For Martin baseball team, newcomers playing key roles

Posted Monday, May. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Grant Jones spent the 2012 playoffs watching from the dugout as the junior varsity call-up’s more experienced teammates led the Warriors deep into the postseason.

Jones had no idea that one year later he’d play a critical role in another long playoff push. The sophomore earned a spot on the varsity team at the start of the season with his strong defense at second base. By now he feels like a seasoned veteran on a team that entered this week only two series victories away from a return trip to state.

“It feels pretty comfortable,” Jones said of his role. “It took about halfway through the season, once you see all the teams and you get used to seeing what everybody has.”

Opponents see that Martin still has a strong veteran core, especially up the middle. Catcher Matt Waller, shortstop Tyler Kendrick and center fielder Drew Dowdy are all experienced seniors. Add No. 1 pitcher Turner Larkins and the Martin defense starts to sound like a veteran unit. But first, second and third base are all manned by first-year varsity players.

Watching Martin infielders practice on a recent afternoon, though, it’s hard to tell the difference between the battled-tested seniors and the newcomers. The infielders are chattering, calling each other off before pursing a fly ball. And they whip the ball around the infield after scooping up ground balls as if turning an inning-ending double play. It’s the same kind of defensive intensity the Warriors have shown in winning six of seven playoff games to this point.

“All of us, we’ve just put in a lot of time working on ground balls, fly balls,” said junior infielder Landon Sackett, who switches between first and third base depending on who’s on the mound for Martin. “It’s all about our work ethic.”

In addition to working hard, the newcomers hear pointers and plenty of encouragement from Kendrick, a key cog on the 2012 team who plans to play college baseball at Brigham Young University.

“He comes through all the time,” Jones said of Kendrick. “He gives us feedback — always positive feedback. You can rely on him all the time. You never have doubt. He always comes through. He’s always speaking up.”

Only five players return from last year’s team. That means young players are also counted on to come through in the clutch. A designated hitter often batted for Jones early in the season. Now, he’s entrenched in the No. 9 position of the batting order, where he tries to advance runners and produce runs.

“You’ve just got to really look at your situations and stay focused the whole game,” Jones said. “You can’t take anything for granted.”

Jones couldn’t take a roster spot for granted. He spent last fall rotating with several second base candidates, but he found a way to stand out from the others and earn his way onto the varsity. “Defense helps me stay in the game,” Jones said. “That’s for sure.”

Martin had to rally for two runs in the seventh inning to edge Keller Fossil Ridge in the third game of the area round of the playoffs last weekend. Dowdy hit the winning two-run single, scoring Waller and sophomore Josh Watson.

Sophomores and seniors alike are ready for any situation they encounter in the playoffs, Sackett said.

“We’ve aged, so to speak,” Sackett said. “We’ve gotten more baseball knowledge and just played our game throughout the season. Now we’re still doing it in the playoffs.”

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