CORNELIUS – Hough High baseball player Justin Baker needed to be patient. So did Huskies coach Jimmy Cochran.
They were and it’s paid off handsomely for Hough.
The Huskies won the MECKA 4A conference tournament with a 7-2 victory against North Mecklenburg on May 9. It locked up the conference’s top seed heading into the state playoffs and extended Hough’s winning streak to 10 (the Huskies are 21-6).
Baker was the star on the mound with a complete game four-hitter. He struck out eight to improve his record to 9-0. Baker also had three hits as the Huskies’ leadoff batter.
Baker, a senior, was a junior-varsity player his first two years at Hough and rarely played. He didn’t play a whole lot, or pitch any, as a junior last season.
“Justin has continuously worked and gotten better putting in the time and effort on his own,” Cochran said. “He matured as a young man. As a coach, it makes all the time you put into it worthwhile when you see a guy develop like he has.”
Baker’s emergence is shattering Hough’s record book. His batting average of .477 is a school record. Drew Ober, a junior infielder has established school record for RBIs (32) and stolen bases (18) in a season. Baker and Ober can add to all those marks when the Huskies open the N.C. 4A playoffs against South Mecklenburg.
Cochran exhibited patience as Hough got off to a slow start. They lost three of the first four games and were 6-5 at one point. But they’ve meshed into a strong squad that is on a 15-1 streak.
“We had a lot of new guys, but they just hadn’t had the experience because we graduated so many (seniors) the last two years,” Cochran said. “We struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year, but once they got comfortable with playing on the varsity level, they started working themselves into it and we’ve gotten a little better every time we go out. I think the experience contributes to that.”
Hough has pitched well all season, Cochran said. That’s been enhanced by improved defense and timely hitting. Pitchers have to pitch around fewer fielding errors. Lately, they’ve had leads to work with, too, as Hough has scored seven or more runs in eight straight games.
“We all trust each other,” Ober said. “We’ve played together for a while, so we know each other through our friendships and playing.”
Baker pointed to a spring break tournament as turning point.
“Everyone was up and loud in the tournament,” he said. “We became a big unit and big family.”