In two scoreless, dominating innings on the mound against Durant Monday in the regular-season finale for the Ada Post 72 Braves, Blake Logan gave his coaches, fans and fellow players a little glimpse at what they will be missing the rest of the season.
Logan, a former star at Roff who is in his second season with the Ada Legion squad, was shut down by his college coach, Eastern’s Craig Price, after Monday’s brief appearance — a victim, ironically, of his own excellence.
Nine days earlier, Logan turned in a performance in the Braves’ final game at the American Legion Wood Bat Classic in Missouri that put him on the radar of at least one major league team (the Kansas City Royals, who offered him a free agent contract after the game) and one of the nation’s top Division I baseball programs (Wichita State, which scouted him Monday) but also threw up a huge red flag for Price.
In the first 10 innings of an eventual 12-inning Ada victory over the two-time Nebraska Legion champion Associated Fire Titans, Logan allowed three hits and struck out a mind-boggling 22 hitters. He also threw 154 pitches, however (by one major league scout’s count), and, coupled with his 128-pitch, eight-inning effort against Ardmore six days earlier in the championship game at the Brad Holt Memorial in Stillwater, Logan’s pitch count became a concern for Price.
“That last game did it,” Logan said after getting the victory in Monday’s game to improve to — and finish at — 5-0 this summer. “He said he didn’t want me to have a dead arm.”
Price’s decision dealt another severe blow to a pitching staff that Post 72 coach Travis Graham had pieced together with chewing gum and bailing wire for most of the season. Although Logan, Tupelo’s Matt Benedict and Shawnee’s Dalton Pickering had given Graham three productive arms at the top of his rotation, depth was a concern even before Logan was shut down.
In addition to possessing a fastball that was consistently above 90 miles per hour and had been the key to 71 strikeouts in his last 34 innings, Logan was also a proven “money” pitcher. He went 7-2 in nine starts at eight state tournaments during his high school career, and he or Benedict figured to start every big game during the Braves’ regional tournament this week and next week’s state tournament.
“Blake is a big game guy,” Graham said. “I know he’s disappointed, but we just have to go on. I think we still have enough arms to piece together a pretty good staff.”
With Logan’s departure, Benedict — 6-2 with five complete games this summer — is the undisputed ace of Graham’s staff, and Pickering — an afterthought on the mound when the season began but winner of five straight starts after a loss in relief early in the season — is entrenched now at No. 2. The key to any playoff run the Braves mount this month, though, could come down to the rest of the staff.
Graham said Dylan Johnson, a breaking ball specialist who is 0-1 and hasn’t started a game all season, could get the start in Wednesday’s regional opener against Lawton, with Pickering and Benedict penciled in to follow him if the Braves stay in the winner’s bracket.
Dylan Tinkler (Ada’s starting third baseman and back-up catcher and shortstop) pitched two scoreless innings against Durant Monday but hasn’t started a game since pitching a shutout in Latta’s regional championship game over two months ago; former Asher standout Matt Johnson (the team’s starting shortstop) lost his last start but has pitched well since the first inning of that game; Purcell’s Hunter Marcum (who starts at second base) has done a decent job in relief over the past month; and Jake Sanders (who has played shortstop and the outfield) has been used only sparingly on the mound this summer but was an effective pitcher at Tupelo as a senior.
The wild card of the staff could be Jordan Scott, who had struggled before pitching six strong innings in Missouri in his start to improve to 4-0 this season. Scott was the winning pitcher for Roff in the Class A championship game this spring, and he can be a very effective starter when he puts his signature breaking pitches where he wants them.
Whoever is the on the mound will be backed up by a defense that also figures to be hurt by Logan’s absence. Although he wasn’t the fastest player on the team, Logan — who has also hit a club record 16 home runs this season — was rock solid in center field. His bat will still be in the lineup, but Price also decreed that Logan can’t play any position that requires him to throw (or even warm up), so he will be the team’s designated hitter during the playoffs.
With Logan locked in at DH, Tupelo’s Brandon Maggia — one of Ada’s hottest hitters down the stretch — won’t be able to occupy that spot in the lineup. Instead, he will probably see more time at third base, with Tinkler and Tanner Bell (the team’s No. 1 catcher) splitting time in right field. Cody Robinson, who might be the Braves’ most underrated player, will move from right to left, and Sanders will take over for Logan in center field.
“A lot will be determined by who we’re playing — who they’re pitching and how they match up with our guys,” Graham said. “It’s going to make managing a lot more important.”