Blacksher bounces McKenzie from playoff contention

Published 5:07 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The McKenzie Tigers’ playoff run came to an abrupt end Friday against a powerhouse J.U. Blacksher Bulldogs team.

But even in the most overcast of situations, the Tigers were able to find a silver lining in the experience.

McKenzie head baseball coach Tony Norris said that despite the tough pair of losses, the experiences this year’s season afforded his players will continue to bear fruit in the years to come.

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“Blacksher is a really good baseball team, and they have a really good baseball program,” Norris said.

“They had a bunch of guys coming back from the team that went to the quarterfinals last year.  They have an especially good pitching staff, and they hit the ball well that day.  We took it on the chin, but you can’t forget what the kids accomplished.  At least you made the playoffs; there were a lot of teams that didn’t have that chance to get that extra week of work in.”

Though there were a few contributing factors to J.U. Blacksher eliminating the Tigers from the playoffs, Norris insists that the home field advantage wasn’t one of them.

Unlike other sports, such as football, where the crowd can play a meaningful part (such as hearing a play call), baseball is rather self-contained by comparison.

“Baseball, to me, is a little different from other sports,” Norris said.

“I’ve won on the road and I’ve lost on the road.  I’ve lost a Game 3 playoff game at my place with the tying runner on third base and the winning runner on second base.  I don’t really have any preference to playing baseball at home or on the road.  My mentality is that it’s just about just going to play ball and seeing what happens.”

The McKenzie Tigers blazed out of the gate with a 7-1 start before sputtering out of gas just shy of the finish line.  But overall, Norris is still satisfied with the season as a whole.

“We’ve had a good year,” Norris said. “I’ve enjoyed coaching this team.  I had a lot of juniors and seniors, and so that makes it a little bit easier on me because they know exactly what I expect.  Having said that, I’ve also had to count on some young guys, like an eighth grader halfway through the year who I had to make a starter to fill in a hole.

“We’re losing a pretty decent amount, but we’re also getting back a decent bit for next year.  And my area has got really quality baseball teams in it with Pleasant Home and Red Level, so any time you’re able to get to the playoffs playing those two teams—whether you finish first or second—is a big deal.  We just kind of hit a little bump in the road in the middle of the year.”

The biggest turning point of all, however, came at the year’s end in the battle for a playoff spot with Red Level.

It was that game in particular that showed Norris that his team has what it takes to be successful, whether that bears fruit in this season or the next.

“The last three-game series against Red Level was a big deal for us,” Norris said.

“When things aren’t going your way, especially in baseball, it’s easy to quit and just give up and say it isn’t worth it.  But we were able to claw our way back into the area and win game three 3-2 and go to the playoffs.  It’s good for the kids and good for me to see that, toward the end of the season when we weren’t playing well, the kids kept fighting, and that led to a playoff berth.”