SPRINGFIELD — Ryan Wood was riding the pine for two hours Tuesday as the sun gave way to clouds, temperatures plummeted from the high 50s to the mid 40s and a steady ran fell for more than an hour.
Five-plus innings into Ozark’s game at Parkview, Wood got word he was going in to pitch. The senior right-hander responded with by far the best performance of any of the eight pitchers from both teams who toed the rubber.
Wood’s season debut saw him turn in a scoreless sixth inning to finish off the Tigers’ 16-6, six-inning rout of the Vikings.
Ozark is off to a 4-0 start.
“It’s tough being a reliever because you never know when you’re going to come into a game,” Wood said. “You’ve got to stay ready. When it’s your turn, it’s your turn and you’ve got to hammer down and throw strikes.”
While most of the pitchers couldn't consistently control a slick ball, Wood was able to throw his fast ball and curve for strikes.
“I noticed some of the other pitchers struggling with the ball and trying to wipe it off (on their uniform),” Wood said. “The ball was a little slick. You just had to toughen up and maybe hold the ball a little less firmly to throw strikes.”
Wood’s outing, however brief it was, was well-received by his teammates and coach Justin Sundlie.
“We’re proud of him,” shortstop Kannon Little said. “Any time Wood is out there, we’re having fun. He deserves anything that comes to him.”
“I was happy for him,” Sundlie said. “After not throwing over the weekend, I know Ryan was anxious to get out there. He came in throwing strikes and looked comfortable. That’s what you want to see. He took advantage of an opportunity.
“He earned some more innings today. We’re going to throw him again and let him have some fun with it,” Sundlie added. “I’ve seen him have really good days in the summer and he had some good jayvee outings last year. He may be able to step in and be a piece of the puzzle for us.”
Wood’s varsity career prior to Tuesday consisted of only two-plus innings of work from his junior season.
“Last year was a year I got to work on my craft and find out who I was as a pitcher. I got some good work in on the jayvee,” he said. “I don’t throw super hard. The best I’ve topped out is 83 mph. I take pride in my curve ball and pumping the zone.”
Wood is optimistic he can enjoy a breakout senior year, after an off-season of preparation that included pitching to his younger brother, Cooper, and throwing with Ozark's ace, Brody Baumann.
“I threw with my brother a couple days a week any time there was a good day to throw in the fall or winter. I threw as much as I could,” Wood said. “(Cooper) catches, so it’s like having a personal catcher.
"I throw with Brody a lot,” he added. “Ever since our sophomore year, he’s been my throwing partner. His Dad, Jack, has really helped me out, too. I’ve picked that family’s brain so much. They’ve been awesome.”
Baumann continued to be nothing short of awesome at-bat. He had an RBI double and walked twice Tuesday. He’s had two walks in three of Ozark’s four games.
Little was on base four times, banging out a pair of singles, to go along with a walk and a hit by pitch. Brady Dodd also had two hits. Sutton Hanks walked three times.
The Tigers’ 16 runs came on only eight hits against pitching that was more typical of what they see in batting practice in regard to velocity.
“Parkview’s pitchers had us off balance for a while,” Sundle said. “We’ve got to be more focused on days like this. You can’t call yourself a good hitter be able to hit only one speed. These guys know that and need to take more pride in that. We wil see good pitchers down the road who have good velocity and can throw a breaking ball when they need to and keep you off balance. So, that’s something we have to fix.
“Kannon (hit to the) middle and to right center. He did what he had to do,” Sundlie added. “Brady Dodd was able to do that a little bit, too. Some guys who were hitting the ball all weekend did not look good today. Kannon struggled over the weekend, but came out today and had a great day. Players can pick each other up like that. One day maybe we can get them all on the same page.”
“You’ve got to be able to make adjustments in a game like this,” said lead-off hitter Devyn Wright, who had a bunt single. “One thing we need to improve on is making adjustments during a game.”
“I’ve always been able to adjust to speeds,” Little said. “If I have to adjust to faster velocity, I load up earlier. If someone is throwing slower, I can load later. It’s not so much adjusting to me as it is (focusing on) fundamentals and knowing what time to load.”
For Little, it was a rare game in which he got to swing away each plate appearance. He is often asked to bunt out of the second-hole in Ozark’s lineup and is well aware of the value of a sacrifice bunt to move a runner into scoring position for the likes of Baumann, Cooper Buvid and Greydon Miller.
“Any chance to help the team with a bunt, I will do it,” Little said. “I like to get low and bring my bat to the ball while bunting. Most people don’t utilize (bunting), but it can help a team a lot.”
Ozark’s scheduled contest for today with Kickapoo has been postponed to Monday.
Ozark 16, Parkview 6
Ozark 141 163 - 16 8 1
Parkview 103 020 - 6 7 2
WP - Wright. LP - Young.