Austin Sturgis wants the ball.
The senior pitcher for the University Titans will likely take the ball for the opening game of the District 3A tournament Monday at Shadle Park. While he’s at it, he’s hoping for a warm day following a weekend without rain.
“I love pitching in big games, close games,” he said. “It’s more fun to play a close game where every pitch is important.”
University, 7-11, and Shadle Park, 10-7, will play a best-of-three series for a berth in the sub-regional tournament. The teams will play a doubleheader Monday. If the teams split the first two games, a deciding third game will be played Tuesday at U-Hi.
Of course, Mother Nature already has shown disdain for the Greater Spokane League baseball schedule, so all plans must include the words “weather permitting.”
“It’s been frustrating to go out and be warming up to get ready to pitch in a game and then have the coach come out and say the game’s been called,” Sturgis said. “Then, over spring break, we had five or six make-up games in six games. I think we handled it OK because I believe we have the deepest pitching staff in the league. But it’s tough on everyone.”
It’s not like playing baseball during the summer months, when everyone gets in lots of practice time and weather is not a factor. In fact, Sturgis said, getting on the field for practice has been rare.
“It’s been the kind of year where we’re either playing a game or we’re inside, in the gym,” Sturgis said. “I think we’ve been able to practice outside on our own field maybe two or three times all season.”
Sure, a team can get its work done practicing indoors. But it’s not the same.
“For a pitcher, working in the gym can get you hurt,” Sturgis explained. “For the most part, it’s warm inside and we all throw nothing but gas. You can throw too hard and then, when you do get outside, you’ve got a sore arm.”
Hitting, too, suffers from a lack of outdoor practice.
“It’s just not the same thing,” Sturgis said. “We don’t have room to really get the right distance in the gym, so you’re hitting against a pitching machine at half the normal distance and that’s just not the same thing.”
It’s not the same from the ground up, he added. Outdoors, a hitter is able to set his cleats in the dirt – a totally different feel from wearing sneakers on a gym floor.
“I think the hardest thing on our hitters has been being able to see the ball outside,” he added. “It’s a big difference and I think it’s hard for everyone. You get in games and you’re just not comfortable stepping in to hit.”
Offensively, the Titans have struggled scoring runs this season. The team has been held to one run or fewer four times and three runs or fewer eight times, including a 2-1 win over Central Valley.
In U-Hi’s two games with Shadle Park, the Highlanders allowed the Titans one run in two games, winning 2-0 and 7-1.
“We’ve struggled a little scoring runs this year,” Sturgis said. “But I have confidence in my teammates and I don’t feel like I have to go out and shut out every team I face. I’m confident we can score at least a couple runs.”
Sturgis doesn’t take much stock in those first two games. The good thing about the postseason is that both teams begin the series with a clean slate. Whoever wins two games advances to the subregionals and faces Mt. Spokane for seeding.
As for Sturgis, the senior said he tries to do the same thing in each game he pitches.
“The important thing for me is to go out and throw my first pitch for a strike,” he said. “If I can throw my curveball for a strike on the first pitch, I’m confident that I can make them hit the pitch I want to throw. If I fall behind, they will be looking for me to throw my fastball for a strike and when they’re sitting on your fastball, you can get hit hard.”
Lack of consistent work throwing from an actual mound can be part of the problem, he added.
“When I leave my fastball up in the strike zone, it’s because I’m struggling with where I’m releasing the ball,” he said. “If I’m not getting full extension when I release the ball it ends up being higher than I want.
“I think I speak for our whole team when I say we have plenty of confidence going into this series. I’m confident we’ll score some runs and I’m looking forward to taking the ball.”