Hough High baseball coach Jimmy Cochran and his players have a running joke.
“It’s been 759 days since we lost a baseball game,” Cochran says.
He says it’s both a joke, since the Huskies played only four times last year before COVID-19 wiped out the season – and serious, since Hough is 14-0 this spring.
“But the players on this team have displayed a real investment in what we are trying to do,” Cochran says.
What the Huskies are trying to do is finish the season unbeaten and capture the school’s first 4A state title in baseball.
Hough wrapped up a perfect regular season Friday night with a 10-0 romp over Vance. It was the first unbeaten campaign in the school’s 11-year history.
Now it’s on to the playoffs. The N.C. High School Athletic Association will announce the pairings Sunday, and first-round games are Tuesday.
The Huskies haven’t lost since dropping a second-round playoff game in May 2019 to Providence. Their coach says the team is well-positioned to keep the streak going.
Cochran, a 2001 Independence High graduate who played at Western Carolina, is the school’s only baseball coach. He says this year’s team is a bit different from the others.
“It’s one of our more-rounded teams,” he says. “We’ve always had good pitching staffs. Sometimes the pitching carried us.
“But this year, from 1 through 9, we have a batting order that can do something special. And defensively, we’re really efficient.”
Junior Andrew Schuldt leads the team with a .484 batting average and an on-base percentage of .620. Senior Wesley Lug is batting .423, gets on base 64 percent of the time, and leads the Huskies with six doubles. Senior Dylan Koontz, batting .421, has team-high totals of 22 RBI and 14 stolen bases.
Tad Hudson, a sophomore who also quarterbacks Hough’s football team, is carrying a .409 batting average.
The pitching aces have been sophomore Max White and senior Luke Osteen, each 4-0.
The Huskies’ hitting and pitching statistics aren’t the gaudiest because most of their games were shortened to five innings by the 10-run rule.
Cochran says that despite the concerns about COVID and the late season, the 2021 campaign has “been a blast.”
“It’s been wild,” he says. “But it’s been fun. They lost most of last season, and our practices were stop-and-go (due to COVID). We’re fortunate to have a lot of good baseball players who are also good kids.
“They pull for each other. The camaraderie has been really good.”
Hough and other teams headed into the playoffs are charting new ground.
Typically, the high school baseball season ends in early June. This year, the state finals aren’t until June 26. Seniors have graduated already, and some are already moving into college dorms.
“We’ve got guys missing practice because they’re doing college orientation,” Cochran says. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to work around it.
“But it’s a season like no other.”
Hough has won 20 or more games in six of Cochran’s 11 seasons, and they also had a 19-victory season. The Huskies reached the state finals in 2012, losing to Middle Creek.
Cochran says the ceiling for this year’s team is high.
“They’re confident, without being over-confident. They work hard, and they enjoy working together. There’s a lot of talent.
“Most of all, they seem to be enjoying what we have.”
Cochran pauses, then adds, “Now we’ll see how we do in the playoffs. We’ll just go out there, play our style, and enjoy the time together.”
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle