Ups and downs: Patriots gearing up for stretch run

Published 6:19 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots didn’t have to face very much adversity a season ago when they won their first state championship since 2012. This season with new faces sprinkled around the diamond, the Patriots are still looking to find their rhythm despite a 17-7 record.

The Patriots started the season a perfect 10-0. Since then they have gone 7-7.

“We started off really strong. We ran into a couple of bumps in the road here in the last eight or nine games, but the sign of really good teams is how they handle adversity,” said head coach Allen Ponder. “I don’t think we handled it very well at first, but I think we are getting better at that.”

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Ponder believed his team had some momentum carry over from last year’s championship team. Now with the end of the season in sight, the Patriots are looking to recreate some magic.

“It’s very easy when you are winning ball games,” Ponder said. “It’s easy for your guys to have confidence and play well. You find out truly what kind of team you have when you face a little adversity. I believe our character is getting stronger.

“In the first 10 games, we didn’t face any adversity, that was easy for us. Now, things have gotten more difficult and we have started to do a little better at answering the bell.”

The team entered the 2019 with some new faces. Wood and Reed Jinright, along with Hunter Renfroe and Cason Murphree are no longer on the team, and the Patriots have had to replace the production lost with new players in new places around the diamond.

“We have some new faces and we have some guys stepping into new positions,” Ponder said. “Last year’s team had a lot of team chemistry, but they also had a lot of guys who have been playing the same position and with each other for a couple of years. These guys have had to get used to playing with each other. Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses takes time. It’s frustrating to lose games because of it, but at the same time, as long as we come together to build the chemistry, then it makes the losses have some positives.”

The Patriots entered the season with a lot of confidence in their pitching staff. Coming down the stretch, Ponder and the coaching staff still believes their pitchers are a strength on the team.

“We haven’t done a great job at pounding the zone this year, but in the last couple games we have done a much better job,” Ponder said. “We are starting to get into the mindset of not trying to strike guys out, but pitch to contact and trust the guys behind you. As long as the guys have that mindset, it’s going to allow us to go deeper in the games.”

The Patriots are looking to put all the pieces together at the plate. Like in other aspects of the game, they are still looking for confidence at the plate.

“It’s another issue of us getting confidence in each other,” Ponder said. “I think we have pressed a lot this year when we got in the batter’s box. I think when we have been behind, we have gotten in the batter’s box pressing. Once our kids start to relax and hit like they can hit, it’s all going to come together.”

The Patriots have started area play 2-1 this season. They have defeated Northside Methodist twice, but fell to Macon East. The Patriots will have one more game against Northside before traveling to play Macon East in a double-header on April 9.

“That will be a big one for us because that will kind of tell the tale of who will win the area,” Ponder said. “We want to be clicking on all cylinders when we get there. Our kids are working hard in that direction and are looking forward the next couple of weeks.”