The mood around the Cayuga baseball team is a little different this season.
Last year, the Wildcats entered the season in the state’s top-10 and remained there throughout, but found themselves out of the playoffs before the regional semifinals thanks to Overton.
This year, the Wildcats entered the season unranked and, despite now boasting a No. 4 ranking, the air around the squad has been different all season.
A lot of that, CHS coach Greg Branch says, can be attributed to who’s now leading the club: Seniors Jimmy Johnson, Jake Nash and Bo Sharp.
“This has been the biggest senior leadership I’ve had since I’ve been here, and it’s led by those three,” Branch said. “They just go the extra mile, whether it’s lifting weights, conditioning, taking extra practice or going out and working on the field. They go out the extra mile.”
The trio constitutes Cayuga’s “Big Three” of sorts.
All three hit in the top-four of the Wildcat lineup, and all three are hitting over .585 right now.
Combined, the trio have knocked in 118 runs, collected 107 hits and accounted for 15 home runs.
The Wildcats appear to be staring a rematch with Overton in the face come regional quarterfinal time, but first they must get past their first playoff opponent: Simms-Bowie.
Cayuga swept Simms-Bowie last year in the area round, and Game 1 is set for 7 p.m. Friday in Tatum.
“We flew under the radar at first (this season) and the team this year, we play a lot better together,” said Sharp, who leads the team with 45 RBI and eight home runs. “We don’t have any egos, we all get along, we hang out on the weekends together.”
Having a trio of big-hitting players has distinct advantages, especially for the players in the trio themselves.
All three said they feel a lot less pressure at the plate knowing that the others are there willing and able to pick up the slack.
“I’ve been playing with these guys since I was a little kid, they’re my best friends so I know they’ve got my back,” said Nash, who has a team-best .603 batting average. “They always push me to be better.”
Both Johnson and Nash — who’ll continue to be teammates next season at Vernon College — are adjusting to different roles this year, Nash defensively and Johnson offensively.
Early in the season, Branch asked Nash to move to catcher and the senior as shined at the position ever since.
Johnson moved from the middle of order to the lead-off spot, and has responded with a .592 average, six home runs and 38 RBI.
“I’m batting in the leadoff spot this year, so I know that if I go up and don’t get on base, I’ve got these guys behind me and they’re going to execute and do they’re thing,” Johnson said.
Johnson, Nash and Sharp all acknowledged there roles on the team, and said they’ve seen the difference since they became the squads leaders.
They said they know that the younger players look to them as the team’s elder-statesmen, and they relish the opportunity.
“Nobody really looked up to (last year’s seniors),” Sharp said. “Everybody this year kind of looks up to us more and we get things going. Last year, it was just go out and see how many home runs you can hit, (or) who has the highest batting average.”
Added Johnson, “They know that we’re serious about it but we also joke and have a good time. I feel like they can be relaxed around us.”
Branch said he’s seen it to, seen the team loosen up and get back to playing baseball.
And it all starts at the top, with those three.
“Those three guys are the ones that set the tone for the entire year,” he said. “All the young kids look up to them and as they go the team goes.
“They’re always up and they’re always spirited. They’re leaders of this entire team, and they’re also leaders at this school.”
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com
The mood around the Cayuga baseball team is a little different this season.
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