At the beginning of the season, Lawrence High’s baseball team gave freshman pitcher Bryce Montes de Oca a nickname: “El Grande.”
Montes de Oca, 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, certainly came up big in the Lions’ 2-0 victory against Shawnee Mission South on Thursday at LHS.
He spread five hits over five shutout innings. When his arm tired and he plunked a couple batters to open the fifth inning, senior Jake Johnson took over and recorded six straight outs to secure the victory.
Coach Brad Stoll said the coaching staff has been trying slowly to work Montes de Oca into the rotation.
“To get five out of him was really exciting, and it’s going to be beneficial down the road for the kid,” Stoll said. “That was really cool to see him do so well.”
Montes de Oca is usually relegated to radar-gun duties behind the plate. But Thursday, he was the center of attention.
The Raiders threatened early, when senior Tyler Combs opened with a lead-off single. After a sacrifice bunt, Montes de Oca struck out senior Danny Sader looking and forced cleanup hitter Alex Forslund to ground out.
"I was nervous at first, but I got relaxed because I knew I had a good defense behind me,” Montes de Oca said.
Stoll said Montes de Oca is tremendously talented and has a chance to develop a filthy slider.
He also said he thinks the Lions’ pitching depth is helping Montes de Oca.
“If we didn’t have depth at the top of the pitching rotation, he would have been thrown in the fire early,” Stoll said.
The Lions (9-5) couldn’t win it with just pitching, though.
After senior Trent Sheppard doubled with two outs in the second, junior Jake Vinoverski singled to plate the Lions’ first run.
Senior Aaron Gile hit a lead-off ground-rule double over the left-field wall in the fourth inning. He moved to third on a groundout and raced home on a sacrifice fly from Sheppard.
Despite the lead, Stoll pulled his players aside in the fifth inning and told them they weren’t playing to their capabilities.
“To get to where we want to go and to get where I think we can go, you’ve got to be competitive from the first at-bat to the last out,” Stoll said. “I just think we were hit-and-miss with that.”
The Lions take on Rockhurst (Mo.) at 2 p.m. Saturday at LHS. Stoll is good friends with Hawklets coach Jim DeGraw, and he said they’ve been looking forward to the matchup for a long time.
“You talk about a team that looks good coming off the bus — holy cow,” Stoll said. “They are freakishly athletic, and they are a tremendous talent.”