SHERIDAN — The Sheridan Jets baseball team has emphasized defense during most practices so far this season. The way head coach Austin Cowen sees it, the players had plenty of batting practice during the winter months and when the team was confined indoors due to poor weather during the early parts of the season.
“The reason we have the indoor hitting facility is to work on hitting in the winter,” Cowen said. “You’re limited in what you can do defensively, so the second we’re able to be out here, it’s defense time.”
The Jets open their season this weekend with three games, one in Billings and two in Casper. They still have about two weeks until the home opener, but that should provide ample time for Cowen to instill more defensive fundamentals before their debut in front of the home crowd.
Cowen is in his first year as head coach after working as an assistant last year. He also coached baseball in Gillette for a few years before moving to Sheridan.
Cowen was a baseball standout at Campbell County High School and played in college at Western Illinois University. He was drafted in the 35th round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers and played in the minor leagues for a few years before returning to Wyoming.
With all those accolades and years of experience, Cowen brings a deep level of baseball knowledge to the Jets, something the players seem to appreciate.
Seth Deutscher said Cowen can point out specific areas to improve, like how a catcher can block a ball in the dirt or how a batter can flatten out his swing.
David Almaraz said Cowen is knowledgeable but keeps things loose for the most part.
“He’s got a humor in his coaching,” Almaraz said.
Deutscher and Almaraz are two of the returning players from last year’s team that finished runner-up in the state. The Jets finished 26-14 overall last year and lost to Casper in the championship game.
Like most years, though, the Jets are full of new, young players eager to get a shot at playing time.
Cowen said his focus is on player development and preparing the Jets for the next level of competition. He said the team has good depth and nearly all the players can pitch, so he’ll try to get as many different guys as much playing time as possible.
Most players still rotate between infield and outfield positions, so sorting out where to best utilize players’ strengths will be an ongoing task throughout the summer.
“That’s kind of what this level is, figuring out, ‘Hey, you’re probably more of an infielder, more of an outfielder, maybe more of a pitcher,’” Cowen said.
At the very least, Cowen is confident in his team’s ability at the plate.
“We should be scoring runs,” he said. “I don’t think runs are hard to come by. It’s more so limiting the other team’s runs.”
Hence the early-season emphasis on fielding. The more ground balls taken or fly balls fielded, the better. The Jets have also spent a lot of time on conditioning, which Almaraz said is painful but necessary.
Heading into the first slate of competition in about nine months, the team appeared anxious yet ready to go.
“There’s always nerves, but I think we’re all excited,” Deutscher said. “We’re young, but we’re talented, too.”
With a new coach at the helm, the Jets hope to turn their talent into wins, starting with defense.
The Jets face the Billings Halos Saturday, followed by a double-header Sunday against the Casper Drillers.