Hutson, strong junior class anxious to take next step
Disappointed. Nervous. Unfulfilled
These were ways to describe Augusta’s baseball team after losing at Regionals last season, which brought a run to its first state tournament berth since 1999 to a bitter end.
“Last year we got down early and tried to mount a comeback, and it was too late,” Connor Hurst, a junior, said about the Orioles’ rally in that semifinal loss to Clearwater. “Yeah, I think it’s more mental than anything, being ready to go at the start of the game, coming in fired up.”
Prepared. Experienced. Hungry.
Those are ways to describe this year’s Oriole squad. Augusta may only have one returning senior, but there are several returning juniors who have had plenty of varsity experience and are taking on the leadership role of the team this season.
“Last year helped us out a ton,” coach Doug Jefferson said. “We won most of our games last year. The games we didn’t win were big games. It was with Mulvane, who was really good. It was with Andale, who won our league...”
Jefferson added that he doesn’t want the team to shy away from the big moments, but rather, he wants them to embrace tough competition.
“I told them that at the end of the year that we didn’t play well in big games. So I’m hoping that’s in the back of their mind as we go into the season, that, in big games, since they have experience now, they’ll step up and know what to do since they’ve been in that situation.”
Add to the mix phenom pitcher Garrett Hutson, who transferred from Circle this past fall and is verbally committed to Oklahoma State University. Hutson earned Second Team All-State honors last year as he led the Thunderbirds to the Regional championship—including a victory against those same Clearwater Indians. Now with the Orioles, Hutson is hoping not only to bring up his game in all phases of the game, but also his new teammates’.
“He’s brought everybody up. We’re practicing better this year with him there. Everybody is trying to do what he does, and he’s been a great example so far,” Jefferson said.
After losing one stud pitcher from last year’s squad—Kolton Schenker is playing at Chase County and has signed to play at Cowley County—Hutson will be the go-to on the mound. A pitcher of his quality might bring more attention and expectations, but Hutson has his own high expectations.
“One of my goals I’ve made is to try and not give up an earned run this year,” Hutson said. “It’ll be pretty tough.”
Mason Hiser, who surprised a lot of people with a solid season that earned Second Team All-League honors a year ago, is going to be relied on heavily as a starting pitcher, though he can pitch during any part of a game if necessary.
“[I’ll] definitely try to get more strikeouts,” Hiser said. “I’m throwing harder than I was last year.”
“...He did a little bit of everything,” Jefferson said of Hiser. “He has one of those arms that never gets tired, and he always wants to be on the hill.”
As good as Hutson and Hiser want to be, having a strong defense behind him is going to be just as key. The Orioles bring back juniors Michael Albright to left field, Hurst to center and Hiser to right field when he isn’t pitching.
“I think that gives us the best outfield in the league,” Jefferson said. “That’s pretty solid. I expect great things from those three when they’re out there.”
To improve, Albright said he doesn’t want to see the snowball effect with mistakes occur, including on his part.
“Just less defensive mistakes, not turning one into multiple mistakes,” he said.
In center, Hurst is prepared to take on the leadership role.
“You’ve got to talk the whole time, make sure everybody knows what they’re doing, and I’ve got to know what I’m doing,” Hurst said with a smile.
The four juniors will be primary batters. Garrett’s younger brother Gavin brings a mean swing to the lineup, and Ian Rogers can be a key contributor.