COLUMBIA — At an ordinary Rock Bridge baseball practice, groups of players tend to stick together during drills. The pitchers run laps together, the fielders go through fielding scenarios, and coaches are huddled together analyzing what they see.
The pitchers, a posse of freshmen through seniors, eventually arrive sweating and smiling after their run.
“This year is a special group of guys,” pitcher Ryan Phillips said. “We’re all really good friends on and off the field.”
Coach Justin Towe said the pitchers were largely responsible for the Bruins' fourth-place finish at state last season.
Constant preparation — playing in offseason leagues, lifting in the weight room and running on the track — is a reason for the Bruins' pitching success, Phillips said. The camaraderie develops from the time put in together, he said.
“We’ve worked hard all year,” said Phillips, who will be starting against Hickman on Thursday. “And pitching sets the mood. It’s real important, so we take it pretty seriously.”
The Bruins’ starting pitchers are a collective 10-1. Phillips is 4-0, has let up only nine hits in 81 at bats and is yet to let up an earned run.
His breaking ball, as well as a recently acquired changeup, have helped him strikeout 27 batters in only 21 innings pitched, he said.
“If you’re talking about an ace, yeah, that would be Ryan,” Towe said.
The other three starters are also doing well. Travis Bittle is 3-0, John Miles is 2-0, and Sterling Odneal is 1-1. The only loss came on tough luck, Towe said.
“It was one of the best games down in Florida that was thrown,” Towe said. “But we couldn’t play defense behind him. He would’ve won that game.”
The Rock Bridge baseball team only lost a few players from its state semifinal run last season and have more depth and overall talent than last season, Towe said. But if you ask any one of the players, their goal isn’t another late playoff run for a state championship.
“The goal of course is a district championship,” Phillips said. “That’s the main goal that we always aim for.”
Even after an exceptional 11-1 start to the 2010 season, they still won’t reassess that goal.
“We’ve only won one district championship in 25 years, so for us to talk about making a playoff run again this year, that’d be pretty foolish of us,” Towe said.
But it is the pitching that will guide them to a district championship, Towe said. Because of a change from six to eight district teams last season, every team, even the top two seeds, had to play three games.
“Not everyone has that much pitching to play three games, and we did,” Towe said. “We are still able to throw really good pitchers every single game.”