CLAYTON — Clayton will not lose a game during its summer high school baseball season this year. Then again, the Comets are not going to put together a win the old win-loss column either. And that’s just what the Clayton program is after. The Comets are skipping both the old – Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League – and new – Johnston County High School League – summer prep leagues. The Comets are holding twice weekly intrasquad scrimmages during the week.
No score is kept and in the first week the competition was there with varsity players working on roles they hope to fill next spring and the junior varsity squad adding players who are new to the high school game to their roster. The scrimmage experience is something the Comets don’t get during the high school season.
“It’s really the same as a college fall season in terms of what we’re doing,” said Clayton head coach Stacey Houser. “We don’t scrimmage during the spring. So we don’t see a lot of our own pitching.”
Houser also likes the fact that they’ll be more locker room chatter about what happens in the scrimmages. “You’d think it would be tougher in your own locker room if you’re a guy who strikes out against one of your teammates than there will be if you strike out against some other team,” he said.
The matchups between pitchers and batters are mostly junior varsity pitchers to jayvee batters and varsity to varsity. In the field, it’s junior varsity players against the varsity batters and varsity position players when junior varsity pitchers are on the mound.
“It’s good to give these younger pitchers the chance to play with a varsity defense behind them,” Houser said. “Likewise, it’s good to have a varsity pitcher out there with the younger kids so that if a fielder makes a mistake, that veteran voice is there to reassure them.”
Scrimmage days begin at 4:30 for the Comets when the batting cage opens. About 90 minutes later the scrimmage begins and runs until nightfall. Often after games, the team, parents and fans in attendance will hang around for a meal.
Clayton coaches serve dual roles positioned behind the mound during games: they’re both umpire and instructor.
There were about three dozen Clayton players out the first week between the varsity and junior varsity squads. When situations of note happen during the course of a scrimmage, there’s more opportunity to address any issues, such as Houser did once during the first night when a base runner hesitated running the bases and it cost him the chance to go from first to third on a base hit.
“We’re always thinking two bases and that’s a mindset,” Houser said. “We want our guys to all have the same mindset, to know the kind of baseball we want to play. So I subbed in a runner and addressed it so we know what to do next time.”
Likewise, Houser drew the infield in any time there was a runner on third with less than two outs. “We’re not keeping score, so we’re doing things for practice,” he said. “It’s a moment where we can treat it like a key, late-game situation.”
Flexibility is an added benefit. This past week, the Comets held scrimmages on Tuesday and Wednesday instead of the standard Tuesday and Thursday since most of the players participating in the summer program were in a tournament that started on Thursday.
“We just wanted to give it a try,” Houser said. “The biggest thing is that is isn’t costing the kids anything to do it. We’re focused on getting better and giving our kids something to do during the week.”
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