Ross High School baseball coach Jason Rettinger has been trying to challenge his players in every way possible this season to give them a more competitive edge.
Since offseason weight lifting in November, he’s been telling the Rams to “be pigs, not chickens.” In other words, give your entire self to the team, not just a piece of yourself.
Along with that mantra, Rettinger put together a board of “pig awards,” where the player with the best GPA, fundraising efforts, weight lifts, ball exit speeds and more are recognized as the pigs of the bunch.
That drive for competition — along with the leadership and experience of 14 seniors – has pushed Ross to the top of the charts among area baseball ranks. The Rams (19-3, 10-2 Southwest Ohio Conference) clinched their first outright SWOC title Wednesday, own the top seed heading into sectionals next week and are ranked No. 3 in Ohio in Division II.
“We started ‘pigs, not chickens’ in the winter, and it’s just about giving yourself up a little more, being completely committed to what you’re doing,” Rettinger said. “The Ohio University baseball team uses it too, and it’s this whole thing where if you’re making a breakfast of ham and eggs, the chicken is involved because it’s giving you an egg, but the pig is completely committed because he’s given himself as the ham. It’s really weird, but they’ve bought into it and it’s become kind of a fun thing for our team.”
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Rettinger had a pretty good idea this team could be special, given the experience of the players coming back (seven third- or fourth-year players), but the Rams have taken things to a whole new level this year.
They have five walkoff victories and have found ways to win games they would have lost last year.
“Our pitching depth has been really good, probably better than I was thinking, and we knew we had good defense and we thought we would hit,” said Rettinger, a Ross alumnus who is in his 14th season as coach. “Hitting comes and goes, but we’ve been great on defense and pitching, and the big thing is they just don’t quit. I think that’s a lot to do with the seniors. There’s just that confidence about them.
“I think as a junior, you think you’re going to win, but as a senior, you know you’re going to win. We have so many guys back from last year that just have a different confidence in themselves, and they just show up every day and work hard.”
Rettinger said players also were “a little embarrassed” by the team’s performance not living up to standards laid out by previous RHS squads. Ross has won five league titles in the last eight years but hadn’t claimed one since 2014, and just one current player — pitcher Thomas House — was part of it.
The Rams shared SWOC titles in 2013 and 2014, then went 10-15 in 2015 and 16-13 last year, finishing in fourth both seasons before making the drastic climb this season.
“It’s been almost surreal,” House said. “The last year we won it was was freshman year and most of the guys weren’t on the team, just me. Sophomore year was not very good and junior year we were fourth, so it was pretty special that this year we won it outright. It’s something we’ve wanted since we got to high school, to be able to put a banner on the gym wall and come back and see our year up there.”
House has been a big part of the team’s success.
He is 6-0 on the mound with a 1.25 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 39.1 innings, which helped him break the Ross all-time strikeout record held by Tyler Minges.
Minges, who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1998, had 74 strikeouts in 1997 and 164 for his career, while House has 176 strikeouts over his four seasons.
Rettinger knew House would get the record after House set that goal as a freshman, 164 strikeouts away from obtaining it.
“He’s always been very competitive, but him going after that record has made us better,” Rettinger said.
Adding to the pitching depth, Drew Huffman is 4-1 with a 1.37 ERA and 55 strikeouts over 41 innings, and he joins Zach Arno as a top hitter with a .413 average. Arno is batting a team-best .426, while seven additional players are above .300.
Sam Stepaniak, Tyler Flick and Zach Evans are among the emotional leaders of the team.
“A lot of guys have been stepping up that had rough seasons last year, and it’s just all come together this year,” House said. “We feel pretty good about where we are, but it’s not going to be easy in the postseason, so we just have to play our best and hopefully keep it going.”
Ross begins Dayton sectional play at home Thursday, May 11, facing either ninth-seeded Eaton or No. 18 Trotwood-Madison.