For Bridgeport High School, being ranked in the Class AAA baseball preseason polls isn’t all that unusual. Being ranked in an ESPN east coast regional poll, however, was a first.
As it turned out, that designation turned out to be a bit of a curse as opposed to a blessing. Although things started out as expected with a trio of blowout wins, the Indians struggled to a 3-3 mark and proved inconsistent in getting to 14-7. The problem, according to coach Robert Shields was a simple one.
“That early preseason ranking came out and they just believed what they read and decided the only needed to show up to win,” said
Shields. “The kids saw that ranking, they knew we lost four players and three starters from last year and it added in to the mix. They were being too overconfident and they nearly ruined what’s turned into a great season.”
In many of those early games, the Indians looked lethargic. In their first loss of the year, a setback to Philip Barbour, Shields expected a fired up squad playing the first regulation game ever at the new Bridgeport Recreation Complex and instead got an emotionless effort that resulted in the first of several losses in the first 21 games of the year.
“Our heads were huge at the beginning of the year. We started out 3-3 and came down to earth really fast. Then, we got to 14-7 and realized even then we weren’t doing what we had to do,” said senior Trey Oliverio. “We decided that we just had to get back to working harder in practice and things worked out. We started focusing harder and got into the routine of playing old fashioned Bridgeport baseball.”
Part of the reason for that was Shields use some old fashioned baseball discipline. The rules were simple, according to his players, listen and given effort and you’ll play. Make mistakes through laziness of lack of fundamentals and a seat was waiting on the bench. The move resonated with many on the team, said junior Cullin Cutright.
“The main thing that turned us around was that Coach Shields told us how it was. He told us what we were doing wrong, he pulled players and that got our attention,” Cutright said. “We knew then if we didn’t put the ball in play, make plays on defense and the fundamentals, not only would we be sitting, but we weren’t going to win. I guess it’s worked.”
Worked may, in fact, be an understatement. Not only do the Indians find themselves in Thursday afternoon’s Class AAA semifinal at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park, but they find themselves owners of a 29-7 record and a 15-game winning streak. What’s even more impressive about the winning streak as that includes wins against many of the state’s top teams, including multiple one-run wins and games where substantial deficits were overcome.
“There’s a difference between being cocky and being sure of yourself,” Shields said. “Once they understood the difference they figured that they needed to go back and play the game the right way.
“There were times we were swinging at bad pitches and weren’t communicating well in the field. We told the kids that they have to come together and they have and I’m proud of them,” the coach continued. “What’s even better is to watch the community backing us. To see all of those people here in that 90-degree heat (Saturday in the Region II final win vs. Washington) was good for these kids to see. I honestly think it’s good for the community, too. When you have everyone pulling for you including past players and parents and people that just want to see good baseball it makes a difference. We hope to continue playing the same type of baseball and get the same type of support in Charleston.”