May 14, 2014 - With six games left in the season, Oxford Varsity Baseball Coach Jeff Willis is looking for his boys to "keep playing hard."
Front row (from left): Josh Arndt, R.J.Saroli, Max Blackburn, Dylan Grubb, Jordan Williams and Travis Shufflin. Middle row (from left): P.J. Piesko, Michael Neff, Jordan Anderson, Brennan Lewis, James Rogers and David Kitchener. Back row (from left): Scott Stubenrauch, Jeremy White, Nate Olson and Thomas Claire. (click for larger version)
"We got to keep hitting the baseball and making plays on defense," Willis said. "The pitcher's got to throw strikes and we got to play defense behind him."
With the games they have left, Willis said they're "looking forward to all of them."
"We like to come out and play baseball," he added. "The weather is starting to be nice to us a little bit, (so we can get) out and get the kids loose. We just want to go out and play the way we know how to play baseball."
As for his returnees, Willis said they bring "lots of leadership and lots of experience.
"My number one and two pitchers (Seniors P.J. Piesko and Travis Shufflin) are three-year starters coming back," he said. "Piesko is going to Oakland University. Travis is getting looks from some smaller schools around the area."
Senior Jordan Anderson is another player who's been with the team three years. Willis described Senior R.J. Soroli as someone who brings good leadership to the clubhouse and is a good utility guy. Senior Jeremy White will also get his chance to play ball at the next level at Faulkner State, a junior college in Alabama.
"All my kids are good and we got a lot of leadership in the dugout here," noted Willis. "We're a .500 ball club right now and we just have to put it together at the right time."
The new guys on the team have enhanced the offense, according to Willis.
"A lot of the kids have come up from the JV squad, (like) Nate Olsen, and swing a hot bat lately. Scott Stubenrauch, starting center fielder and lead-off hitter, he's our catalyst. When he goes we go," Willis added. "If we get him on base, he's got good speed. That's how we like to play baseball – by scoring runs."
Strength of the team, "depends on the day," Willis said.
"Some days we throw good pitching, (other's it's batting)," he said, citing a game against Clarkston a week earlier where they put 16 runs on the board.
As for the league, Willis said there is "lot of parody."
"We're at the bottom right now and it's going to be tough to scramble to get to the top, but we've played the teams at the top very well and beat them at least one time," he said. "Fortunate thing for us is the teams that are in our district, we see in the league play a lot, so we know a lot about them. We'll feel confident going into that knowing we can win the district."
Currently at the top is Lake Orion and Rochester Adams, with Stoney Creek and Rochester High in the middle and Clarkston and Oxford falling at the bottom.
"There is no dominant team. Even though they sport a gaudy record they're beatable and we know that," Willis said. "As long as we keep that confidence and know that we can beat those teams, we'll be all right."
The goal of the season is real simple – "to win the last game."
"We win our last game that means we're in East Lansing playing for the State Championships. We just got to keep going hard, keep grinding and keep doing the things we know how to do and do them right," Willis said. "You can't give good teams more than three outs in an inning. The same goes for us when teams give us more than three outs in an inning we capitalize and score runs. That's the name of the game."
Oxford will face Waterford Mott in district play on May 31 at Lake Orion High School.
"If we win that game, we'll see either Clarkston or Waterford Kettering or Lake Orion," Willis said. "Two of the three we've played and we're going to go get a book on the other two so we know what we're up against."
Currently the team record stands at 8-9-1, but Willis just wants to end the season "on a strong note."
"We got good leaders, we got good baseball players (and) we know that we can win," he said. "We just got to show up and do it."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.