In big moments for the Alvord Bulldogs this season, Clay Baker has usually been in the middle.
Baker collected a walk-off RBI against Valley View in early March, and provided the game-winning single against the Eagles in the second meeting. He also tossed a two-hitter against Collinsville, which trails the Bulldogs for third place in District 10-2A.
“He’s a key factor to our success,” said Alvord coach Aaron Ciaburri. “When you look back at all our wins, he’s been in the middle in some capacity.”
For the season, he’s batting .387 with an on-base percentage plus slugging (OPS) of 1.035. On the mound, he’s been even better sporting an ERA of 0.82 with 73 strikeouts in 42.2 innings.
“They are video game numbers,” Ciaburri said.
The numbers are a complete reversal from last year for the Alvord senior. Throughout his junior season, Clay Baker never felt comfortable taking the mound or digging in at the plate. The results showed, as he didn’t meet his expectations.
“Last year I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself at the plate or the mound,” Baker recalled.
“Throughout the offseason, I worked hard. Coach put me through a running program. Last year I didn’t do anything after football. This year the brand new coach saw the potential in me and worked with me. Coach gave me a big confidence boost.”
Baker is coming off a dominant six-inning showing against Chico Friday in which he struck out 10 and allowed a run on two hits. He’s given up only a run in his past three appearances covering 17 innings.
“I just go out and try to throw first-pitch strikes and let my defense do its work,” Baker said. “That’s why my ERA is so low – the defense behind me.
“Coach had me on a throwing program. I worked on my velocity and mechanics.”
Ciaburri credited Baker’s ability to mix up pitches to keep hitters off balance as a key to his success. He also pointed out that he brings out the best in his teammates.
“Guys know when there’s someone who is electric on the hill,” he said. “These guys play for Baker.”
At the plate, Baker has eight extra-base hits and 20 RBIs in 21 games.
“I’m just trying to go up there with a positive mindset and put the ball in play,” Baker said.
He’s also worked plate discipline.
“We’ve worked on trying to establish strike-zone discipline,” Ciaburri said. “He’s embraced that and is working counts. He’s also constantly working on his hitting.”
Alvord heads into Thursday’s game with Era at 7-4 in 10-2A. A win would clinch the third seed for the Bulldogs with two games left. But Baker and the Bulldogs are far from satisfied.
“We’re hoping to go on a pretty deep playoff run,” he said.
No doubt he’ll be a part of it.