Some sticks in the mud have been heard to complain that baseball is too slow, that “nothing happens,” and these frenetic, tech-driven cats generally prefer the point-a-minute pace of basketball, for example.
But the truth is, baseball men know that a well-timed base on balls, or walk, is sometimes the key to getting the intermittent action stirring. Take Edinburg North for example. The Cougars are in the playoffs for the seventh time since 2000, with a senior-laden ball club that can hit (.355) as a team, run (over 95 percent success rate in steals) and pitch (Rick Fuerte and J.D. Escobar have combined for 16 wins.
The secret ingredient, however, has been patience at the plate, as after Tuesday’s blowout home win over Harlingen South, the Coogs have drawn more walks than they have strikeouts, a rare feat for a team on any level.
They coaxed eight free passes from three South pitchers and thus only needed eight base hits to post 15 runs on the scoreboard in a 15-2 that brought the District 31-5A record to 9-3, good for a tie for second with EHS.
Catcher Erick Casillas, who has snapped out of a midseason slump with a vengeance, had three hits in three at-bats Tuesday, and he says that waiting for the right pitch is something the North coaches stress.
“They always tell us to know what pitch you are looking for, and to let the ones go you aren’t ready to hit,” said the senior backstop, who drove in four runs as the Coogs slammed three five-spots on the books, in the first, second and fourth innings. “We are taught to be good two-strike hitters and to hit the ball to the opposite field if we have to.”
Coach Nick Cantu noted that getting a walk can led to a big rally.
“We want our guys to work their way into a hitter’s count, by taking some pitches,” he said. “And we want them to be ready to hit with two strikes. We’ve been good at doing that this year.”
Junior third baseman Noel Cruz has walked 17 times and fanned just six times, and he carries a .355 average. Tuesday, he also showed the two-strike prowess the coaches are looking for, singling for an RBI, his 17th, on a 2-2 count in the first.
North led 5-0 after the first with Raymond Corkill bunting for a hit and the Coogs taking advantage of a pair of infield errors from the Hawks (7-5). In the second, Josh Carranza (21 walks, 10 Ks) and Andrew Arteaga drew bases on balls while Chris Cavazos and Escobar contributed doubles leading to an insurmountable 10-0 advantage after two.
When the Cougars again erupted for five runs two frames down the road, five walks led the charge. North managed five runs with just one base hit in the inning, illustrating that patience at the plate can be more effective than indiscriminate hacking at the dish.
Now the big muster comes Friday against rival EHS. That game will determine second place in the district, and if North continues to have positive, thoughtful approaches at the plate, it stands a good chance of duplicating its two wins scored against the Bobcats earlier in the season.
NOTES: EHS comes into the big game with a three-game win streak, having outscored three foes 30-1, while the Coogs have won four straight by a 41-5 count. The Bobcats have allowed two or fewer runs in seven of 14 league games, and North rebounded from a 2-2 start to win eight of nine.