in practice and I'm tough on them, but we have to be able to perform and we want them to perform in pressure situations."
The added pressure came through on Thursday night when the Cardinals came out flat against the Osceola Chieftains who took a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Prescott went hitless until the third inning when senior Hunter Daymond hit a triple to Osceola's center fielder and brought in three runs to give his team its first lead of the night.
"More kids were trying to hit their pitch, had more focus in the batter's box and knew what they wanted to do before they went up there," Daymond said, referring to the final five innings of the game.
Daymond was responsible for two of the Cardinals' three hits on the night while Christian Timmins added a line drive single in the bottom of the fifth, and although the Cardinals' hitting did not gain consistency as the night progressed, they did manage to "capitalize" on their opportunities.
Up 4-3 after the top of the fourth, the Cardinals added three runs before the inning was over by taking advantage of Osceola's struggling defense and pitcher Logan Maxon's inability to find the strike zone. The Chieftains recorded three errors in the bottom of the fourth and walked in a run to set the final score at 7-3.
Osceola's three-player pitching staff walked seven batters and struck out four while Langer and reliever Austin Fox combined for one walk and six strikeouts.
"Every game (our pitchers) have put us in position to win, but our defense and offense have let us down," Ryan said. "I can't say enough about the job that (pitching coach) Brad Matzek does and what our pitchers do to keep us in every game. If you've got good pitching, you've always got a chance.
"We've just got to get through some of the struggles at the plate, and we've got to play better defense."
The Cardinals played a flawless defensive game until the top of the seventh when Osceola's Matt Schultz reached on an error at shortstop, but the Cardinals were able to seal their four-run lead with a premiere pick-off at first base that sparked applause from Ryan and his players.
"We have to play every game like it's our last, and I think we did that tonight," Langer said. "Hopefully that just kick started us and we'll be able to get a streak going."
Langer also acknowledged his team's inconsistency at the plate and gave a solution.
"We all want to go 4-for-4, but I think the biggest thing is just hitting the ball hard," Langer said. "I think a lot of us have problems with lunging for the ball and popping up, but we just need to figure something out at the plate, whether it's just more confidence or whatever."
Ryan realizes adding confidence to high school baseball is no easy task.
"You have to find the balance between high school sports: you have to be intense and find how to relax at the same time," Ryan said. "That's not easy to do, especially when you're playing in a tournament series where it's one and done."
The No. 3-seeded Cardinals will begin their Division 3 playoff run on Thursday, May 23, with a home game against the No. 6-seeded Colfax Vikings. Practice time may be restricted before the postseason, but the Cardinals' reminders of their potential will be aplenty.
"It's been a frustrating two weeks, and I know there are some players who are trying so hard," Ryan said. "No kid tries to strike out, no kid tries to make an error. And that's frustrating for the kids. We as coaches just have to remember that they're kids and not get caught up in the emotions.
"We know what they're capable of doing, as do they."
This article will be updated once Prescott's Friday night results against St. Croix Falls are submitted.