By Nate Thompson

EGELSTON TOWNSHIP – Kolin Chahorski’s season statistics are impressive enough, with a .405 batting average and over 20 stolen bases for the Oakridge varsity baseball team.lsj-fb-logo

But maybe his most valuable asset to the Eagles’ success this season doesn’t show up in a box score.

Chahorski’s ability to call a game behind the plate, guide inexperienced pitchers and provide leadership in times of turmoil has been immeasurable for an Eagles squad that stands at 20-8 and recently shared the West Michigan Conference championship with Whitehall.Oakridge baseball

“Kolin, for me, he’s been really needed,” said Oakridge coach Brandon Barry about his senior catcher. “We lost quite a few talented seniors from last year, and his ability to step up and become a team leader, it’s been hugely important.

“I see a lot of high school coaches who look over to the catcher and give them signs throughout the game (for the pitcher),” Barry added. “We don’t do that. With Kolin, he’s a really good student of the game. I don’t call any pitches.

“He has the ability to get our pitchers in a good flow. He’s like a quarterback of baseball out there. And if (our pitchers) get into a jam, he’ll go talk with them and calm them down. It’s nice to have like another coach on our team who has the ability to call a game and understand what we’re trying to do. He’s a really good thinker.”

Chahorski’s skills will be needed when Oakridge plays a pre-district game on Tuesday against Tri-County, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s districts and the loser going home.

As a program, Oakridge has done a lot of things right in recent seasons, with 20 or more wins for five straight years. They’ve reached the Division 3 state quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons – including a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to Gladstone in 10 innings last June.

“It was definitely the hardest loss I’ve ever experienced in baseball,” Chahorski said.

But this spring has presented various challenges, including replacing five seniors from that quarterfinal squad, and dealing with some suspensions of players on the current roster for off-the-field issues.

On top of that, the Eagles lost senior four-year varsity player Brady Luttrell to a season-ending ligament injury in his elbow.

“We’ve had some kids who have really stepped up, and it’s been a necessity. We’ve lost three starters through the season,” Barry said. “We’ve had four freshmen who’ve played at least half of the season or more.”

That’s where Chahorski has stepped up. Barry said his senior catcher often has an “off-the-wall” personality, but it vibes well with his teammates.

“I’d say that’s true,” Chahorski said. “I just try to keep up everyone’s spirits. But when we need to, I’ll keep it serious, too.”

And if one of the Eagles’ freshmen or other underclassmen hits a rough stretch, Chahorski tries to be a calming presence.

“I’ll just let them know that there’s more to the game than one play,” he said. “One play doesn’t define you.”

Unexpectedly, freshmen such as pitchers Koleman Wall, Blake Masterman and TJ Ruel have turned in several tremendous outings for the Eagles. Freshman Jalen Hughes also has been a solid backup position player when needed.

“Koleman has really be fun to work with,” Chahorski said. “He has three fantastic pitches he can rely on — a fastball, curve and knuckler.”

Chahorski, who also starred as a running back and defensive back for the Eagles’ football team, will attend Central Michigan University next fall and may walk on to the Chippewas football squad.

But when it came to baseball season, his focus always shifted to behind the plate. He said he started catching in eighth grade because “he was the only person willing to try it.”

“I liked it, and started practicing more and more,” he said. “I learned some new things at (Spring Lake-based training facility) Extra Innings and got better.”

Aside from Chahorski, the catalysts for Oakridge’s success have been the seniors in charge – a group which recently enjoyed a senior trip to Cedar Point. The players include the ace of the pitching staff, Nate Wahr; first baseman/closer Logan Layman; and outfielder Austin Byers, a defensive standout.

A key to a lengthy postseason run could rely on what Barry believes the Eagles do best – getting runners on base.

“Our philosophy is to score a run an inning,” Barry said. “We play a lot of small ball and sacrifice some runners over. And we feel that we’re very good defensively. One thing we don’t want our pitchers to do is walk a lot of batters, because we believe we can make most plays in the field.”

But with Chahorski behind the plate, free passes don’t happen often. He said he remembers how to pitch each batter in a lineup based on their first at-bat, which aides in suggesting pitches for the Eagles’ staff.

“When they’re struggling, I just try to calm them down and just to focus on the next pitch,” he said. “I’ll let them know that they’re out there pitching for a reason. They’ve got to take charge.”

When it’s advice coming from the Eagles’ catcher who’s like a second coach, they’re bound to listen.