CLAYTON — Facing his first season of having to replace graduating seniors, Cleveland coach Jamie Lee is taking a couple of approaches in the inaugural season of the Johnston County High School Summer League.
Most certainly, he wants to find the individuals to fill the shoes of departed pitchers Kodi Whitley and Cody Johnson. But at the same time, he’s taking the approach used by Minor League baseball franchises – eschewing wins and losses in lieu of individual improvement in fundamentals and overall team play.
“Yes, we want to win,” Lee said after the Rams posted a 3-1 victory over West Johnston Thursday. “But our emphasis is on getting better as an individual and as a team.”
In doing so, the Rams are taking the “one day at a time, one thing at a time” approach.
Whether it is how you stand at the plate when you are batting, how you plant your feet when you attempt a throw across the infield, running fundamentals, or pitching fundamentals, Lee has the team concentrate on the item at hand that day in practice. Then, he watches on game days to see if the lessons are paying off, or if they need to be repeated again.
“We go out to the field and we tell them, ‘This is what we’re going to work on today,’ ” Lee said. “We try to pick something each day like fielding the ball – or just work on something defensively and try to build upon it. We just want to improve as a team and individually. We lost a few seniors, and we have some new kids and jayvees who need to learn how to play together and do things together as a team.”
Lee pointed to shuffling done to enhance and improve the defense.
One sign of the summer’s methods are reflected in Cleveland’s league records. The varsity team improved to 8-1 with the win, while junior Rams are 5-0.
“We let everyone play, and everyone gets into the lineup and hopefully gets a chance to hit,” he said.
Hits were few for both teams, with Cleveland notching six hits while West, which struggled against winning pitcher Brandon Fox, managed only five. Fox enjoyed a solid day on the mound, striking out 12 batters while walking only one. Lee noted along with Fox, he had Chase Jackson, Patrick Banks, Maison Mullens, and Chris Bjorling as people who could get the job done on the mound for the Rams.
Lee however, is not completely satisfied with everything he is seeing.
“We can be better than how we are playing right now,” Lee said. “We’re satisfied with the end result, but as a group, we’re not satisfied with how we are getting there.
“But it is summer, and the guys are focused on other things besides baseball. We just have to keep trying.”