Cubs baseball maximizing on seniors' skills
Monett duo proving to be one-two punch
High school baseball in Missouri has a few quirky rules that make it unique.
Take for instance, the 10-run mercy rule. It allows a game to be ended if a team possesses a 10-run advantage at the completion of any inning after the fifth. Then there is another rule that allows a team to substitute for a player on the field, and then reinsert the exited player back into the same position he was lifted from in the same game.
However, there is one rule that has paid major dividends for Monett Coach Michael Calhoun and his Cubs this season -- the courtesy runner.
In high school baseball, a coach may use a courtesy runner, to run for his pitcher and catcher, and not have to remove the player from his position or the game.
For any other hitter, the coach must use a pinch runner to replace the batter on base and the player being ran for is removed from the lineup, unless the coach announces that the player lifted will re-enter the game.
The idea behind a courtesy runner is to allow a pitcher to stay warm and a catcher extra time to get his gear back on in order to keep the pace of play moving along.
In reality, it generally means that the team gets an advantage by placing a faster runner on the base paths.
The courtesy runner rule has been used liberally by Calhoun this season, in large part due to catcher Brett Gollhofer's uncanny ability to reach a base by any means.
"Brett's on-base percentage is almost .700, he gets on a ton for us," Calhoun said. "He's done it with hits, walks, getting hit by pitches and really he becomes the catalyst for our offense. Then, we bring guys like Jorden [Henson] off the bench and use his speed to cash it in for a run."
Gollhofer this season is hitting .478, which is tops on the Monett roster. He has 11 hits in 23 official at-bats. He has drawn six walks and is close to breaking the Monett single-season hit-by-pitch record, as he has been plunked 10 times already this season.
The Cubs now jeer each other when one of them dives out of the way of a close pitch, yelling at the batter, "Brett would have wore it."
"Every time I got up to the plate, I have the idea that I just want to hit the ball hard," Gollhofer said. "If a walk comes or I get hit by the pitch, it is just a bonus."
Gollhofer said he is not putting any pressure on himself. He just wants to have quality at-bats.
"Last year, I felt like I had to do more when I got to the plate," Gollhofer said. "This year, I am trying to stay within myself and just hit the ball hard. I am thinking less and just reacting to what the pitcher throws."
For Henson, he knows when Gollhofer bats, he had better be ready.
"I might have been a little surprised about how much he reached base early on," Henson said. "Now, I grab my helmet and get ready to head to the base paths when he bats. I expect to be running."
If Gollhofer is the powerful engine that drives the car, Henson is the shiny exterior that attracts the attention and closes the sale.
Once on base, the speedy senior is looking to run. He is fourth on the team with seven stolen bases, and has scored a team-high 14 runs.
The two seniors have been lifelong friends, with Henson having a sense of humor about his workload.
"Jorden likes to tell me that it would be nice to get a break on the bases," Gollhofer said. "Or that I'll have to buy him a new pair of cleats because his are worn to a nub."
For Henson, the environment of this year's team is what makes it special.
"It's a lot louder, because we are cheering more for each other," Henson said. "We try to keep it relaxed so we can just go out and have fun on the field."
For the pair, the courtesy runner rule has made for a more productive and powerful lineup, and for the Cubs as a team, it has led to nine wins on the season in their first 10 games.