By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Where did this Chisholm team come from?
The Longhorn program with enough confidence to talk of postseason runs and enough credentials — a bushelful of wins (16) and a top-20 ranking — to match?
It came from Topeka, Kan.
Well, sort of.
In his second year at the program’s helm, head coach Jake Lenherr, who just six years ago was pitching for Division II Washburn University in Topeka, still isn’t exactly sure how he’s led the turnaround.
“I just had my expectations and put those in place and my philosophy on how the game should be played,” Lenherr said. “The kids pretty much bought in day one to what I was selling ... They’re pretty good kids out here, smart kids. For whatever reason, they just followed my lead.”
What the Longhorns bought into was work on fundamentals. And lots of it.
After his Washburn career, Lenherr took an assistant position in Meriden, Kan., a suburb of Topeka, on 4A Jefferson West coach Dan Hypse’s staff. In four years there, Lenherr watched the unheard-of time Hypse spent on the smallest parts of the sport — where the glove arm belongs during a pitch, how to grip a baseball and even how to play catch. Lenherr said the first week of practice looked like a little league session.
Hypse’s approach has worked at Jefferson West, which despite a smaller talent pool to draw from than its competition, finished state runner-up last season.
So far, it’s worked at Chisholm, where Lenherr’s philosophy resembles Hypse’s so much he told his old boss the team could be called “Jefferson West - South.”
“We’ll sit here for the first hour of practice, and we’ll work on the little things about baseball — mental things, base running,” said Chisholm senior Garron Nixon. “He’ll tell us, ‘I’ll bet you no other team will spend as much time on the mental part of the game like we do,’ and I think that’s part of our success.”
“It was a talented group,” said Lenherr, 29. “When they work on the finer parts of a swing or of fielding a ground ball, they’re going to improve pretty quickly ... If you commit to it every day, you’re gonna get better.”
They did, and they have.
Chisholm drew even with 2012’s win total (12) before April, and surpassed it shortly after. CHS was 12-16 last season after losing to Kingfisher 6-3 in the district tournament.
The senior-laden Longhorns, 16-5, are ranked No. 6 in 3A by Oklahoma Rankings.com. Wins 15 and 16 came against Class A No. 8 and typical area power Pioneer.
NOC Enid signee Nixon credits his team-high five home runs, 35 RBI and .479 batting average largely to the hours of newly-mandated work in the Longhorns’ recently completed indoor hitting facility. He , is one of many Longhorns unaccustomed to the success, not that he’s complaining.
“We’ve never had a winning (record) at this point in the season,” Nixon said. “We’ve never finished with a winning season. We’re going to try to make a state tournament run this season, try and give coach something he can wear on his finger.”
“Baseball used to be a joke out here,” said fellow senior Tabor Charles. “You’d come out here and it’d just be goof-off hour, basically. These guys out here (now) want to get better. They want to keep winning. Winning is contagious, and this success, it translates to all these younger guys.”
With the newfound pep in their step, the Longhorns now hold previously rare expectations for postseason success. Charles even promised a district-round win, having apparently fallen victim to that all-contagious victory.
“We’ll go as far as coach will take us,” he said.
So far, so good. �