Pike Liberal’s bats warming up as playoffs creep closer

Published 10:25 pm Monday, April 7, 2014

Baseball is a fickle game. Ball players can look like world-beaters one day, and then can’t get out of their own way the next.

The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots have done that in reverse order in the 2014 season. Pike began the season baffled at the plate, and searching for base knocks proved to be a long and adventurous process. However, things have begun to swing back in the way of the Patriots as the AISA playoffs loom just two weeks away.

Four of Pike’s starting nine, Chandler Avant, Rush Hixon, Brian Adams and Myles Loving, are batting over .300 on the season. A handful of other batters, including Drew Starling and Murphy Renfroe are nearing the mark.

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Pike Liberal head coach Butch Austin feels the increase in average is based on a couple of different factors.

“I don’t like to make excuses, but we saw a lot of really good pitching early in the season,” said Austin. “We have also worked a lot on our hitting, and it shows. We have come out at practice a couple of times, like Saturday, and done nothing but hitting. We have worked on it a lot because we know that to beat good pitching, you have to have great hitting. Good pitching beats good hitting, but great hitting can keep you in the ball game.”

While Austin likes his players to be able to swing a hot stick, he sees he doesn’t pay attention to batting average.

Austin is old-school. He doesn’t like to read stat lines, but does pay attention to one big one before putting together a batting order.

“I’m not big on stats, but we do like to on-base percentage,” said Austin. “To me that is the most telling stat in the game. If you are on base, then you are helping the team score runs. When I make a lineup, we do it based on on-base percentage.”

The players with the top averages on the team, Avant, Hixon, Adams and Loving, also sit at the top of the Patriot line up.

Avant, Pike’s leadoff man, is batting .488 with an on base percentage of .583.

Hixon, the Pats’ two-hole hitter, currently sits at .387 with an OBP of .437.

“Chandler gets on base a lot,” said Austin. “He can hit and he walks some, so that is why we want him to lead off for us. Rush is great person to have in the two spot, because he can do it all. Rush can bunt to move guys over and he can hit to drive in runs if we need him to. I am proud of both of those boys.”

The duo of Avant and Hixon set the table well for the power hitters of Adams and Loving and Starling.

The free-swinging trio has accounted for 51 RBIs during the season.

“We want our guys to get on, so we can drive them in and get runs,” said Austin. “Everyone wants to do that, and we have been able to do it. We want to be playing our best baseball when the playoffs get here, and right now our bats are as good as ever.”

The Patriots host Evangel Christian on Tuesday in area double-header.

First pitch is set for 3:30 P.m. at Butch Austin Field in Troy.