Cincinnati Christian baseball embracing top-ranked status

FAIRFIELD — Cincinnati Christian’s baseball team accepted the news with open arms earlier this week.

The Cougars are ranked No. 1 in the latest Southwest Ohio Baseball Coaches Association poll in Division III and IV, and they’re playing like it.

“A lot of credit goes to the work these kids have put in during the offseason,” CCS first-year coach Jim Birch said. “We did a lot of workouts. They really worked their butts off. Once spring came, they really bought in to what we were all about.”

Cincinnati Christian (14-2) moved its winning streak to nine games following a 9-3 victory over non-conference Winton Woods at Waterworks Park on Thursday night.

Defense and pitching have powered the Cougars, but Birch said the bats are starting to come around.

“We’re heating up at the plate,” the coach said. “I would say we’re built on our pitching, and our defense is just phenomenal. With that, you can stay in any game with your pitching and your defense. With our bats coming along like they have, that makes for a tough combination.”

Birch said the transition into his coaching debut with CCS was an easy one. The seven seniors that fill this year’s roster is a decent reason why.

“I came in to a really good team,” Birch said. “It was all about making them believe in themselves and work together as a team. They’ve done a wonderful job of buying in to all of that. That’s really what it’s been about.”

Cincinnati Christian is in a race with CHCA for the Miami Valley Conference title, with the Cougars (8-1 MVC) owning a 1/2 game lead on the Eagles (8-2). They split the season series.

“No matter how big the win is or how big the loss is, it’s all about focusing on the next game,” Birch said. “If you’re just taking it one game at a time, it makes it a lot easier in taking the pressure off the entire season or even an entire game.”

Senior shortstop Riley Rooks said the way the Cougars are currently playing isn’t a surprise.

“We expected this from last year with all the juniors we had, and the sophomores and freshmen,” Rooks said. “Once they all started hitting, it was over.

“Our pitching has really stepped up compared to last year,” Rooks added. “Throwing strikes, getting guys out, and our whole team is just hitting. We’re all on, and we’re all clicking. That’s the key to winning games.”

Cincinnati Christian’s two losses are to CHCA (7-2) and Fenwick (4-2) — both on the road and within a week of each other.

“It’s the same thing we’ve been talking about all year,” Birch said. “We’re going to make mistakes, and we might lose a game. It’s just what you do after you make a mistake that matters. It’s just about focusing on the next play.”

The Cougars have collected 142 hits and own a .356 batting average. Senior TJ Selvie (.465), freshman Tyion Colegrove (.462) and sophomore Nick Birch (.459) lead the way at the plate.

“We’ve done a really good job of laying down bunts and doing the little things to put the pressure on the other team,” Birch said. “Then when you get runners on, it makes it a lot easier.”

Senior Jackson Raby (2-0, 17 strikeouts), junior Jonah Wilson (2-0) and junior Bradyn Bayes (2-1, 1.26 ERA) are the top pitching performers for CCS.

“We don’t have any pitcher that I’d say is a stud. But we have deep pitching,” Birch said. “That’s really helped us in the long run, and our assistant coaches have done a wonderful job of getting all of our guys on the same page.

“As far as the year goes, the schedule in a way did us a favor because we had some of our toughest opponents come up fairly early in the year. When we played good games and beat them, it just put us in a really good position.”

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