No mistake about it, Mavs’ defense better

Wednesday, July 28, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:04 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

For the first half of the season, the Mavericks defense was offensive.

Now, it has sparked the Mavericks back to respectability.

Mid-Missouri enter tonight’s game having won of eight of 13, and it can attribute its improved play to the suddenly smooth infield defense.

With Blake Blase at first base, Dusty Hillman at second, Rafael Lara at shortstop and Chad Sterbens at third, the infield is finally finding some consistency.

“I think our defense has been getting better with every game,” manager Jim Gentile said. “In the beginning, we were shaky and made a lot of errors. I think now that’s coming down.”

Hillman has manned second since signing with the Mavericks on May 31. He started out shaky, committing five errors in his first seven games. Practice has paid off, though, for Hillman who has played errorless defense since the All-Star break.

“I just learn from Rafael a lot,” Hillman said. “He’s been around, he’s a great infielder and he’s helped me a lot in turning double plays.

“We get along real well out there. We work on different things just on our own, and it’s turned out real good for us.”

Lara, whom the Mavericks acquired in a trade with the Richmond Roosters on June 21, has helped solidify the Mavericks’ defense, playing sound, and often times spectacular, shortstop.

Gentile described Lara as outstanding, and his teammates have echoed their coach’s sentiments.

Brent Metheny, who spells Sterbens at third base, enjoys the defense.

“It’s fun for me as well,” Metheny said. “A couple games ago, they turned a double play where Dusty threw it behind his back. Players have never seen plays, too. I’ve never seen a second baseman throw the ball behind his back and turn two.”

Since a six-error game July 8, the Mavs have committed 20 errors in 15 games. In their first 39 games through May and June, Mid-Missouri racked up 88 miscues.

Mid-Missouri runs into pitfalls on occasion, which was evident in its four-error game July 21 it lost to Gateway 9-4. Games such as those are why Lara said there is a lot of room for improvement.

“I think we can get better on defense,” he said. “We still make a few errors in the game. We can play making no errors on defense, and hopefully we can keep playing that way again.”

After starting the season in left field, Blase is back playing first base, his primary position, and says repetitions have been the key for improvement.

“Every day you can get us playing together like that, players like to feed off each other,” he said. “We’re playing good, solid defense right now.”

“If a bad play happens, you know you got another guy picking you up, and that’s what you need to win games.”

According to Gentile, the Mavs are working on their defense “all the time.”

“We talk about cut-offs, where the man has to be … when I first got here, they weren’t in the right place, but now they’re learning,” Gentile said.

With the Mavericks’ pitching staff needing all the help it can get, pitching coach Doug White said the pitchers have been able to gain some confidence from the players behind them.

“The pitchers have to be able to trust that it’s not a rotating door, who’s backing them up every day, and now that they see that some guys make plays for them, now they’re trusting a little more. We’re walking half as many guys (now.)”

Mid-Missouri’s hopes for a playoff spot have been dashed for some time, but Gentile said the team is what the organization has wanted it to be, competitive.

“It’s coming together,” Gentile said. “That’s all I can say. They’re starting to feel like a team.”

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