For the past five seasons, the Wiregrass Ranch Bulls boys baseball team has finished the year with a winning record. Last year, they reached the playoffs for the first time in school history and made it all the way to the regional final.
But this year, they entered the season with a coach who wasn’t involved in the team’s previous success. Marshall McDougall had not only never coached at Wiregrass Ranch before, he had never coached at the high school level before.
For a team on the rise, it might seem like a risky move to put the team’s future in such inexperienced hands. But about halfway through the season, that move looks like a brilliant one.
Wiregrass Ranch currently has a 10-4 record, and is in the hunt for the Class 7A District 8 title with a 4-2 record. That mark includes an impressive 12-2 win over district foe Steinbrenner on March 25, and their new coach is pleased with the team’s strong start.
“As a whole, our team is pretty solid all the way through,” McDougall said. “It’s a matter of keep pushing the kids, keep improving and keep playing hard, and I think our kids can go a long way.”
While he hasn’t spent much time as a coach, McDougall makes up for it in real-world baseball experience. He played professional baseball for more than a dozen years, including a stint with the Texas Rangers. And his baseball days aren’t far behind him: At 35 and retired from the game for just two years, he’s able to not only instruct the team verbally, but go out on the field and show them exactly what he means.
McDougall believes the ability to participate with his team allows them to learn in non-verbal ways and buy into his system since it’s coming from someone who can still play the game at a high level.
And his players agree.
“Sometimes he’ll go out there and show us we’re not as good as we think we are,” said senior Ryan Girard, who pitches and plays first base for the team. “He’s definitely still got all the skills, and he passes them on to us as best he can.”
The team sees that McDougall knows what he’s doing, Girard said, and they can follow his lead knowing it comes from experience and knowledge of the game.
Zachary Drury, a senior who is a pitcher and plays third base for Wiregrass Ranch, also believes that McDougall’s ability to show the team how to execute plays is an advantage. But he said that his coaching style also helps the team succeed by allowing them to grow without over-the-top yelling and unproductive pressure.
“He doesn’t really get mad. I mean, he gets mad, but he doesn’t make you afraid to make a mistake,” Drury said. “He’s a really cool guy and we enjoy having him.”
And while the Bulls are enjoying a winning record, McDougall doesn’t want them getting complacent. The coach sets up individual competitions in practice so the players get used to trying to win on a regular basis regardless of record.
And there are small consequences for losing, such as a few laps or cleaning up after practice. Just enough, McDougall said, to keep them from being OK with losing or not hungry enough to continue improving.
While he believes Wiregrass Ranch can go far this year, McDougall is adamant that his goals don’t really matter. It’s the players, not the coaches, who must have the drive to set high objectives and then find the will to achieve them.
“My goal is to help them reach their goal. That’s the best way I can put it,” he said. “We (the coaches) are not playing. It’s up to them to decide what they want. My job is to teach them small things and try to make them reach the goal they want.”
Wiregrass Ranch baseball, at a glance
Feb. 7 – Win vs. Strawberry Crest, 4-2
Feb. 13 – Win vs. Hudson, 13-0
Feb. 18 – Win at Freedom, 8-2
Feb. 21 – Win vs. Steinbrenner, 4-2
Feb. 25 – Win at Sickles, 4-2
Feb. 28 – Win vs. Mitchell, 4-1
March 4 – Loss vs. Gaither, 3-1
March 13 – Win vs. Zephyrhills, 5-0
March 18 – Win at Weeki Wachee, 15-1
March 19 – Loss vs. Springstead, 3-2
March 20 – Win vs. Bishop McLaughlin, 8-4
March 25 – Win at Steinbrenner, 12-2
March 27 – Loss at Sunlake, 6-5
March 28 – Loss at Sickles, 2-0
March 31 – at Pasco, late
April 1 – vs. Ridgewood, late
– Courtesy of MaxPreps
Published April 2, 2014
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