Senior looking to lead Vols in baseball playoffs

Posted Monday, Apr. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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When Bowie takes the field Friday at Martin High in a matchup of the top two teams in District 3-5A, the Volunteers plan to match the Warriors ace for ace.

Bowie’s top hurler, senior right-hander Robby Medel, is unlikely to intimidate the district champion Warriors with his physical presence. But coach Bill Jenkins said the Vols feel supremely confident every time Medel takes the mound.

As the Vols coach describes it, Medel, who has signed to play for TCU, is an ideal blend of ruthless competitor and lighthearted jokester. After a slow start to the season, Bowie has followed Medel’s lead to a likely second-place finish in an ultratalented district. The team has clinched a playoff berth and is looking to become the first baseball team in school history to win a playoff series.

“He’s probably one of the goofiest people I’ve coached,” Jenkins said of Medel, who was a first team all-district pitcher in 2012. “But he’s a different person on the field.”

Medel agrees with Jenkins’ assessment of his personality. “When I’m pitching, I’m very intense,” said Medel, who plays first base or right field when he isn’t pitching.

Case in point, during a recent start, he caught a glimpse of the Bowie bench from his spot on the mound. He wanted the reserves up and making noise in support of the team.

“I’m going to have a lot of fun playing the game, and I want the team to have fun with me,” Medel said.

Medel, who has been on varsity since his freshman year — the last season that Bowie reached the postseason — and his teammates know how to have a good time. At least once a week, the Vols gather at the China King buffet on Matlock Road and eat too much, Medel said.

And in the dugout when the Vols are batting, Medel keeps the team vocal and laughing yet locked into what’s happening on the field.

“He’s a lot more mature,” Jenkins said. “He’s made his teammates better. It’s hard to ask a freshman or sophomore to be a leader. But as a senior he’s comfortable in a leadership role.”

Medel is also more comfortable on the mound than he’s ever been. At 6-foot-3, he’s tall enough to get a hitter’s attention. “I’m 6-4 with my cleats on,” Medel said.

But he is not likely to throw fastballs past talented hitters. He has an earned-run average under 2.00 and strikes out an average of nearly a batter per inning, but he tops out at around 88 mph. He often finds an extra gear late in games, though.

“He lets it go in the seventh inning,” Jenkins said.

Medel, who has pitched a complete game in every district contest he has started this year, is most concerned with locating his pitches. He throws a sinker that hitters often pound into the ground. He trusts his infielders to take care of the rest.

“I can’t overpower people, so I work for ground ball outs,” Medel said. “Someone told me, ‘Why strike everybody out when you can get an out on one pitch?’”

Season turnaround

Jenkins trusts Medel to come through in the clutch. “If he needs to make an out, he’s going to make the out.”

Medel’s timely plays don’t just come on defense. Although he is hitting .300 — not eye-popping by high school standards — he came through with what the coach considers a season-changing hit.

It was the third game of district, and the Vols trailed 7-6 in the top of the ninth at North Crowley. Considering that Bowie began the season 3-8, the Vols needed something to pull them out of their funk. Medel delivered an RBI single to tie the game, and the Vols went on to score six more runs in the inning en route to a 13-7 come-from-behind victory.

“It was an outside curve and he dumped it into right field,” Jenkins said. “That was a turning point in our season.”

Bowie has kept the momentum going. Heading into last Friday’s district game against Arlington High, the team had won 16 of its past 18 games and was in sole possession of second place in 3-5A.

“At the start of the season, we were hoping to win. We wanted to win,” Jenkins said. “Now we expect to win.”

And Medel expects to enjoy every inning that’s left in his high school career. “We have the most fun of any team in this district,” he said.

Although he’s looking forward to playing college ball in the Big 12 and majoring in kinesiology, he is not ready to let go of his high school career. Perhaps an extended postseason run would help Medel close the book on this chapter.

“Last night, I was writing my senior letter,” Medel said last week after a win at home against Sam Houston. “I got real emotional. I felt like I was never going to leave Bowie.”

Added Jenkins: “I wish you weren’t.”

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