Power hitting Tigers
Tigers have hit 22 more homers than last year
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
If Hartselle Utilities ever runs low on electricity, they should call Hartselle High baseball coach William Booth. His Tigers' batting order appears to have plenty of power to spare.
After connecting for only six home runs during the 2004 regular season, the Tigers have smashed 28 homers so far this year with six games remaining before the playoffs.
The home runs have fueled the Hartselle offense to 372 runs scored in their first 45 games, an average of 8.3 runs per contest.
The increased offense has taken pressure off the team's hurlers according to pitching coach Jerry Childers.
"Last year the pitchers felt they had to make every pitch perfect," Childers said. "We had to manufacture runs on offense and our pitchers felt the pressure. This year the pitchers know we get the runs back if they make a mistake. All the home runs are helping our pitchers relax and pitch better."
Tiger catcher Chris Wiley sees the same effect from his perspective behind the plate.
"All the homers take pressure off the staff," Wiley said. "It's a lot easier to pitch when you're ahead."
Wiley, who is second on the club with six home runs, has a theory why the ball is flying out of the park more frequently this season.
"We've got a lot of talented players," Wiley said. "The type of pitch doesn't seem to matter. We've hit fastballs, curveballs and change-ups for home runs this year."
Besides Wiley, nine other Tigers have homered this season, Justin Hargett leads the club with seven, Jordan Parker has four, Seth Watson has three, Joe McClanahan and Michael Scott have two each. Daxton Maze, Keith McCaghren, TJ Long and Kris Berry have one each.
Watson, who has already surpassed his total of two home runs from last season, credits Tiger coach Chris Heaps for the team's improvement at hitting the long ball.
"Coach Heaps has emphasized letting the ball travel further and taking a longer look at it before we swing," Watson said. "He has also told us not to guess at what pitch is coming. I think we had a lot of guys trying to guess at pitches last year."
Watson feels this year's team is more serious about working on hitting than last season's squad. Watson, who played third base last season when not pitching, said being used as a designated hitter allows him more time to work on his swing.
Parker feels part of the credit for the increase in homers has to go to the Hartselle coaching staff. He said the Tiger coaches do such a good job scouting the upcoming opponent that the players know exactly what pitches to swing at and which ones to lay off of.
"Our coaches do a great job of scouting. If a team throws a first pitch to get ahead in the count the coaches will let us know it before we hit," Parker said. "When we played Cullman last week, they told me the pitcher would throw the first pitch high and outside to see if I would chase it. Every at bat against them they started me with the same pitch each time."
Parker also credits three Tiger seniors for helping the rest of the team stay focused on what's important even when it's not game day. He feels the increased focus has translated into more production at the plate.
"Seth Watson, Chris Wiley and Ja'Cote Ward see to it that everyone is doing what they're supposed to be doing at batting practice," Parker said. "They tell us what we should be doing even when the coaches aren't around and watching us. I know that we wouldn't be doing as well at the plate without senior leaders like them."
Scott thinks the focus of this year's team is the key to the increase in power and runs scored.
"I think we're concentrating more on our hitting this year," Scott said. "We concentrate on each and every at-bat. We're all just trying to help the team. We know each at bat could be a home run that helps the team."
Watson doesn't feel the Tigers will stop hitting homers anytime soon.
"They way we're hitting homers lately, just gives you so much confidence at the plate," Watson said. "Right now, we can't wait to get in the batter's box and hit."
Wiley thinks the power will help the Tigers as they pursue a seventh state championship.
"We started off a little slow this season hitting homers," Wiley said. "But we've been very consistent the last few weeks hitting them. That's a real good sign with the playoffs starting next week."