Scott City's new ace

Thursday, March 26, 2009

SCOTT CITY -- Senior Cody Page struck out both times he had to bat against senior hurler Shae Simmons during the Rams' first live batting practice this spring.

Simmons fired a curveball that had Page moving to get out of the way, only for the pitch to curve back in across the middle of the plate and be called a strike.

"It's hard keeping up with his fastball, and then he's got a slider that's just as fast as his fastball," Page said. "But it's moving, and then when you're expecting a fastball, he throws some wicked crazy curveball that catches you off guard. It's just really hard to hit him. Even if you do know what's coming, it's still hard to hit it."

The Class 2 state champion Rams are looking to defend their title this spring. They will be without last year's ace, Ryan Modglin, who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals last June but opted instead to play at Missouri State.

Even without a tremendous talent like Modglin, the Rams still appear in fine shape with Simmons as their new ace. Simmons, a right-hander who has signed to play baseball at Southeast Missouri State next spring, was the winning pitcher in last year's state championship game. He was the No. 2 pitcher in last year's rotation when he was named as a first-team all-state infielder and made the all-Southeast Missourian first team by posting a 7-0 record with a 1.57 ERA in 44 2/3 innings.

Simmons, who threw three complete games in the playoffs, didn't get off to a strong start in his first game Monday. He pitched 3-plus innings, allowing seven runs and eight hits against Jackson.

"Last year, we didn't think of Shae as our No. 2 pitcher," Page said. "We thought of him as our second No. 1. ... There were people second guessing Shae last year. I know there's some fans and kids at our school thinking, 'Oh, Ryan is not pitching. We're not going to do anything because Shae is pitching.' I strongly disagreed with them. I think Shae is just as good, if not better than Ryan. I've grown up with Shae. I know what he's capable of and I know when you ask him to step up, he's going to step up."

Simmons leads a solid Scott City pitching staff for a Rams team that began the season Monday ranked No. 1 in the Class 2 preseason state poll. The Rams' No. 2 rotation spot could be filled by either junior southpaw Skylar Cobb or senior right-hander Josh Henson. Both played important relief and spot starting roles last year.

Pitching was one of Scott City's biggest strengths in 2008 and should be again this year.

Simmons, who displays a laid-back personality, is looking forward to being this year's ace and starting the top regular-season games against local rivals, such as Notre Dame and Oran. That was something that Modglin typically did over the past couple of years.

"I feel last year I could've thrown against the same teams Ryan did," Simmons said. "Ryan's a good pitcher, and I'm glad he did throw when he threw because he was our ace, but I feel like I would have been able get the job done, too."

Simmons recently was clocked throwing 89 and 90 mph at a showcase for a prospect team. He is in terrific shape after an offseason filled with lifting weights and playing baseball. He was on the Scott County American Legion team and also played for former minor league pitcher Talley Haines' select baseball team.

"He throws harder and his pitches have gotten nastier," Henson said about Simmons.

Simmons added a changeup during the offseason to complement his already strong fastball, although the right-handed hurler added that the changeup still needs some work.

"I feel like I am a big aspect to the team," Simmons said. "I feel like people look up to me because of last year and us winning state. But that goes along with the rest of the team. We've got a lot of other seniors who are leaders, too."

Rams coach Lance Amick said that Simmons has accepted more of a leadership role this season.

"More than anything, mentally this year he's really come in with a mindset that he wants to be a leader -- the kind of guy that people depend on, and he's trying to prepare himself mentally for next year and trying to get ready for that next jump and enjoying what he's still got left here," he said.

Simmons showed he was a pressure pitcher who could remain unfazed by the most difficult situations, including tossing all eight innings of a 7-5 extra-inning victory over Clearwater in the quarterfinals with a blister on his throwing hand.

"He's a kid that when he goes out there, he doesn't really overthink anything," Amick said. "He's kind of a happy-go-lucky kid and you're not going to rattle him very easily because he doesn't pay attention enough to get rattled a lot of times. That carefree attitude can drive a coach crazy sometimes, but it really helps him when he's pitching. He's got a quick turnaround of events. If he walks a guy, that doesn't affect him. He's already thinking about the next batter."

Rounding out the rotation

While Simmons moves up to fill Modglin's shoes, Cobb and Henson both could see time in the No. 2 spot.

Amick said that Cobb was strong enough to be a starter on many high school baseball teams as a sophomore last year and the only reason he didn't start regularly for the Rams was because of the dominance of both Modglin and Simmons.

Cobb features a slider, curve, changeup and fastball -- and a great deal of confidence heading into this season.

Last year, he posted a 3-0 record, 2.10 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings through district play.

Like Simmons, Cobb worked with Haines during the offseason. He said he spent more time practicing his pitching and baseball skills in the fall than he ever did before.

"I'm pretty confident," Cobb said. "Playing for Talley in the fall, it really got my confidence up because I threw pretty good.

"I'm a small guy, so I'm not going to be throwing 95," Cobb said. "I was really working on my changeup and a slider, which I didn't have last year."

Henson, who Amick said has the ability to throw his fastball in the mid-80s, said he expects to again be a closer and spot starter.

Henson went 2-0 with a 2.29 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings last season.

"Josh Henson is an experienced pitcher," Scott City assistant coach Lynn Ward said. "He has a good breaking ball. He doesn't throw as hard as Shae or as Skylar Cobb, but he has an outstanding breaking ball and we've worked hard this winter on a changeup. ... And I think his changeup is going to be an outstanding pitch for him as well as his breaking ball."

Like many of his teammates, Henson is excited about starting the season.

"I've been waiting since last year after we won the state championship," he said.

Amick said sophomore Jamie Scholz could see more time on the mound. He allowed one earned run in five innings last year.

A new catcher

Amick said that one of the major reasons his pitching staff was so strong last year was because it had catcher Cody Carlyle, who committed only two errors.

Senior Jaris Hye will take over for Carlyle, who graduated.

"I've been working at it every day running drills for footwork and blocking and just working on whatever I can to get better," Hye said.

Hye said he started catching on the Rams varsity team at the beginning of both his freshman and sophomore seasons. But he said he was replaced by Carlyle during both years because he had some bad games -- mostly having trouble catching the ball.

"I tried too hard and thought about it instead of just doing it," Hye said.

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