NORTH CANTON Life in the Federal League is rarely easy, regardless of the sport or season.
It becomes even more difficult when a 1-2 punch of nature and the reigning league champions staggers you just five games into the season, but the Hoover Vikings are dealing with those setbacks and working to steer their season back in the right direction.
“We got out of gate 3-0, then lost two tough games to Jackson,” 13th-year head coach Jeff Hite said. “We got beat 8-6 over there even though we got within 5-4 and we hit into three double plays, which is baseball, but if the ball is a foot either way, we score and maybe take the lead and you’ve got a totally different game at that point.”
The Jackson loss came in Hoover’s fourth game of the season and the following day, the two teams locked up again in a game that was close for six innings before Jackson pushed across four runs in the top of the seventh to turn a 2-0 game into a 6-0 win.
In assessing the second loss, Hite observed that the Vikings simply ran out of pitching in the end. Nathan Fox, fresh off basketball season, was pulled from the game after 67 pitches because he’s still building up his arm strength to get to his normal pitching capacity and another arm that was expected to be available, senior Nick Binney, isn’t able to fill his expected role at this point, two years removed from Tommy John surgery on his elbow.
“We maybe were a bit short-sighted on our pitching staff and back-to-back nights can cause problems for us, but we didn’t make any errors in that second game and we didn’t beat ourselves,” Hite said. “The good thing about baseball is that you play 27 (games), so it’s a long season and a lot can happen.”
One thing Hoover hopes to see happen is the development of more pitching depth as Fox builds up his arm strength and the rest of the rotation works to progress and come together as a group.
The offense has done well so far, with a team average over .300 through five games, and the coaching staff believes the lineup will continue to produce as the weather improves.
Ironically, the day after Jackson’s pitching cooled the Vikings’ offense in the shutout win, one more burst of winter weather did the same to the area, dropping several inches of snow and forcing Hoover back inside for practice on Friday.
“I’m not one that once we get out, likes to go back in gym and take ground balls,” Hite said. “I think it’s counterproductive to go back in gym, although we can work on run downs, pickoffs and get some swings in. So we can go over some things we need to work on and the long range forecast is good for us to get back outside.”
With four Federal League games down - a sweep of Canton McKinley preceded the Jackson games - there are eight league games left for Hoover. Two-game sets against Green, Lake, GlenOak and Perry remain and those games will undoubtedly be affected by weather as well.
As Hite noted, 12 league games are worked into a seven-week period, with each school having one bye week during the span, and even though it would be nice to play more non-league games to round into form before beginning league play, there are other angles to consider.
If league games are pushed back in the season and weather delays them further, teams can find themselves playing important league contests in the same week as they play tournament games.
“I’ve been at this for 13 years and one or two times has the league season been over before the tournament,” Hite said. “With 12 league games, you’re trying to play seven weeks’ worth of baseball in a very, very short time and if you get into the tournament and your league season isn’t over, you have to decide whether your second or third pitcher is going to pitch in the tournament or in an important league game and hopefully, your number one guy can get through a tournament game.”
Often, there is no ideal choice in such situations, but that’s all part of a normal season in the Federal League and it’s a reality with which the Vikings are extremely familiar.
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