|Pitching, defense keys for Cats'|
|Joseph Elerson | News-Telegram Sports Writer|
May 10, 2006 - Pitching and defense.
Those are the two main keys Sulphur Springs baseball coach Jerrod Hammack stressed about the area round series against the Justin Northwest Texans this weekend.
"I think any time you get into championship baseball, it ultimately comes down to pitching and defense, and we haven't played as good of defense as I would have liked throughout the course of the year," the coach said. "We certainly have made up for that in other areas this year, and we are a great offensive ball club."
The Wildcats (21-7) have outscored their opponents, 245-122, and have a combined 168 RBI with a team batting average of .354 (268-for-757) on the season. Josh Riley is leading the team with a .516 batting average and 37 RBI.
Hammack said after last year's playoff season in which the Wildcats were swept in the bi-district round by Mesquite Poteet, this year's team has a whole new mind-set.
" I just want to see how we react. Knowing that these guys got to play in the playoffs last year is great and it is nice to know that they have that one year of experience," he said.
"We are already on the basis of winning the district championship a round deeper than they went last year. I will look to see what I believe is correct that they are ready for the playoffs and not awed by it like they were last year."
Another area SSHS has struggled in the past two games has been with their defensive errors - as they have committed seven during that stretch of games with four coming in their loss to No. 10-ranked Kilgore.
"We always work defense first, and we aren't doing anything different because we are taking lots of ground balls and making lots of throws," Hammack said. "You may have to reemphasize to players that this is important and not making mistakes is big in key ball games."
The Wildcats hope to continue playing the style of baseball they have played all season long with quality at-bats and finding ways to manufacture runs when needed against an opponent.
"You can't give the other team anything in the playoffs and you have to play solid, fundamental baseball," he said. "The pitchers have got to throw strikes and be able to work ahead, and executing the offense with moving runners and getting key hits when you need them - I think those will be the keys."
The winner of this series will face the winner between Highland Park (25-5) and Dallas Hillcrest (16-12-1) in the regional quarterfinals and Hammack said the players better not look ahead to next week.
"Of course everybody knows Highland Park will probably be the next round opponent," he said. "You can not look ahead for sure and it is OK to think about it, but when it gets right down to it Justin Northwest is going to be really good."
After gaining more insight into the Texans' program, Hammack said the Wildcats would like to wrap the series up Friday night with Senior Prom happening Saturday night.
"I don't think they are going to be as good as Texas High, but they will be better than anyone else in our district," he said. "We have to take care of our business and these players would want to play the baseball game if a Game 3 was necessary. It would be nice to wrap this up in two games and not have to deal with Saturday."