After a long regular season and district tournament, Josh Winn’s team was about to enter into a higher level of competition in the state playoffs. So Winn moved his practices in a different direction.
The Montrose High School baseball coach found the period between winning the school’s first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 2 title and the beginning of the state’s Class AA tournament to be the ideal time to review the basics that sometimes get lost in the hectic pace of the season.
Winn, a first-year varsity head coach, had found the same approach beneficial during his days as a junior high coach, when his team had a similar layoff between the regular season and district playoffs.
With six days off this season, Winn gave his team one day of practice to celebrate what they had accomplished before returning to the basics for two days.
“We used those two days to work on fundamentals that we worked on back in the gym in March,” Winn said.
The team took that approach to each phase of the game, starting with hitting.
“They want to play baseball and accomplish goals, and if you create expectations to be great in your program the kids will do whatever you lead them to do.”
“We work on basic fundamentals of hitting — taking fastballs on the outside of the plate the other way, pulling off-speed pitches on to the pull side of the field,” Winn said, pointing out that it’s important to be fundamentally sound going into games in which tougher pitching is almost a certainty.
“Each fielding group had its own items to review, too. Just hitting cut-off men, squaring up groundballs, making quality throws to each base and then making sure they play,” Winn said. “We feel like that’s what has gotten us here.”
Before working on a game plan specific to an opponent, Winn found it beneficial to solidify the foundation the team took into the season. But at this stage of the season, the fundamentals drills can be combined with a little extra emphasis on other areas, such as situational play or individual weaknesses that couldn’t be fully addressed during the season.
“We work with our third basemen directly on bunting and hard, hard groundballs,” Winn said. “We play our third basemen up, so they are presented with the challenge of some really hard groundballs coming down the line.”
The middle infielders get different drills with one of the assistant coaches.
“He’ll spend his time working on transfers and our groundball technique, back-hand technique,” Winn said. “We’ll hit specific groundballs to them. Each player on our team may have a weakness, so we’ll force that weakness, hitting specific groundballs to them.”
For the first basemen, extra time is spent digging out low throws and short hops. The outfielders work on their drop steps and getting their bodies ready to throw after making a catch.
It all adds up to a final review before the most important test of the season.
“None of these things are new things,” Winn said. “But they are things that you start (running out of) time to work through every single day of the season. We’ve got two days to really soak them in again and re-emphasize them as a program.
“We’re hoping it pays off in the long run.”