Small ball execution is way of life for W-G

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Aaron Young - The Perry Chief: Mike Connor bats against Lynnville-Sully at Principal Park in Des Moines.

There’s one word Woodward-Granger head baseball coach Eric Evans used to describe his team: Gritty.

Gritty in the sense of playing small ball, laying down bunts, stealing bases, making crucial pitches and sacrificing yourself for the betterment of the team.

“One through nine, we’re not afraid to bunt, steal, hit him over and do the little things,” Evans said. “They play the game the way you’d like to see kids play.”

The Hawks began the season on a tear, winning its first four games of the season, including a big, 4-3 win over then-ranked No. 5 Pleasantville. Evans said the way the Hawks began the 2014 campaign is completely unexpected.

“We threw a kid against Pleasantville that had never thrown a varsity game before, and he comes out and throws about six innings and does very well,” Evans said. “We’re getting confidence every day and the kids are starting to believe they can win every time out, so that’s half the battle.”

That freshman, Brady Aunspach, is the team’s top pitcher thus far. He owns a 2-0 record with 21 strikeouts in 17.2 innings pitched and an ERA of 1.98. Opponents are hitting just a mere .165 against him.

However, the Hawks saw their 4-0 start diminish, losing the next three games. Woodward-Granger bounced back into their original winning ways with a 10-9 victory over Interstate 35, Truro on June 7, but then fell to Madrid by way of a 7-4 decision.

The Hawks most recently routed Panorama in shutout fashion, 9-0, and are now 6-4 overall on the season.

In 2013, the Hawks were 17-13, batted .280 and had a team earned-run average of 2.39 – the second-best ERA in the West Central Conference.

“After last year, it was the first winning season we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Evans said, who is now in his fifth-year as the Hawks’ skipper. “We lost three seniors that pretty much carried the whole team, and coming into this year, there’s a lot of unknown.”

One of the team’s leading hitters so far this season is senior Jake Smiley. Starting at shortstop since his freshman season, Smiley has been hitting the cover off the ball as of late, batting .414 with 12 hits, 10 runs and four RBIs.

A threat on the base path, the senior has already stolen 13 bases on 15 attempts. He also pitches, coming primarily out of the bullpen as the team’s closer.

Smiley has two saves registered to his stat line already in 8.1 innings pitched with 16 strikeouts and a 2.52 ERA for a 2-1 record.

Getting looks at a few college programs, Evans said Smiley has a shot to compete at the college level.

“He’s really grown and matured, and he could play some college ball if he wants to, he’s just kind of up in limbo right now,” Evans said. “He’s a quiet, not very vocal guy, but on the field he does everything that’s needed to be done.”

Overall, this year is key when looking ahead at what kind of success Woodward-Granger baseball could have, according to Evans.

“We could develop four or five guys deep for next year’s pitching staff. This year, we’re about three solid with a fourth in question, but next year we could have five solid guys – that’d be huge,” Evans said. “And then the juniors that are playing this year, they’ve been playing since they were in eighth-grade, starting as eighth-graders at the varsity level. They took their lumps the first couple of years, but last year we won 17 and this year we were off to a 4-0 start, so they’ve got a ton of experience.”

Woodward-Granger hosts Guthrie Center on June 16 in its next game slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. Due to print deadlines, the June 11 and June 12 games were not included to this story.

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