What a difference a year makes for Lafayette baseball

Published 10:04 am Thursday, May 2, 2019

The 2018 season was one of serious transition for the Commodores on the diamond. Not only were they transitioning to playing their first year of 5A baseball, they were adjusting to a new head coach.

When John Walker took over the Lafayette baseball team before the 2018 season, he knew it would take years, not months for the players to buy in to the new culture. While things are improving, they’re still not where he wants it to be.

Regardless, they’re winning.

Email newsletter signup

Now 16-9-1, the Lafayette Commodores won their division and are now in the 5A playoff quarterfinals after sweeping Center Hill in their first series after a bye. All this just one season after finishing below .500 and missing out on the playoffs entirely.

When asked separately what the biggest differences between the 2018 and 2019 teams are, Walker and his players surprisingly had very similar answers. The biggest thing for their coach: how much time the players have spent in the weight room.

After missing the playoffs entirely in 2018, Walker said his team took very little time off before getting right into the weight room. He said this team is much stronger and more physical than a year ago. What he didn’t mention was how the team trained in the offseason.

“I think the weights was a big factor. We worked out with our football team this summer,” said senior Ben Harper. “Just working out with them and being in the same weight room with them every day really got us to another level with the strength aspect of it.”

It took the team a little time to totally buy in to what the coaching staff was selling to them. Players said it wasn’t necessarily hard to buy in, it just took time to get used to what Walker and his staff expected of them compared to last seasons.

“You can have the best plan in the world, the best players in the world,” Walker said. “But if they don’t believe in each other and don’t believe what we’re doing, it’s all for not.”

It’s not unique to Lafayette. Really, any changeover in philosophy brings resistance. And the coaches knew this. While it’s not perfect, Walker pointed out spring break of 2019 as the turning point for when the players really went 100-percent in.

“We got something special going on. Of course, we want everyone buying into it. That’s the message to the younger kids,” said senior Foster Westbrook. “We just want people to be part of it. The more people we have with us, the bigger and better we’re going to be.”

For the Commodores on the diamond, that offseason work is starting to show itself in their play. Never mind the fact that they’ve had significant improvements from a few players – specifically freshman Tyrus Williams – and the fact that the team is, mostly, healthy at this point.

As an eighth grader in 2018, Tyrus Williams took 22 at bats and didn’t record one single hit. A freshman in 2019, he hit .457 with 22 RBIs in route to winning the Region 2-5A Player of the Year. In the closeout playoff game last week, he went 3 for 4 with a double, a triple and 3 RBIs.

John Walker’s message to the team approaching the semifinals was simple: maintain. He wants the team to stay the course and continue doing what they’re doing.

Lafayette had three goals going into the season: to win their division, be playing in May and to win 20 games. So far, they’ve checked off two of the three.

Game one with Ridgeland is on the road Thursday. They’ll come home Friday and game three, in necessary, will be back on the road Saturday. All games are scheduled for 7 p.m., weather dependent.