Heading into the season, St. Thomas More baseball coach Gary Perkins had high hopes for his state championship squad.
Then the injury bug hit hard.
The Cougars lost almost all of their starting arms, including southpaw flamethrower and Louisiana-Lafayette commitment Hogan Harris with shoulder soreness, and junior varsity pitchers were thrust into the fold before they were ready.
“We put some guys in there, and they got their noses busted up a little bit,” Perkins said. “They battled, but we went through a rough patch there.”
After winning their first four games, the Cougars went on to lose eight of their next 10, giving up 61 runs during a six-game skid.
Perkins said he intentionally made the Cougars’ early schedule difficult to give his veteran team experience against top-level competition before district play, but with all the injuries, the Cougars couldn’t compete.
“It didn’t quite work out the way we envisioned it,” Perkins said. “But now we’re getting things turned around, and hopefully we can compete in the playoffs.”
Since the pitching staff regained its top arms, the Cougars have been dominating district opponents. STM has yet to lose in district play and has only allowed two runs in its past five games.
Harris, along with right-hander Grant Cox, have played a large part in the turnaround, Perkins said.
“The whole energy level is different around the team,” Perkins said. “We are playing with a lot of confidence right now.
“The guys are working with a better rhythm on the mound and pounding the strike zone. With that consistency, our defense has improved, and we’re even swinging the bats a little better right now.”
Harris’ first appearance of the year came in relief of Cox against district rival Teurlings. And the outing wasn’t perfect, as Harris had to work out of a self-created bases loaded jam in the seventh after walking two batters and hitting another.
But Harris punctuated his return with a strikeout to end the contest, and picked up three strikeouts in two innings.
“When he toes the rubber, he turns into a completely different kid than what you see walking through the halls at STM,” Perkins said. “He just winds up and says ‘hit this if you can.’ ”
“He wasn’t as sharp as I’ve seen him, obviously. But when he needed to, he got it done.”
Despite a two-month stay on the shelf, Harris’ fastball touched 92 mph in the outing.
Perkins said Harris was diligent during rehab process and kept his arm strong through workouts.
“Once he really gets going here, he’s going to be around 95 or 96 on the fastball,” Perkins said. “We’re just taking it slow to make sure he doesn’t pick up another injury.”
Perkins said the Cougars have a hard pitch count on Harris but are slowly expanding his workload to have him fully functional in the playoffs.
After the two innings against Teurlings, Harris pitched four innings of no-hit ball against Cecilia, striking out eight and only walking three.
But Perkins said even with the arm talent Harris has, his best weapon is his mentality on the mound.
“He is a bulldog out on the mound,” Perkins said. “Nothing fazes him. Whether it is 3-2, bases loaded, or he’s up two strikes with no one on base, the next pitch is going to be the same.”