A year ago the London High School baseball team went through a series of growing pains.
A young and inexperienced Red Raiders squad struggled through an entire season of ups and downs. Fast forward to this season, many of those players return and coach Jason Barber is hoping the results are more in line with a team that now has a roster filled with varsity veterans.
“I am cautiously optimistic about the spring,” Barber said. “We have a lot of guys back with a lot of varsity experience and I hope that the experience will translate into better decisions on the field. We have better identified our strengths and weaknesses based on last year’s performance, and we will be focusing on the strengths as our way to win games, possibly surprising some people in the process.”
The Raiders were a woeful 4-19 (1-13 in MSL Ohio) last season but with all but two of the players back for another go around things are looking up for London.
“The amount of experience that we have is great,” the coach said. “We only lost two seniors from last year and a lot of the guys are hoping to make this year better. They saw what happened and how things could have been corrected, and they want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. We have refocused our efforts on fundamentals and I think that kids realize that if we can’t do the fundamentals correctly, we won’t have a chance to do more.”
The Raiders will be relying heavily on seniors Garrett King (P/IF/OF) and Bryce Swartz (OF/P) to lead the way, along with Drew Hoffman (OF).
“Obviously Garrett King and Bryce Swartz playing varsity since their sophomore year will be huge,” the coach said. “They know the system and my expectations and they want to win so as to create a better program for the kids coming up. They will both be quiet leaders that are very respected.
“In addition, Drew Hoffman will be a major asset as he was was both all-league and all-district honors. Swartz will be starting in center and pitching, King will be pitching with some third base and possibly some outfield and Hoffman will be starting in left field.”
London will once again be competing in the ultra-competitive Mid-State League Ohio Division. With the likes of Columbus Academy, Grandview and West Jefferson the league figures will be as tough as it’s ever been.
“The league is always good and the kids know that,” Barber said. “Obviously we would love to go from worst to first in a year’s time, but we have to be patient and just take each game at a time. We can’t win the league in one game, but we can win that game. And when we win that one, we will move on to the next. I am hoping to surprise some people this year.”
The coach said he’s seen some drastic improvements in some key areas thus far this spring and is encouraged by what that will mean in the long run. But acknowledges his team has areas that it needs to improve, including between the ears and how his players approach the game.
“I would say that our defense is definitely better than last year,” he said. “We hope to eliminate many of the runs that we gave up from simply not getting it done on defense. We still need to be tougher mentally though. Sometimes we settle for mediocrity and that drives me crazy. I want the guys to have the mindset wanting to win every game and not being OK with anything less than our best.
“We can’t just go from worst to first, but I expect to be much improved from last year. I don’t know if I can put a win total on the season, but I will say that we will be better. John Wooden once said, “Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.” Getting the guys to buy into that and realize that we greatly under performed last year is a big deal, and we are beginning to understand what we can accomplish.”
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.