CARTHAGE — A chilly and rainy afternoon didn’t prevent Aaron Luther and his Carthage teammates from venturing out to field ground balls during practice.
Executing sharp fielding has been paramount to the Comets’ resurgence in baseball this season, with Luther leading the way on the mound.
Luther has also displayed a cool demeanor in helping guide Carthage to a 12-6 record this season, which is already an improvement to last year’s campaign when the team won nine games.
“It’s a young group of kids, we only have three seniors and a couple juniors,” said Luther, a senior right-hander, of the team during Tuesday afternoon’s practice. “But they play hard, everybody plays hard, everyone plays together. It’s not like any other team that I’ve ever been a part of, this is more of a brotherhood than anything.”
The Comets’ solid team defense has been on display during their Frontier League season, particularly in “A” Division play, including during a three-game series sweep of Watertown.
“After the game coach said ‘this is why we do this,’” Luther said. “That’s why we come out here in the rain and do pitcher-fielder practice because that’s what wins games, it’s defense.”
Carthage finished off a 2-0 victory over Watertown on May 6 to win the third game of the series with some flair on defense.
With a Cyclones runner on base in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Comets turned a double play as Luther fielded a ground ball, threw to shortstop Dawson Widrick, who touched second base and then threw to Alex Mono at first base to complete the gem by Luther.
“My fielding, like off the mound I’ve made more plays,” Luther said. “Like against Watertown, we had that one double play to end the last game of the series. And I think a couple games after that we had a very similar play like that where I had to go to first. Before that, I used to like rush my throw, I wouldn’t take my time step-throwing.”
“Aaron’s pitching lights out and it’s really refreshing to be able to play defense and know that even if I make a mistake, Aaron’s going to have my back,” Mono said.
Along with winning 12 games, the Comets have gone 9-3 in the Frontier League this season, including winning five of six games within the division, to claim their second consecutive “A” Division championship.
“It’s incredible,” said Mono, a junior who has fared 4-2 on the mound this season. “Just to know that the kids, instead of being nervous to lose, we come here with a smile on our face either way at this point. We went on that hot streak and we just lost to Cortland, but going on the hot streak, that was insane, it was a crazy atmosphere in a good way.”
“We’re very excited and it was really cool to win the division again,” Comets junior catcher Mason Moser said.
Luther and Mason have teamed up for a formidable pitcher-catcher battery as Luther has recorded a 6-2 record.
“I’m fairly happy, I wish my hitting was a little bit better,” Luther said. “I’m in a slump right now, I haven’t been hitting the ball the way I usually do. I’ve been throwing it fairly well.”
“There’s a big difference, he has a better fastball,” Moser said of Luther. “All his pitches are better, he’s pretty determined out there.”
Heading into the week, Luther sported a 1.84 earned-run average, having allowed only nine earned runs in 44 innings, while totaling 59 strikeouts and walking 19.
“He’s been awesome, he’s just so consistent,” Carthage coach Joe Sech said.
“Honestly, I perfected my changeup, I found my changeup a little bit more,” Luther said. “I’ve worked on a slider, so I just mix that in with a curveball and fastball, it keeps them off balance. If I can drop one pitch in at 60 mph and then throw other one at 75 with a rise, they’ll probably swing at it.”
Besides his presence behind the plate, Moser leads Carthage in hitting with a .451 average and has totaled a team-leading 25 hits, with seven of them doubles. He’s also scored a team-high 25 runs while stealing 12 bases and has struck out only four times.
“It’s very cool, we’re having a lot of fun,” Moser said.
“We’re in a rhythm, everybody’s hitting the ball for the most part and Mason is doing very, very well,” Luther said. “We’ve got our arms going, I’m throwing fairly well, Alex is throwing fairly well, we have people we can go to. We can go to Alex Fargo, Mason can throw, he pitched a great game against Lowville. Fargo’s there when we need him, he’s made two big saves, one against Adirondack and one against Canton.”
Mono is batting .383, including four doubles and a pair of triples, and has driven in a team-high 25 runs.
“It’s a really good feeling, especially winning like this for coach Sech,” Mono said. “It’s exciting.”
Luther is hitting .363, including three doubles and a triple, and has scored 22 runs while knocking in 12 runs.
The Comets are a tight-knit group and they have to be, considering they sport only 11 players on the varsity roster.
“They’re a close group and that makes such a difference,” Sech said. “They’re just great kids and it’s great to see what they’ve accomplished so far.”
“Not even just for me, it’s about our all-around team confidence,” Luther said. “This is basically the same squad we had, I think we’re missing one player because he moved. But all around the confidence on and off the field, just knowing what we can do, it’s just gotten so much better, there’s way more confidence.”
Last year, Carthage went 6-6 in the Frontier League en route to claiming the “A” Division title.
The seventh-seeded Comets then defeated Watertown, 3-1, in a Class A first-round sectional game on their home field before losing to second-seeded Whitesboro, 10-0, in a quarterfinal game, finishing their season at 9-8.
Through its first 17 games this season, Carthage was ranked fifth among Section 3’s Class A teams.
“Even at the JV level, these guys haven’t really won many games until last year,” said Sech, who believes Carthage’s 12 wins so far this season are the most by any team he’s coached in his 16 years as head coach at the school. “They won some games last year and we’re not world beaters, but they’re winning some more this year, so hopefully they can just keep building on it.”
Sectional pairings for baseball will be announced on Sunday, with playoff games beginning early next week.
“Everybody is fired up, we’re just trying to play our best and keep this thing going,” Luther said.