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Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 29, 2006

When Bobby Hughes took over as baseball coach at Greenville, he knew he would be able to field one of the more athletic teams he's ever had as a coach.

But he was unsure how effective his athletes would be as baseball players.

While the Tigers have routinely been slow to get their offense going at the plate, a walk is as good as a double or sometimes a triple for some of Hughes' players.

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No matter how his Tigers get on base, the odds are good that his players are going to be looking to steal a base.

In fact Greenville has become quite proficient in stealing bases so far this season. With just 15 games under their belts, the Tigers have swiped 93 bases.

&#8220This is something we worked on from day one,” Hughes said. &#8220You have to use what you've got, and we've got a lot of speed.”

Even without a lot of speed, Hughes' teams in the past have been aggressive on the base paths.

&#8220At Catholic (Montgomery), we stole a lot,” he said. &#8220Here, we've got a more kids that can steal. You have to have the athletic ability and teach the techniques.”

But the aggressiveness on the field doesn't seem to catch his opponents off guard.

&#8220They know that's how I coach, so they expect that,” he said. &#8220That's how I played, and I coach how I played.”

Hughes did say that some of the teams in the southern part of the state, however, have been taken back by how many times his players attempt to steal bases.

&#8220They are used to station to station baseball,” he said. &#8220We steal and bunt and delay steal to put pressure on other teams to get something out of it.”

And in most cases, a walk or a routine single leads to a run scored for Greenville.

So what's the art to stealing a base?

&#8220You've got to do a good job getting jumps and reading the pitchers,” Hughes said. &#8220It's not just about athletic ability.”

But it does help.

Junior pitcher and shortstop Lynn Lewis leads the team with 23 stolen bases in 15 games. He's followed by sophomore Josh Longmire with 20.

Hughes knew that these two players would have a decent number of stolen bases, but not so soon.

&#8220It's real surprising,” he said. &#8220I thought they would have that (number) toward the end of the season.”

And as the scouting reports get out, Lewis said that one of top questions he gets asked when he reaches base from an opposing team is how many bases he's stolen so far.

&#8220I think I've been asked that about 40 times now,” he said. &#8220But (Josh and I) don't keep up with it. When we get on, we just go.”

But Longmire said that by knowing how many each one has in stolen bases has served as a motivator for each to steal more bases.

&#8220It's a major part of our game,” he said. &#8220We keep each other in the game and challenge each other. We try to make good things happen.”

So far it's worked since the Tigers are 8-7 heading into the second half of the season.