It took half the season, but the Licking County Settlers are beginning to hit their stride in the batter's box.
Led by outfielders Ashton Perritt and Matt Smith, the Settlers have raised their team batting average by nearly 60 points to .236.
"Our hitting has gotten better overall, although we haven't gotten all of our bats hot at the same time yet," coach Andy Revell said. "Ashton Perritt has swung it well consistently, Matt Smith is hitting very well right now and Ryan Huber seems to be back on track again."
For Smith, a 2012 Johnstown-Monroe High School graduate who batted .274 as a freshman for Bowling Green this spring, it has been an uphill climb.
"At Bowling Green and early in the season here, I was trying to (pull) everything," said Smith, who bats and throws right-handed. "I just changed my approach, tried to be more patient and see the ball longer. I'm trying to take things to right field or up the middle. I can still turn on a pitch if it comes inside."
Smith started the Settlers' season 3-for-22 (.136) and then went 14-for-31 (.452) to raise his average to .321 when the team entered the all-star break in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. Smith was 8-for-16 in the closing stretch of the first half as the Settlers were in second place (15-9) behind the Southern Ohio Copperheads (18-6) and ahead of the Cincinnati Steam (15-10) in the 10-team wooden-bat league.
"Pulling the ball and timing it up right gives you an awesome feeling, but hitting the ball the other way helps you see better results," Smith said. "It comes naturally for most hitters to pull the ball because that's the way we all were taught in (youth league)."
His approach at the plate and patience are things Smith has been working on since leaving Bowling Green for the summer.
"I didn't have a great year there," said Smith, who was a center fielder and designated hitter for the Falcons, who won the Mid-American Conference tournament and finished 24-31. "I wasn't seeing the ball well and I only got about 60 at-bats, so it was difficult to get into any type of rhythm. I have to take this patience back with me. I was way too anxious to try to make something happen and prove myself. I needed to slow the game down a bit and that's what I'm going to do when I get back there."
Smith, who had the Settlers' second-highest batting average at the break, played in 31 games for the Falcons and was 15-for-62 (.242).
Perritt, a resident of Whiteland, Ind., who competes for Liberty University, had played in just 13 games for the Settlers at the break after a previous obligation forced him to join the team late. He was hitting a team-best .365 (19-for-52) and had scored 10 times with team highs of nine RBI and nine stolen bases.
"(Perritt) can help the team in so many ways," Revell said. "He can save runs with his speed and arm, we can use his arm on the mound, he runs the bases well and pressures defenses and he's obviously a talented hitter."
Huber, a Newark product, was 7-for-11 in the final week before the break to raise his average to .271. He had scored a team-high 14 runs.
"The bats have started to come around," Smith said. "Ashton has really given us a spark. He's a great player with a great arm, too. Our pitching has been outstanding. They have kept us in a lot of games and we're hoping we can continue to help them out and catch the Copperheads. We took the last two we played against them (5-1 on June 29 and 5-4 on June 30).
"If we don't catch them, the next goal is to finish in the top three in the regular season to give us home playoff games."
Licking County's pitching, which has been strong all season, is led by Elliot Ashbeck, John Clark, Charles Cooper and Michael Danielak.
Danielak, who plays for Dartmouth, was 3-0 with a 0.78 ERA through 23 innings. Cooper, an Upper Arlington product who plays at Ohio Wesleyan, was 3-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 28 1/3 innings. Clark (Georgia College & State) was 3-0 with a 3.07 ERA in 26 1/3 innings and Ashbeck (Bradley) was 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings.
Newark Catholic product Jimmy Lough (Ohio State) was 1-1 with a 2.52 ERA.
The Settlers led the league with a 2.29 team ERA, ahead of the Copperheads (2.65).
Licking County had six players on the North All-Star team, although the July 10 game in Cincinnati was canceled after rain left the field unplayable. Joining Ashbeck, Danielak and Perritt as all-stars were infielders Ryan Mulligan and Matt Parisi and outfielder Vinny Rodriguez.
Mulligan was hitting .273, Parisi was hitting .253 and Rodridguez was at .246.