The Ada Cougars have dug themselves into and out of so many holes this spring that they might be more comfortable carrying shovels to the plate instead of bats. And coach Ronny John said dodging the sustained rallies by the opposition that have been his team’s downfall in many of its 17 losses should be the key to the Cougars’ playoff future.
“The thing we’ve got to do a better job of is prevening the big inning,” Johns said after Tuesday’s practice. “Whether it’s early or late, we’ve given up a lot of big innings.
“If we can stay away from the big inning, I feel like we’ll be in pretty good shape,” he added. “We’ve battled back from being down some runs, and we’ve also been ahead and given away leads.”
Thursday’s 9-7 victory over Lone Grove was typical of Ada’s season so far. The Cougars fell behind 5-0 after two innings before rallying for the victory; unfortunately, that scenario has been reversed in a high percentage of their losses. Johns — whose squad will face Madill at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the opener of a Class 4A District Tournament at Cougar Field — said critical breakdowns in pitching and/or defense have been the big reason his team hasn’t reversed its 13-17 record heading into the postseason.
“I think we’re swinging the bat better of late,” he said. “The thing we really have to improve on is our defense. We’re giving the other team too many baserunners.
“If we can secure our defense a little bit, we’ve got as good a chance as anybody to advance,” Johns added. “There have been times when all of our pitchers up giving runs or hits after we’ve made some errors behind them. Some of those outings would have been a lot better if we had played defense.”
Defensive lapses contributed to two of the Cougars’ toughest recent lossess — 11-9 (after leading 9-5) to No. 9 Bishop McGuinness and 9-8 (after leading 5-1) to No. 2 Weatherford — two days apart at the recent Bill Tipton VII Tournament in Shawnee. Johns said his club’s defensive meltdowns have been mental as much as physical.
“I think we’ve played on our heels,” he said. “It’s kind of gotten to the point where they’re playing not to miss a ball or throw a ball away instead of just going and making a play. We’ve just been too tentative.”
While his defense has struggled and his pitching staff has searched in vain for a clear-cut No. 1 starter, Johns’ offense has been steady — and at times explosive — over the past month. Jordan Boone and Easton Pingleton have been consistent table-setters at the top of the lineup, and the middle of the order — beginning with senior Cale Russell in the three-hole — has been able to supply some big hits.
Russell has been on a tear down the stretch, and he will enter the district tournament having hit safely in 11 of his last 13 at-bats.
“He’s had a really, really good year, and it hasn’t come by chance,” Johns said of Russell, who is the team’s No. 1 catcher and, along with Boone, will also start one of Thursday’s games. “Cale works on his hitting. He spends a lot of time working after practice.
“Offensively, we’ve gotten better as the year has progressed, and we feel like we’re kind of hitting our stride,” he added. “It allows you to do a lot more when you have speed in the lineup.”
Although Ada dropped from Class 5A to 4A this spring, the Cougars kept their schedule from last year almost intact. Johns said that should pay benefits over the remainder of the season.
“We’ve have played a good schedule and a tough schedule,” he noted. “Hopefully that will help us in the playoffs.”
Ada’s district is one of four involving area teams in Class 2A through 4A that open play Thursday. Elsewhere in Class 4A, No. 17 Byng will host Pauls Valley, whie in 2A, third-ranked Latta will entertain Konawa and Vanoss will be at home against Wayne. With the exception of the tournament at Latta (which begins at 4 p.m.), all of the district will start at 4:30.