People who complain that baseball is too slow have never watched The Out-of-Door Academy play.
Or at least they haven't seen this year's ODA team. The Thunder is in its first season under Head Coach Mike Matthews, who was previously an assistant under former coach Tim Orlosky. Matthews has the Thunder's offense in full swing.
Through March 19, ODA was 10-1 and averaging 9.6 runs scored per game. The Thunder has scored double-digit runs in six of its 11 games. ODA's only loss was a 3-2 defeat to Braden River High in extra innings (eight) on March 9. Braden River is 10-1 and a much bigger school (Class 6A) than ODA (Class 2A).
I saw the power of ODA's lineup in the team's 16-3 win March 17 against the Community School of Naples. It was not just the amount of solid contact, but the team's approach that impressed me. ODA is aggressive. Thunder batters see a pitch they like and they take massive cuts with no hesitation.
Senior third baseman Tanner Fairchild, a lefty hitter, turned on a pitch with the quickness of David Ortiz, sending a home run over the right field fence. I knew it was gone as soon as I heard the explosive ping sound as the ball left Fairchild's bat.
ODA also steals bases at a prolific clip. That's part of their strategy, Matthews said. ODA plays its best when going at full speed?
"They need to have that approach day in and day out," Matthews said.
The players are buying what Matthews is selling.
"In the past, we've been solid defensively," junior outfielder Logan Tribble said. "We've kept the runs against us to a minimum, but we've lacked on offense. This year we've racked up the hits. That's going to be the thing that gets us over the top."
Tribble said the Thunder players have been attacking fastballs early in the count. It's made a world of difference, Tribble said.
ODA still has the pitching. The Thunder has two NCAA DI commits on the mound in sophomore right-hander Luke Geske, who is committed to the University of Miami, and junior left-hander Josh Cone, who is committed to Stetson University. As dominant as the bats have been, ODA's pitching staff has matched them, averaging just 1.4 runs allowed per game.
Matthews said he could not have hand-picked a better start to his first season at the helm. That's a credit to his players and his coaching staff, he said. A humble response, but clearly something is different at ODA than in years past, and I doubt it being Matthews' first season is a coincidence.
I especially love high school baseball games where teams refuse to play timid. Why bunt with a runner on second when you can smash a double? To that end, watching ODA has been some of the most fun I've had watching baseball in a long time. I'd keep my eye on them if I was a local fan. In the 2018-2019 season — the last full season ODA got to play — the Thunder reached the regional finals before losing 6-5 to Canterbury High in extra innings. I think this year's team can go farther