Knowing he wanted to improve his fastball for this season, Justin Cox of the Canal Winchester High School baseball team went high-tech, at least in his own mind.
"My fastball used to be so-so," the senior said, emphasizing that his curveball has always been his best pitch. "I saw guys like (2017 graduates) Ryan Glauner and Luke Williamson have good control with their fastball, and how (2017 graduate) Austin Trace threw harder than they did, and I tried to forge an image that put those guys together and work from that."
Cox, who devoted his offseason to weight training and also spent plenty of time in front of mirrors to perfect his technique, is living up to his own expectations as well as those of his teammates and coach Tyler Kuhn as the Indians pursue their second consecutive OCC-Capital Division championship.
Through 15 games, Cox was 2-2 on the mound with a 0.93 ERA, 11 walks, 25 strikeouts and three earned runs allowed in 22 2/3 innings spanning four starts. He had allowed 16 hits and eight runs.
At the plate, he had a .333 batting average (13-for-39) with nine singles, four doubles, nine runs scored and five strikeouts against seven walks.
The Indians were 11-4 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Capital before playing Newark on April 23.
"My fastball location has been working very well," Cox said. "I knew I had good location, but this year it's been pretty good. And, of course, the offspeed stuff works here and there."
Cox was 6-2 with 18 strikeouts and 10 walks in 36 2/3 innings last season and is scheduled to pitch as many league games this year as possible.
"He manages his stamina well," Kuhn said. "By the sixth or seventh innings, he looks similar to how he looked in the first inning. Usually, guys lose velocity, they lose their feel. But he's still the same guy in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. The big thing for him is when he can locate his offspeed pitches for strikes, that's when he elevates to a higher level."
Cox's father, Jim, played at Grove City and was a 21st-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1985. A pitcher, he played that summer with the Red Sox' single-A affiliate in Elmira, New York, but did not advance further in the organization.
"I started playing baseball when I could walk," Justin said. "Baseball is in my blood."
Middle infielder Kavian McMillan said Cox brings both levity and a hard-nosed demeanor, depending on the situation.
"We'll make a lot of jokes to keep the game fun. We communicate well. We know each other's limits," McMillan said. "He can be grouchy sometimes, but we try to lighten things up.
"He's a good leader, not just because he is my best friend, but he brings a lot of leadership qualities and positivity and hard work."
Canal Winchester split two OCC-Capital games last week, losing 4-0 at New Albany on April 18 before defeating Newark 7-1 on April 19. The Indians were held to two hits against the first-place Eagles and were 1 1/2 games behind New Albany in the league standings before April 20.
The two teams were scheduled to meet again April 24.
Despite his success, Cox said he never marketed himself to play college baseball, instead choosing to focus on a career in the military. He plans to enroll in the ROTC at the University of Cincinnati and then go into the Army full-time after graduation, although Cox did not rule out trying to walk on at UC.
"Something I was born with was that fire and passion to serve," Cox said. "It's my last year (of high school), but I'm a lot more relaxed. The big goal is just to have fun. Absolutely no pressure."
Track teams prepare for home invitational
The track and field teams' signature home meet is getting back to its roots.
Canal Winchester will play host to the Milt Will Invitational on Friday, April 27, a name change for an event long known as the Milt Will Relays.
"We had six or seven teams come the past few years, and then when we decided to change to an invitational, we got eight teams," boys coach Kurtis Robinson said. "You get later in the season and teams start looking for invitationals to prepare for their league, district and regional meets. Relay meets don't necessarily give you the chance to prepare for those the way you might like to.
"In the (1960s), '70s and '80s, it was the Milt Will Invitational. It changed to the Milt Will Relays at some point and it had been that (name) ever since."
The other participants are Columbus Academy, Fairfield Union, Groveport, New Albany, Pickerington Central, Pickerington North and Westerville North.
Canal Winchester competed in the Elmo Kallner Invitational on April 21 at Hamilton Township, a meet in which Robinson and girls coach Darren Avery hoped to see more of the steady improvement that led to five combined top-three finishes in invitationals this season before last weekend.
In the Hank Smith Invitational on April 14 at Heath, the boys finished third (74 points) of 20 teams, behind champion Thornville Sheridan (97), and the girls were third (65.5) of 17 teams, behind champion and OCC-Capital foe Big Walnut (103).
Winning for the boys at Heath were senior Gibby Cornett in the 200 meters (23.41 seconds), freshman Korbin Martino in the 800 (49.79) and the 800 relay of Martino, junior Chris Ryan, junior Zach Akarri and Cornett (1:31.4). Freshman Allena Klamorick had the lone first-place finish for the girls, winning the 800 (2:23.88).
Martino's time in the 400 was fourth best in last week's area honor roll.
The boys finished third (81.5) in the 12-team Elmo Kallner Invitational on April 21 at Hamilton Township behind champion Teays Valley (113.5), led by wins from the 400 relay, 800 relay and Tyler Toledo in the pole vault (11 feet, 6 inches).
The girls finished 10th (29) of 13 teams behind champion and league rival Groveport (84). Cassie Kolonchuk won the 800 (2:32.14) and Klamorick placed second in the 1,600 (5:43.53) and fifth in the 3,200 (12:42.02).
"I'm extremely excited. We've been getting better every single day," Robinson said. "Our sprinters are better. Our hurdlers, jumpers, distance runners, throwers ... all of them are getting better. The big thing now is we're just trying to find some consistency. We'll get there."
Softball team entered week winless in OCC
The softball team sought its first OCC-Capital win of the season April 23 when it visited Big Walnut.
Canal Winchester was 3-9 overall and 0-4 in the league entering that game.
The Indians were outscored 44-10 in their first four OCC-Capital games, losing to Big Walnut 15-5 on April 11, Groveport 13-2 in five innings on April 12, New Albany 8-3 on April 18 and Newark 8-0 on April 19.
Canal Winchester had lost nine of its past 11 games before April 23. The Indians' two wins during that stretch came in a doubleheader April 14 at Licking Valley, 16-2 in six innings and 6-4.
Below are the coming schedules for the Canal Winchester baseball, softball, boys tennis and track & field teams:
*April 27 -- At Groveport. The Indians lost to the Cruisers 10-0 on April 6 and won 2-1 in eight innings April 10.
April 28 -- Home vs. Pickerington North (DH)
*April 30 -- At Franklin Heights. The Indians defeated the Falcons 10-0 on April 11 and 12-0 on April 13.
*May 2 -- Home vs. New Albany. The Indians lost to the Eagles 4-0 on April 18.
*April 26 -- At Franklin Heights
April 27 -- Home vs. Westerville South in makeup from April 4
April 28 -- At Bexley with Chillicothe Southeastern
*April 30 -- At New Albany. The Indians lost to the Eagles 8-3 on April 18.
May 1 -- Home vs. London
*May 2 -- Home vs. Newark. The Indians lost to the Wildcats 8-0 on April 19.
April 26 -- Home vs. Grandview
April 30 -- Home vs. Central Crossing
May 2 -- At Teays Valley
TRACK & FIELD
April 27 -- Milt Will Invitational at home
April 30 -- At Pickerington North with Teays Valley