April 23, 2009
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
HAMILTON -- Isaac Winders has given up basketball, at least for the next month.
A sprained left ankle the Hamilton High School shortstop recently suffered playing basketball in gym class has slowed him, but you wouldn''t have been able to tell Saturday.
Winders came off the bench and delivered a game-clinching RBI single that helped Hamilton secure a 12-2 mercy rule victory against O''Bannon in its Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A first-round playoff series.
"I feel about 90 percent now, but I am pretty sure I will be ready (for East Union)," Winders said.
The victory helped push Hamilton (19-5) into the second round, where it will play host to East Union at 6 tonight in game one of its best-of-three series.
Winders'' hit Saturday was the latest contribution he has made to the Lions'' run. In addition to the strong pitching of Chase Reeves and Dylan Earnest, senior catcher Cody Crouch, a transfer from Tennessee, has played an integral role in Hamilton''s success.
Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest said Winders and Crouch have been offensive and defensive stalwarts and leaders on and off the field this season.
Winders'' twisted ankle forced him to miss his first practices and his first game action in his high school career. He has started at shortstop since his freshman season and has emerged as an anchor on defense and at the plate.
"He is about as good a shortstop as there is around," coach Earnest said. "He makes some plays you don''t think he is going to make. He has good feet, good hands, and a good arm for his size. He has some pop in his bat."
His .444 batting average leads the team. In 22 games he is second in hits (28) to Kevin McCartney (29). He is tied with McCartney for the team lead in stolen bases (14), even though he said he isn''t nearly as fast as McCartney.
Winders also leads the team with a .455 average when he hits with runners in scoring position, is second on the team in on-base percentage (.545) to Reeves (.583), and fourth on the team in RBIs (13). He has struck out seven times in 63 at-bats.
"Coach Earnest is big on not striking out and shortening up and putting the ball in play," Winders said. "In my stats it shows I am better with two strikes because I just spread out and hit the ball."
Winders said he benefits from hitting behind leadoff hitter McCartney, whose speed means pitchers will throw him a lot of fastballs to try to keep McCartney from stealing.
Earnest said Crouch knew several of the Lions from playing on the travel ball circuit. He said Crouch has fit right in with the team and has helped solidify the Lions'' battery.
"He knows the game and loves the game," Earnest said. "He puts the ball in play hitting. He has a good eye for the ball."
Crouch is hitting .317 with 16 RBIs. He said his statistics and the number of times he has struck out this season (eight in 63 at-bats) could be better. He said he has high expectations of himself and that there is plenty of time left in the season for him to improve those numbers.
Crouch is 1-2 with a 6.66 ERA in 13 2/3 innings. He feels his defense has been his biggest contribution to the team.
"I am here to play baseball just like everybody else," Crouch said. "I like winning, and you have to have a leader if you''re going to win. I don''t have to step in very much, but when the time is right I can step in."
Crouch said Hamilton will have to have fun if it wants to keep its season alive. He said someone spoke to the team earlier this week and told the players they concentrate a maximum of three seconds from the pitch to the time of the swing. That amounts to about five minutes of concentration, depending on the length of the game, and the rest of the time should be spent having fun.
Crouch said that talk has stuck with the Lions.
"We are starting to have more fun out here and are starting to crank it up a little bit, just in time for playoffs," Crouch said. "We''re going to have to hit a little better and cut down on our strikeouts."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.