Lakewood baseball counting on playing smart

Lakewood freshman Brayden Burbee practices pitching early in the season.   - Danielle Szulczewski
Lakewood freshman Brayden Burbee practices pitching early in the season.
— image credit: Danielle Szulczewski

LAKEWOOD — Despite graduating a lot of seniors off of a blockbuster Lakewood baseball team, the coaching staff hopes to keep last year’s momentum going into this season.

A lot of players played their last high school baseball on last year’s hard-hitting, high-scoring conference championship Lakewood team.

But returning an all-conference tandem at pitcher and catcher, Lakewood coach Larry Delaney hopes to move last year’s junior varsity and swing players into positions where they can have an impact early this season. Additionally, Delaney is hoping a different offensive strategy puts the pressure on other teams to perform and allows his boys to take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes.

Delaney has pitcher Jordan Stauffer and catcher Jesse Etchey back for their senior year from a team that lost only three regular season games before bowing out in the district tournament. But that team, with an incredibly hard-hitting lineup led by league MVP Josh Spears could 10-run almost anyone in the league. Delaney is counting on that same kind of play this year.

“Last year we managed to score an awful lot of runs. As coaches we were able to sit back and let the kids swing the bats. We set a lot of school records, hits and runs,” he said. “This year, we’re going to have to go to small ball a little more and work at producing runs a little more. More bunting, more running, more hit and run.”

Instead of swinging for the fences every time, Lakewood baseball plans to depend on getting base hits and playing more strategically. The coach said he prefers the style of baseball.

“I think at the high school level it puts pressure on the defense. And when you put pressure on defense, high school teams are going to make mistakes,” he added.

Stauffer, who may also spend some time at second base this year, will be joined by Scott Harnden in the bullpen as the team’s two go-to pitchers. Delaney is looking for a third, with an eye on several players who could make an impact at that position — Etchey, Trent Melhart, Justin Virdell and Andrew Campbell.

The team will shy away from the committee-style pitching approach the team used early last season, going just two or three innings at a time. But until the pitching picture clears, any one of the team’s relievers could come in for two or three innings to supplement Stauffer and Harnden’s efforts.

In the meantime, guys like Campbell will help out in other places around the field. The senior, who played defensive end during the football season, will hold down first base for the Cougars. Cory Moore will likely play third base, and junior Michael Leach, who batted designated hitter last year, will probably have a place in the Cougar infield as well.

The outfield is still forming, but out-of-state transfer Shay Dearing will probably play center field and will likely bat early in the order for Lakewood.

Two of the team’s bigger rivals from last year, Cedarcrest and Archbishop Murphy, return a lot of players and most of the league will be more varsity-tested than this Lakewood squad. But for all the team’s talent last year, they missed state. That’s something the team hopes to change this year, Delaney said.

“Regardless of where we finish in conference play, we want to make sure we get one of the spots into the district tournament. And then our goal is to make it into the state tournament. We’ve had a three-year drought and we’d like to get back there,” the coach said. “If we can get into and play a small ball-style well, that can be a successful style of play.”

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