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Lambert baseball ascends to No. 1 ranking with balanced approach

POSTED: March 27, 2014 3:42 p.m.
Brian Paglia/Forsyth County News

Lambert junior outfielder Jeremy Johnson has been a dangerous lead-off hitter for the Longhorns. Johnson is hitting .414 and leads the team in walks (19) and runs (29).

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There is a lot of excitement surrounding Lambert baseball right now, and for good reason. The Longhorns currently sport an unblemished 13-0 record with a 5-0 mark in Region 6-AAAAAA, placing them among the early favorites for state championship contention.

And though Lambert has garnered a lot of hype in recent weeks, it isn’t buying it — rather, the Longhorns are downplaying their accomplishments as much as possible.

A lot of credit for that mentality goes to head coach Jamie Corr, who maintains a lot of work lies ahead before he’s satisfied. Just this week Lambert cracked MaxPrep’s Top 25 in the country, but Corr doesn’t believe that recognition helps.

If anything, it has the potential to be harmful.

"We talk about it every day, how [rankings are] an absolute meaningless occurrence," he said. "It has no bearing on the outcome of our season … When I was playing, I would have loved it, but you just better have a coach that doesn’t let it go to your head.

"We try not to focus on wins or losses; we try to focus on our approach to the game and how we come out and play every single inning. If we do that we don’t get ahead of ourselves."

Undoubtedly, Corr is the kind of coach who can keep his team grounded. This is evident by the way players talk about their success thus far in 2014.

"It’s too early to tell if the playoffs are in the cards," said leadoff hitter and outfielder Jeremy Johnson. "We haven’t played many games, and we haven’t seen everyone in the region yet."

Prior to Thursday’s contest against West Forsyth, which finished too late for this edition, the Longhorns were averaging 11.15 runs per game. Johnson, who is hitting .414, has scored 29 of those runs—or in other terms, 20 percent of Lambert’s total offense.

"My job as a leadoff hitter is to get on base, to see a lot of pitches, and that’s what I try to do," he said. "I don’t try to do too much and put myself in a situation where I think our team could benefit most."

In addition to Johnson, there are six other players batting .400 or higher, capped by sophomore Seth Beer, whose astronomical .730 batting average and 1.189 slugging percentage seem almost too good to be true. The team’s overall average rested at .397 heading into Thursday.

And along with the ability to get on base has been an abundance of power. Beer has hit three home runs, as has Tucker Maxwell. JD Dutka and Jake Chickowski have each cleared the fence twice.

"If you have three guys that are really hot offensively, you’re going to score six runs a game. If you have nine, you’re going to score 11 to 12 runs a game," Corr explains. "So we’ve been very fortunate to get production up and down the lineup."

As good as the hitting has been for Lambert, the pitching may be even better: The team’s ERA sits at just 1.58 with opponents batting just .223.

Dutka has been a workhorse for Lambert, surrendering just five earned runs in 22 innings. Dylan Biumi has given up only three earned runs in 17 innings, registering more than one strikeout per inning.

Beer, who may be as talented on the mound as he is at the plate, has yet to give up an earned run in 10.1 innings.

"Every guy we have out there every night is definitely an ace on any other team," Beer said. "It’s great to know with every pitcher we have out there we have the potential to win. Not many teams can say that."

At this juncture it’s difficult to pinpoint the Longhorns’ greatest strength. That kind of evaluation is tough when a team dominates in virtually every facet of the game. But what truly separates the Longhorns from the pack is not pitching or hitting—it’s their fielding.

Corr puts a lot of emphasis on defense, dedicating about 75 percent of practice to that area. This hasn’t had much of an effect on outcomes so far given the Longhorns’ absurd margins of victory, but down the stretch, when they start playing more talented teams and inevitably get into tight spots, it should serve them well.

"It’s a tribute to our hard work," Corr said of his team’s fielding prowess. "We come out every day with a 75 percent focus on defense. That’s going to keep you in ballgames."

Georgia high school baseball clubs are guaranteed to play into late April regardless of how well they fare. Only a select few, however, will be able to play at the turn of the month, and being among those few is what Lambert is currently striving for.

"Every day we come to work and say, ‘We’re here to play in May,’" Corr said. "We strive for a 20-win regular season, region championship and state championship, and everything we do is based around the opportunity to play in May."

Said Beer: "If we can stay humble, we’ll get there."

 

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