By Corbin Hosler
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Just a week into the season Norman North faced a crossroads few teams face so early. One of the Timberwolves’ senior leaders — Kallen Snodgrass — went down with an injury that threatened to keep him out for the entire year. That created a vacuum that coach Brian Aylor had to scramble to fill. And while he sought the right formula North fell to 3-4.
For a team that was fresh off its first championship game appearance last season, it wasn’t the start that anyone expected to 2014.
“The injury threw everyone for a loop,” Aylor said. “Losing his leadership and playing some of our younger players is something it takes time to adjust to.”
It was an unlucky series of events that made a North team with a strong senior class, but also several new faces, re-evaluate itself. Aylor said then the Timberwolves could either throw in the towel, or they could use it as a chance to improve.
A month later, there’s no doubt which path the T-wolves took.
“Our final game at a tournament in Florida, that was the turning point,” Aylor said. “We went back and looked at our on-base percentage, and put those guys at the top of the lineup. That final game, we got down to a really good team, and that’s when it turned. We came back in that game and won, and that was the start.”
Whatever the reason, things began to click. The Timberwolves finalized the first two pitching positions for the all-important district schedule. They moved Hal Hughes into the two-hole to maximize their baserunners. They filled the hole left in the infield from Snodgrass’ injury, and the underclassmen began to better understand their roles.
It worked. North would go on to win its next 12 games before dropping Thursday’s game to Moore. Brad Kinsey and Thomas Hughes are a combined 11-1 with 80 strikeouts between them and have helped the T-Wolves get off to a perfect 8-0 start in District 6A-2. The team batting average is over .300 and four players — Leo Gallegos, Thomas Hughes, Nick Basquine and Joe Nostrand — are all batting over .350.
North may not be the same team that came within one game of the Class 6A title a year ago. But it’s a team that has steadily improved and is poised to make a run in the second half, especially with Snodgrass expected back soon. He was cleared to throw on Thursday and coaches are optimistic he will be back in the next two weeks.
“This is a humbling game; when you think you’ve got it all figured out it will bring you to your knees,” Aylor said. “You’ve got to get that low to find out who you are. Through the failures, we started to see who was going to step up and lead this team.”
Aylor said that even Thursday’s disappointing loss, a game where the Timberwolves stranded a dozen baserunners, will serve to help the team improve and reach its ultimate goal: to win the last game.
“We don’t like to lose, and we’ve created the expectation here to win every game even though we know we can’t always do that,” he said. “Today will allow us to show them we still have a long way to go.”
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