Cougars making long strides as postseason action nears
SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – A youth movement has taken hold of the Jefferson baseball program, as the Cougars have jumped out to a strong start and look the part as regional contenders as the postseason draws near.
With only two seniors, including one regular starter in catcher Garrett Everton, Jefferson is building a foundation for years to come and nowhere is that more evident than on the pitcher’s mound.
Freshmen pitchers Austin Bulman, Dylan Carroll and Austin Cross have established themselves thus far this season as regular go-to contributors. And with veterans Andrew King and Bradley Davis returning to the mound after early season arm issues, joining No. 1 starter and junior Andy Disque, the Cougars should have plenty of options as they open the sectional tournament May 12 as the top seed over rivals Washington and Musselman.
“As the old adage goes, you can never have too much pitching,” said Jefferson head coach John Lowery, who is in his 42nd year atop the Cougars’ program.
Disque improved to 5-1 on the season on Monday as Jefferson defeated conference rival Martinsburg, 14-2, on the road. The Cougars are 17-3 and ranked No. 3 in the state in Class AAA in the most recent sports writers’ poll.
Jefferson has a pitching staff featuring a collective 1.85 earned run average and a team batting average of .354. The Cougars also have a collective on base percentage of .423 and an on base plus slugging percentage of .864.
King, a junior second baseman, leads the Cougars with a .435 batting average, while sophomore shortstop Paul Witt isn’t far behind at .422. Twelve players on the team are batting .300 or better.
“I think we’re playing pretty consistent right now,” Lowery said. “I know baseball’s a grind day in and day out. But if they want to be a championship team they have to be able to withstand that grind.”
A strong pitching rotation has made the grind easier to manage this year as the number of quality innings pitched by Jefferson hurlers continues to grow, mostly by underclassmen. As of last week, 95 of the 102 innings pitched by the Cougars’ staff were thrown by underclassmen, including a majority by the trio of freshmen.
As of Tuesday, Bulman, Carroll and Cross had a combined record of 10-1, allowing 12 earned runs through 55.1 innings pitched with 50 strikeouts and 27 walks. Carroll (4-1, 23 IP) and Bulman (4-0, 20 IP) have handled the bulk of that workload, while Cross (2-0, 12.1 IP) has made three starts.
“They’ve been a little inconsistent at times, but they’ve been doing really well,” said pitching coach Ken Cross. “We’re 10-1 with the freshmen.”
On Saturday, sophomore Bradley Davis, a lefthander who won five games last year as a freshman, returned to the mound for his 2014 debut after experiencing elbow trouble earlier this spring. Davis pitched four scoreless innings against Pendleton County, striking out six and allowing two hits.
King pitched the final inning of that 8-3 victory, putting down the opposition in 1-2-3 fashion and signaling that the Cougars’ veteran pitchers are gearing up to see action as the playoffs draw near.
“Brad Davis and Andrew King going into the season we projected them to maybe be our top two guys, and we haven’t had either one of them to this point,” Lowery said. “I think the fact that we’re going to be able to get them back for the end of the season will be a plus. Their arms will be fresh.
“Two things that keep you in games are your defense and your pitching,” Lowery added. “We’ve been consistent in that. I think another thing that is kind of overlooked at times is the speed of some of our kids.”
Everton leads off a batting lineup that has appeared to have little difficulty manufacturing runs this season, as Jefferson averages nearly nine runs a game. The senior catcher leads the Cougars with 13 stolen bases and Jefferson has tallied 39 extra base hits, including 32 doubles and five triples.
But the Cougars also have a penchant for playing small-ball at times, bunting runners over a base and cashing in on mistakes by the opposition.
“We’re like any team,” Lowery said. “We have some performances we’re more satisfied with than others, but overall we seem to get ahead when we need to. We seem to make a defensive play when we need to. I think for a high school club we’ve exhibited a degree of consistency that we’re pleased with.”