Catching flak, catching on all part of plan

Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Herald
Forest Park catcher Daniel Lusk braced to tag out Castle’s Will Nunn at home plate Tuesday at Ferdinand, where Lusk singled and scored the final Ranger run but Castle skipped town with an 11-3 victory. For more photos from the game, click here.


FERDINAND — If Daniel Lusk had the option, he wouldn’t elect to practice blocking balls in the dirt. So the Forest Park catcher came to an agreement with Ranger coach Jarred Howard.

If Lusk doesn’t allow a ball to get past him during a game, he won’t have to block pitch after pitch the next day. If a ball slips through, though, like one that managed to squirt by in the third inning of Tuesday’s 11-3 loss against Castle in Ferdinand, Lusk better get prepared.

“I guess tomorrow I have to work on blocking balls in practice,” Lusk said, sheepishly.

Lusk also finished 1-for-3 at the plate and scored the final Ranger run. But by the time he scored that run in the sixth inning, Castle had an eight-run pad. After allowing two runs in the first and third innings, the Rangers fought back for a pair of their own in the bottom half of the third.

Castle (4-5) then posted five in its next at-bat in what’s become a troubling trend for Forest Park.

“It’s deflating, so what we have to do is to learn that when we give up runs early and we fight back, we have to go stop them to keep the momentum going,” said Howard, whose team picked up RBIs from Evan Dilger, Elliott Rothgerber and Aaron Hurst. “The last few games that we’ve lost we haven’t went out there that next inning after we come back and get the first out. We’ve made some mistakes mentally.”

Forest Park’s Garret Berg tracked a fly ball during Tuesday night’s game against Castle at Ranger Field. The Knights lost 11-3. For more photos from the game, click here.

For Forest Park (4-3), the shuffle around the field continued as the Rangers still wait for Trever Zink’s shoulder to mend and allow him to take on more than designated hitter duties. The Rangers committed four errors Tuesday with a defense that featured many players trying to juggle a handful of positions.

“When we pitch position players you have to move guys around,” Howard said. “I’m not crazy about doing that but that’s just the way it is. We’re not a big enough school to have ‘pitcher onlys,’ so they’re paying some different positions, but I’m trying to get them to where they’re playing two positions instead of three or four.”

Lusk doesn’t have that problem, however. Forest Park’s other option behind the plate, Carson Hoffman, is on the shelf for the foreseeable future, leaving all the catching responsibilities to Lusk.

That passed ball was the sole blemish for Lusk defensively. He gunned down a runner trying to steal second base to end the second inning, and later fired a rope to eliminate Nathan James trying to advance to second after James’ single forced a throw to the plate. Lusk said he sits and waits for a runner to test his arm.

All this for a player who would probably not be squatting behind the plate for seven innings a night if he had a choice.

“He would probably prefer to not catch,” Howard said. “He’s a very good athlete and there are other places we could play him, but right now we have to catch him because our other guy is down. It’s just the way it is.”

Lusk does have a history behind the plate after serving as the catcher on his travel team. When he showed up for practice freshman year, he was shuffled to behind the plate. After operating as the designated hitter for the varsity team last season while also handling the bulk of the catching duties for the JV squad, Lusk has graduated to the primary varsity catcher.

He still doesn’t allow all that crouching to slow him down.

Lusk motored his way into second for a stolen base in the sixth. Later in the inning, he paused at third base on a groundball. When Castle third baseman Zach Messinger looked him back and threw to second to start a double play, Lusk took off and beat the throw home without a slide.

“He’s a great athlete for us,” Howard said. “He’s smart, he knows what he’s doing and he runs good. He’s probably our fastest guy. It would probably be nice to have him in the outfield because he’s our best outfielder, too, I think.”

Lusk used to wear knee-savers when he was younger, but the pads that are designed to lessen the stress on a catcher’s knees didn’t allow him to squat low enough for his liking. It slowed him down trying to stay in front of balls in the dirt. More importantly, he said, the pads prevented him from setting a low enough strike zone for his pitcher.

Still, he insists all that time spent catching doesn’t hold him back too much on the bases.

“I’m sure I’ve slowed down a little bit, but I don’t think it affects me too much,” Lusk said. “I’ll just be sore when I go home tonight.”

Hopefully not too weary, since he’ll still need to fulfill his end of the bargain at practice.

“We did have a runner on third base and he let a ball go through his legs to the backstop to score a run, so he’s learning, too,” Howard said. “He’s figuring it out. For the most part, we trust Dan behind the plate. He does a good job because he’s smart.”

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