During a highly productive summer for members of the Cortez Freedom Cats baseball team, manager Tim Passell has preached the importance of mental side of the game to his players.
Fine points of base running, pitch selection and defensive positioning have been emphasized, and during the Freedom Cats’ 7-5 victory over the Shiprock Angels on Aug. 18, the team’s attention to detail paid off.
“We’ve been kind of harping on getting the lead runner (out) when we’re on defense,” Passell said. “When we’re hitting, we want to make sure that even before we get in the on-deck circle, we know how the pitcher has been working our batters.”
Among the moments that illustrated team’s focus on defense came in the third inning when freshman third baseman Mile Frost fielded a grounder behind third base, looked a runner back to third, and threw across the diamond to record the second out of the inning.
“After I fielded the ball, I looked over (toward third base), and the runner went back, so I threw it over to first,” Frost said. “I wanted to be sure that we got the lead runner if we could.”
The Freedom Cats’ focus at the plate was evident three innings later when senior Korie Likes stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded and waited patiently until he saw a belt high fastball that he lined into center field to score two runs and give his team a 7-5 lead.
“I want our hitters to be selective,” Passell said. “One of the things that I preach is that when we are ahead in the count, we only swing at our pitch.”
While the Freedom Cats were mentally locked in throughout much of the contest, a few lapses did occur, including one that came immediately when Likes tried to stretch his sixth inning single into a double and ran into a costly out at second base.
Rather than harping on the mistake however, Passell and his staff turned Likes’ gaffe into an opportunity by pulling players together later to discuss the importance of being aware of the number of outs and the score when base running.
“When Korie tried to take the bag at second, there was no need for that,” Passell said. “We had Dylan (Kibel) and Braden (Hallman) coming up, two big hitters, and so we had two more runs to get right there. It’s always a learning opportunity, and that’s why we’re keeping them rolling and keeping them playing.”
In addition to speaking about his team’s teachable moments, Passell praised his players for their resiliency during a game that did not appear to be winnable after the Freedom Cats fell behind 3-0 after the third inning and trailed 5-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth.
Run-scoring hits from Ty Blackmer, Dylan Kibel and Likes during the late innings allowed the Freedom Cats to mount a comeback, as did 3.1 innings of stellar pithing by Blackmer, who allowed just one hit and did not allow an earned run.
Hidden in the box score was a solid performance by starting pitcher Trinidad McDonell, who looked good during the early innings and did a nifty job of hitting in the second inning when he smashed an 0-2 pitch out of the infield for a single.
“I knew that he wasn’t going to throw a curveball,” he said. “I just sat back and got a fastball. On the mound, I felt strong, but I wasn’t finishing my pitches at the end, and I lost some control.”ß∑
In spite of his control issues however, McDonnell appeared to take a step forward in his development into an ace pitcher, which, at this point in the summer, is of chief concern to Passell and his coaching staff.
“I told my guys, ‘we’re going to put you in pressure situations now, so when there is pressure during the season, we’re ready for it and it doesn’t affect us,’” Passell said.