Krouse, McClure provide punch for OHS offense
While the entire batting order has produced big moments in the first three rounds, it’s the No. 2 and No. 3 hitters, Brooks Krouse and Jack McClure, that have done as much damage as any players the last seven games. The duo may not be the Bash Brothers of the 1980s Oakland A’s, but they’ve been productive.
Krouse, the No. 2 hitter behind Michael Bianco, came into the 5A North Half series against New Hope hitting .353, with 20 RBIs. McClure, who backs up Krouse, was hitting a team-best .393. In the series-clinching win over Germantown, Krouse led the team with three hits, while McClure drove in two runs.
Their contributions, along with help from cleanup hitter Hunter Roth, Bianco at the top, and Pittman Phillips at the bottom of the lineup, have been key in the Chargers scoring so many runs the last few weeks.
“They get us going up at the top. Michael gets on in that leadoff spot and those are the two, along with Hunter, that are getting them around right now, and scoring them,” OHS coach Chris Baughman said. “Brooks is doing a tremendous job handling the bat. He’s been scorching-hot. He’s putting the baseball in play. He’s making good swings on good pitches. He’s not striking out, he’s doing what you want out of a two-hole hitter.”
McClure, Baughman said, has destroyed pitches right behind Krouse and it shows in the stats as he leads the way with 35 RBIs.
“He is seeing it pretty good right now. We’re going to knock on wood that he continues to see it well this week,” Baughman said of McClure. “When we get guys on in that first inning, we feel pretty good about our chances of scoring with him coming up and the way he’s seeing it right now.”
For Krouse, a senior, the key to his success has been in doing what he can do, putting the ball in play and not trying to pull the ball.
“I don’t have the power that Jack does to hit a bomb. Never do I go up there trying to hit a bomb. I just go up and try and focus on hitting the ball through the middle, the other way. That’s one thing Coach (David) Webb has been preaching to us, trying to hit the ball through the middle the other way,” Krouse said. “If you pull, that’s just because you’re anticipating hitting it the other way. You make that same good swing on an inside pitch and you’re able to come through and not pull off. It’s seeing how long you can keep the barrel of the bat in the zone.”
McClure, a junior, also credited Webb’s advice for his success in the way he has performed at the plate the last half of the season.
“The focus for me has been hitting the ball up the middle and away. During the regular season, I know I struggled with hitting balls that should have been taken the other way. I wasn’t as aggressive as I have been either,” McClure said. “I was one of the guys that’s dead-pull, trying to take balls that were on the outer third or off the plate and that results in either weak ground balls to the right side, or swinging and missing.”
Leading the team in batting average is a tremendous accomplishment, but when one factors in that McClure is the starting catcher, his offensive achievements really stand out.
“I knew last year he was going to be special. Everybody talked about Henry (Webb) behind the plate last year, but the truth be known, minus speed and experience, Jack was probably a better defensive player,” Baughman said.”I knew that coming in, from offensive standpoint, he can just swing it. He is a very dangerous hitter who can hit the ball out of the ball park and drive it to the gaps. He’s a great left-handed stick and you got another one right behind him in Hunter. He’s also been very good for us behind the plate.”
When it comes to scoring runs, nobody has been better than Bianco, who leads the team with 42, but Krouse isn’t far behind with 36. Krouse is also six for seven in stolen base attempts, again not the best number on the team, but very good considering he isn’t as fast as Bianco or Roth or even Chadwick Lamar, who has 15.
“He’s very smart on the bases. He doesn’t have the athletic ability that Michael has as far as the speed or the speed that Hunter has, but he’s very smart. He reads the down angle of the ball well,” Baughman said. “He puts pressure on you and he gets on. It just seems like we get him in with Jack and Hunter behind him. Those two and three guys are hot right now and they’ve carried us the last two weeks. Hopefully they can stay hot.”
Reading balls in the dirt is the key for Krouse to gain a base. He also has a great connection with McClure as it relates to the way the ball comes off his bat.
“I don’t feel I have as much speed as a Michael or Joey (Walden), one of the pinch runners. I feel like I know the game and I can read the ball down in the dirt. I can kind of put pressure on the pitcher that way,” Krouse said. “Jack is always up after me when I get on so I know most likely he’s going to hit a ball in the gap or pop up, so I’ve gotten a lot of experience of reading the ball of the bat, whether it’s going to be down or a double. I feel like I can get a much better jump on the ones that are going to be a double and I’m able to score.”
McClure is keenly aware of how his very good friend gets around the base paths when it comes time to put the ball in play.
“It’s hard for anybody to score from first, even on a double, but I feel like Brooks is one of the best base runners on the team and he always finds a way,” McClure said. “He’s not the fastest, but baseball is a game where you don’t have to be the fastest. I feel really comfortable with Brooks being on base when I’m hitting.”
At the start of the year, Krouse was hitting ninth in the lineup because Matthew Guyton, the starting second baseman, was doing so well on offense. Krouse was the No. 2 hitter last year, and when Guyton went out due to injury, Baughman put him right back into that role, knowing his experience would be a key.
“We talked last week about the job Houston (Roth) stepped in and has done defensively for Matthew. Brooks is that guy that has stepped in and hit in that two hole. Matthew was hitting .343 before his injury and just knocking the cover of the baseball before he got hurt. Brooks was hitting ninth and then we moved him back to the two hole, where he was all of last year. He’s just comfortable there,” Baughman said. “He knows what to expect as a two-hole hitter. He learned from last year, grew from last year. He’s gotten stronger. Last year he was smaller, weaker. He worked in the weight room, away from the weight room, and he got a lot stronger. Balls that weren’t leaving the infield last year are now finding the six hole, four hole and getting through the infield. He’s also cut down on his strikeouts some this year. He’s just putting the ball in play and doing a great job.”
At the bottom of the lineup, Phillips has been steady in the playoffs, and Baughman feels like his overall team has done a better job of not leaving people on base like it did earlier in the season.
“As good as Jack and Brooks have been, we’ve had to get guys on in front of them and Pittman and Michael have done that this year. We’ve preached trying to get hot at the right time. We just want to put the ball in play, and put the ball in play at the right time on the ground. That’s the big thing,”Baughman said. “The Lewisburg game that we lost, I bet we left 10, 11 guys on base. We’re getting guys on. Even in the New Hope games, the first and third games, we’ve gotten people on, we just didn’t get them in and now we’re getting them in.”
“I think we’ve been very, very solid in the playoffs. I feel like at the end of the regular season, the back end of our lineup had been struggling, just to get on base for the guys at the top of the lineup to get them in,” Krouse added. “But in the postseason, they’ve been excellent with what they’ve needed to do to get us runs. Pittman has been incredible with Michael up and then me up. Michael, he might be the smartest guy on the field. It’s been a team effort in the lineup for sure.”