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Cutters lose nightcap to Doubledays after winning opener

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette The Williamsport Crosscutters’ Herbert Iser can’t make the tag at home to get an out as Auburn scores a run at Bowman Field on Wednesday.

It wasn’t the prettiest hit Jake Holmes has recorded this season. It certainly wasn’t the hardest-hit ball he’s put in play.

But Holmes has come to understand in recent weeks the only important factor is he recorded a third-inning hit Wednesday night for the Williamsport Crosscutters. Even more importantly, it was a two-run single.

Part of Holmes’ growth as a hitter over the last couple weeks has been learning not to overanalyze the results which come from the swings he makes in-game. So he looked at last night’s jam-shot single as nothing more than a two-run hit. It was also the hit which gave the Cutters a 2-0 win in the opener of a doubleheader at Bowman Field.

Williamsport dropped the nightcap, 3-1. It was the first time Williamsport has lost a game giving up three runs or fewer since July 30 against Connecticut.

Holmes’ 1 for 3 performance in the first game continued his two-week-long upswing in his season which has seen his batting average rise 90 points since Aug. 5.

“I feel a lot more comfortable than I have been,” Holmes said. “So I’m just trying to stay there.”

With only five games left in the season, the 21-year-old wants to keep this current hot stretch going to use it as a spring board into next season. This uptick in his performance hasn’t been about any mechanical tinkering with his swing. In fact, both Cutters hitting coach Joel McKeithan and minor league hitting instructor Jason Ochart have told him his swing is physically good.

The work he’s done has been between his ears. As a smart ballplayer, manager Pat Borders said sometimes he can spend too much time thinking about the results. So the change Holmes has made has been all about focusing on the process and enjoying when success comes.

So when he got jammed with the bases loaded on a sinker last night from Auburn starting pitcher Eddy Yean, cashing in on his up-the-middle approach was far more important than how hard the baseball was hit or how far it traveled.

“The guy is going to try and run one in on his hands and maybe get him to roll one to third base to keep that run from scoring,” Borders said. “And he jammed himself, but he kept it up the middle to make sure we got at least one run in, but he was able to get two.”

“That ball drops and you take it for what it’s worth,” Holmes said. “There was a time when I’d hit the ball hard and nothing would come of it. I think that was a harder time to keep your confidence. Things start going your way and your confidence starts to build and you try to keep it going as long as you can.”

Holmes has been keeping this roll going since Aug. 7 when he entered with a season-low batting average of .143. Since that day, he’s 20 for 59 (.339) with 14 RBIs in 18 games.

Some nights he’s crushing the ball. Some nights he gets hits like last night’s two-run single with the bases loaded. To him now, they’re all the same and he’s taking it all in stride.

It’s been a rough season for Holmes, who was demoted to Williamsport following 55 games in Lakewood where he hit just .155 over 195 plate appearances. He had just 16 RBIs primarily playing an expected run-producing position like this base. In 39 games with Williamsport, he’s already driven in 18.

It hasn’t always been easy for Holmes since his demotion. Prior to this hot stretch, he hit just .067 (3 for 45) over a 14-game stretch. He was striking out in 27% of his plate appearances and couldn’t get anything to fall.

Holmes needed anything to change without tinkering with his swing. So he began growing a beard. He still has that beard and has no plans of shaving it having raised his batting average to .233 after last night’s combined 1 for 5 performance over two games.

“He’s physically gifted,” Borders said. “He’s got a quick bat. He’s got a big-league body. When he stands out there, he looks like a big leaguer and that’s half the battle. He’s a very smart kid, and sometimes too smart with the overanalyzing of himself. If he could free up his mind, that would be a big deal for him. And confidence usually does that.”

Holmes steps into the box confident now. The results over the last couple weeks have given him every reason to be confident.

“I’m swinging at pitches I can drive and I trust myself to do damage,” Holmes said. “At the end of the day, the more athletic you are, the better you’re going to be. I feel like I’ve found that athletic stance and I have to roll with it.”

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