The success of iconic head coaches Jim Hardman and Rick Gold is in the distant past, but current coach Jared Askins is determined to return Piqua baseball to the glory days of the past.
Piqua – The game resembled the season, if not the past several seasons, for the Piqua Indians.
Friday at Hardman Field, Piqua fell behind 4-0 to Fairmont, rallied to tie the game at 4, fell behind 6-4, then scored 4 runs in the fifth to pull out an 8-6 win on a near perfect afternoon.
The win was the 6th in 7 games for the Indians, who allowed 44 runs in dropping their first four games. In the 7 games since, the Indians have allowed 25 runs, and have sprinted to a 4-0 record in the GWOC North. More about that later.
“I’m really proud of all 15 guys tonight,” said veteran Piqua coach Jared Askins. “We told them before the game that Friday/Saturday games can be shoot-outs, and we found a way to score enough runs to win. Didn’t look good early, but our guys hung in there and got some big hits late in the ballgame.
“We don’t always make it look pretty. Sometimes they can give you a heart attack trying to close things out, but they show up every day ready to work. They are a little hard to read sometimes, and you aren’t sure they are always ready to play. But once the first pitch is thrown, they give you everything they got. They are a great group and I would go to war with them any day.”
There was a time when Piqua baseball was the cream of the crop in this part of the state. Hall of Fame coach Jim Hardman won over 500 games at the school, and was ably succeeded by Rick Gold, who added to that winning tradition. To say that the recent past has been a struggle, however, is a king-sized understatement.
In the last ten years, dating back to 2006, the Indians are just 99-156, a 39% winning percentage. Go back to the beginning of that period, 2006 through 2010, and the Indians lost an average of 18 games a season, including 20 in 2008 and 23 in 2009. Very un-Piqua like.
Since Askins arrived in 2009, things have slowly and moderately improved. The Indians were 12-9 in 2011, but that remains their only winning record in the last decade. Since then, Piqua has been close, 11-12 in 2012, 12-15 in ’13 and ’14, and 13-14 last season without getting over the hump.
“We have to get to the younger kids,” Askins said when asked the key to turning the program around. “It’s not just here, it’s everywhere. It’s fine to play football, basketball and soccer. I love those sports too. But we need to show them that baseball is a great sport too. Its carried me a long way in my life, and I’m still involved because I love it.
“We have to show kids how much fun baseball is, especially on a day like today. We are going to have some camps this summer and our varsity players are going to be right there with the younger kids. I think that sort of thing will help get us back to where we need to be.”
Like every coach, Askins said fundamentals are the key to a winning program.
“We have some great work going on at the junior high level, and we have to get to the younger kids to make sure they are ready when they get to junior high. I see a lack of fundamentals everywhere. I go back to my hometown of Wapakoneta, and it’s the same story there. You see it at every level of the game. The teams that are sound in their fundamentals are the teams that win. Simple as that.”
Askins said that there is one key to bringing back community pride in Piqua baseball: the Indians have to win.
“It’s that way in every sport. When you put a good product on the field, people have pride in that team and will come out to support it. If you compete, play hard and play the game the right way, people will respect that.”
The Indians are 4-0 in the GWOC North, but to be fair, those wins have come against Trotwood and Sidney, the bottom two teams in the divisions. Piqua has a home and home with Greenville Monday and Tuesday, then comes the real heavy lifting, home and home meetings with unbeaten Vandalia Butler and 8-3 Troy.
“I would love to see the stands full to root these guys on” explained Askins. “We have some really big division games coming up in the next couple of weeks., We are 4-0 and there is no better place to be than at the top. That’s where we hope to stay.”
Askins said he never stops watching baseball and other sports, trying to pick up little things that will make the Indians baseball program stronger.
“We are always watching other teams, talking to other coaches, seeing what they do that makes them successful. It’s important not just at the younger levels but on this level as well, to teach these kids what it means to play the game the right way.
“You can learn and improve from a lot of different sources. I take things from coach Butler (basketball coach Heath) and Coach Nees (football coach Bill), things that they do and they may not even know I’m paying attention. You are always looking for ways to motivate kids. It’s different from when I played 20 years ago. Trying to find things that make kids want to compete is a challenge for all coaches.”
The struggle for relevancy, for past present and a winning program, never ends—in Piqua!