April 30, 2010 11:07:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Routine equals success.
Whether it means taking hundreds of groundballs or swinging several hundred more times in the batting cage, baseball players use repetition to perfect their technique.
Philip Tice and Brent Younger grew up following those practices. In the field, Tice grew accustomed to the angles and throws he had to make from second base, while Younger learned how to range to both sides and how to play the variety of hops a shortstop sees every game.
But Tice and Younger learned change is just as big a part of athletics as routine.
Entering the 2010 season, first-year coach Lee Boyd moved Tice from second base to shortstop and Younger from shortstop to third base. He also tinkered with their positions in the lineup, ultimately settling on Tice in the leadoff spot and Younger in the No. 2 hole.
After some initial adjustments, Tice and Younger have settled into their roles and been driving forces behind New Hope''s success this season.
The Class 5A, Division 2, District 1 champion Trojans will kick off what they hope will be a title run at 7 tonight against Neshoba Central in game one of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association playoff series at Trojan Field.
Boyd thought moving his middle infielders would strengthen the team''s defense. The move has paid dividends, as Tice has grown to like playing shortstop, while Younger has made the transition from shortstop to "the hot corner" appear seamless.
"I didn''t like playing shortstop at all," Tice said. "But coach felt it would be the best for the team and me and Brent went along with it. We just tried our hardest where we were. I like it more than second base now. I feel it is my home."
The adjustment came a little slower at the plate. Tice, who paced the Trojans in numerous hitting categories last year en route to a second-team Class 4A All-State season, started in the middle of the order but was moved down early in the season. Boyd ultimately decided it would be best to move one of his top hitters to the leadoff position so he could help set the tone.
"It is not hard, but it is different looking back on last year and trying to repeat and have another good season," said Tice, who led the Trojans in batting average (.496), hits (59), total bases (71), RBIs (44), stolen bases (13), slugging percentage (.597), and on-base percentage (.556). "I just go with the flow."
Tice, who never had hit in the leadoff spot, has responded and is back among the team''s hitting leaders, while Younger has settled in nicely at No. 2, providing a steady presence who can move runners by sacrifice bunt or by hitting in the right situations.
"He is a line-drive hitter with good speed and puts the ball in play and has good speed," Boyd said. "I put him there in the 10th or the 11th game of the season and it has worked out wonderfully. He is hitting around .400 and his on-base percentage is even higher.
"Brent is a good contact hitter. He is hitting around .320 and I can ask to do a lot of things. He doesn''t strike out a lot, and I am very comfortable with him hitting in the No. 2 spot."
Younger hit at the top of the lineup for New Hope''s Dizzy Dean team but lower in the order in the 2009 high school season. He said hitting behind Tice in the order makes things a lot easier.
"I like hitting second because when Philip gets on I just try to move him over," Younger said. "I have Davis behind me to get him in every time."
Boyd said Tice and Younger help set up the rest of a lineup that features Davis Lee, Jake Smith, Gabe Franks, and Dusty Dyson in the key run-producing positions in the order.
In the field, Boyd admitted both players wanted to remain in the positions they had played nearly all of their lives. He said both players sacrificed individual comfort for the sake of the team, and their success has not been surprising. He said both players have good hands and pretty good arms.
"I just felt Philip would have a little more range at shortstop, and I just knew Brent would be an excellent third baseman because of his knowledge of the game," Boyd said. "Philip has stepped up and done a nice job at shortstop. I think he gets to some balls other guys wouldn''t get to and that he has adjusted to playing shortstop. It has been an adjustment for both of them, but both of them are extremely comfortable with where they are."
Younger also said he didn''t like the transition to a new position, but that he has grown to like playing third base more than shortstop. He said all of the changes have helped to make the team''s defense stronger.
"(Playing third base) is not that different from playing shortstop," Younger said. "You have to get used to the quick reactions and slow rollers. I like playing third base."
Boyd said he wouldn''t have considered making the moves without someone like Jared Shelton, who has stepped in at second base and teamed with Seth Stillman at first base to form a solid infield.
All of the transitions from last season to this season have helped the team come together in its quest for another state title. With so many older players, that mind-set of "doing whatever it takes to make the team better" has been crucial in helping the Trojans win another district title and setting the tone for future teams.
"I think it has had an effect with not only our older guys but also our younger guys ," Boyd said. "They see that this may not be where I want to play, but this is where it is going to make our team the strongest. I think it has had an effect on our squad."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.