By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
Back in August, newly hired Ripley High baseball coach Joel Gafford addressed his new set of players.
“I asked how many of them had ever hit over .400,” Gafford said on the phone Wednesday. “Not too many of them raised their hands.
“I told them that was going to change this year.”
In 2011, four Ripley High players, with a minimum of 50 at-bats, are hitting .400 or above for the year entering this weekend’s MHSAA Class 3A second-round series with Riverside.
Ben Hellums (.471), Austin Hamilton (.457), Jonathan Morrison (.426) and Caleb Reno (.400) are all hitting at least .400; Austin Reed is hitting at a .395 clip and Tyler Cox is at .384.
While they may not have a lot of power in their lineup, the Tigers are 16-9 under their first-year coach, a 27-year-old former New Albany assistant and Mississippi Valley State University player.
“We try to do small-ball type things,” Gafford said. “We don’t have a lot of power.
“We try to do the best with what we got. … We gotta make due with the personnel we have.”
With the speedy Cox (15 stolen bases) leading off, the Tigers can certainly score runs without depending on extra-base hits.
“That’s what makes them really good. I’m not really trying to take anything away from them, but they got a lot of speed when they get on the bases,” said Kossuth coach Daniel Threadgill.
“They cause a lot of havoc at the top of their order. When they get on, they steal, bunt and hit and run. They can do a lot of things with those speedsters at the top of their lineup.”
And on the mound, there’s Morrison, Hellums and Zack Jones – who’ve compiled 12 of Ripley’s 16 wins this season.
The headliner, however, is Morrison, who has suffered his share of injuries, from internal impingement in his throwing shoulder to a sprained right MCL.
“He’ll clock 90,” Threadgill said of the Blue Mountain College signee. “He’ll hit 87 to 89 consistently.”
Healthy to pitch again, Morrison will take the ball in tonight’s Game 1 and try to get his team off to a good start in an already enjoyable first season under Gafford.
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or firstname.lastname@example.org