Entering the season, the varsity baseball team had high expectations. As the final month of baseball approaches, the team is poised to make a postseason run.
“The kids who have come before have set a bar that is pretty high,” said head coach Russell Wrenn.
Since last year’s state semifinal run, the team lost three players who are now playing Division I baseball: Duke University pitcher Hunter Davis, Notre Dame University utility man Connor Stutts, and Washington University catcher Nick East.
The pitching staff took the largest hit with their loss of “ace” Davis.
“Our pitching staff was going to be a little slim,” said senior LSU commit Rankin Woley, “but I knew we could really swing the bats.”
The middle of the lineup, anchored by senior University of Missouri commit Armaan Painter, Woley, senior Duke commit Will Benson, and sophomore Ryan Miller, has been important in their 19-5 start.
At this point in the season, the players and coaches are satisfied with the results.
“We are playing quality opponents and taking care of business everyday,” said senior Shota Yasuda.
In the past couple of weeks, the Cats have played perennial powerhouses Lovett and Buford and nationally ranked Pope High School, as well as Westside in Augusta.
Pope, with their projected top-15 MLB draft pick, Josh Lowe, visited Harry Lloyd Stadium on April 15. Lowe started the game at pitcher against starter senior Blake Huber. Also scouts representing what seemed to be every MLB team and baseball website appeared at the game.
“[The scouts] are just going to see that I’m having fun and playing the game,” said Benson. “It’s a blessing to have them out there in the first place.”
Benson, a projected first round draft pick who could forgo Duke for the MLB, got the better of Lowe by getting walked in the first inning. The scouts, who were standing along the third base line with their stopwatches or behind home plate with radar guns at every game, saw clutch hitting from Benson in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Benson blasted a ball that hit the top of the lofty right field fence, keeping the ball from landing in Nancy Creek. Though Benson’s shot seemed to be a walk-off homerun, the result was only a single. Benson advanced to third on a stolen base. A pitch hit in by a timely walk-off single from senior Washington and Lee University commit Kenneth Hartzfeld knocked off Pope, the AAAAAA state championship hopeful.
This game came in the midst of the 4-AAA region scramble that will decide seeding for the state playoffs. Right now, the top three seeds from region four are expected to be Blessed Trinity, Westminster, and Decatur. The Cats will be looking for revenge of their 15-1 loss to Blessed Trinity from earlier in the season.
During spring break, the players and coaches traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, to bond and play three games against Florida teams.
“We managed to sweep down there,” said Woley, ”[It’s] a good confidence builder.”
With wins against Fernadina Beach, Bolles, the high school Chipper Jones attended, and University Christian, the team came away with more confidence and a sense of team unity.
“We played some really good teams,” said Benson, “but [we] didn’t let the big names get to us.”
Back in Atlanta, many of the region games have ended in mercy-rule, when a team goes up by 15 runs after three innings or 10 after five innings.
“We take pride in [getting] in and out,” said Benson. “We make sure that is perfect.”
Focusing on the smaller things like plate discipline and throwing around the horn after a strike out prepare the players for better teams.
“We still want to minimize freebies and not care about who we are playing,” said Yasuda.
This is Wrenn’s fifth and final season at Westminster. Next season, he will be going back home to Baltimore, Maryland, to coach at his alma mater, Gilman School. With 11 seniors on this year’s team, Wrenn has seen players like Woley and Benson grow up and re-write the record books.
“We’ve got a couple four year contributors finishing up what are unprecedented careers,” said Wrenn.
Woley, who has worked with Wrenn in both football and baseball, will remember him fondly.
“I’ll just miss his side comments and jabs at people in practice and games,” said Woley.
These seniors and coaches, entering their final games at Westminster, will be getting the most out of the favorite traditions, from taking batting practice in the same way to spitting in unison during the national anthem.
“I love the postgame locker room shenanigans,” said Woley.
After a win, the players listen to Satisfaction and dance around to celebrate.
But their true satisfaction will come if the team wins the state championship, to cap a great season and send the seniors and Wrenn a final farewell.