By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Last season, Stillwater High School junior Michael Higgins got his first taste of varsity baseball only to be relegated back to the bench 11 games into the season when Parker Zimmerman returned from injury.
Now with Zimmerman at Wichita State, Higgins is once again the man behind the dish for the Pioneers. Only this time he’s not going to be giving up his role any time soon.
“Michael is improving,” Stillwater coach Tony Holt said. “He ended up catching 10 or 11 games for us last year when Parker Zimmerman got hurt. He played extremely well last year as a sophomore when he was thrown into the fire. We knew going in that he has the ability to be a very good catcher and a very good player. He’s still a young player and this is his first time being a full-time starter, but he’s improved a lot behind the plate and at the plate.”
But while most catchers are known more for their defensive ability — and Higgins is no exception with a rocket arm and nearly flawless technique — it was Higgins’ offensive skills that were on display last week as Stillwater swept a pair of district games against Bixby.
Friday, Higgins’ three-run double helped open the floodgates in an 11-1 run rule victory before his two-run home run Saturday in Bixby helped the Pioneers pull out a 7-4 win.
“It felt really good,” Higgins said. “I’m happy to finally get my bat going. At the beginning of the year I wasn’t doing so well, but I started really seeing the ball and hitting well in the Enid tournament and it’s just carried over.
“The run we gave up Friday was a direct result of a passed ball that I gave up. Carson (Teel) was pitching his butt off so I knew I had to do something to make it up for him. I just got a pitch to hit and was able to get some good wood on it.”
While both hits came when the game was still in doubt, handling pressure is nothing new to Higgins. Whether it’s smothering a Teel curveball or knocking in a big RBI when the time calls for it, Higgins’ experiences in the past have helped him ease into the pressure-packed, daily grind of becoming the everyday catcher for the Pioneers.
“It’s a tough position,” Holt said. “It’s kind of like a center in football. You handle every pitch of the game. … It’s a high-stress, high-pressure position because if the ball’s going back to the screen all day you’re going to have a tough time being successful. But he’s got the ability to be very good at it and he’s getting better at the plate. He’s doing a lot of good things for us, so we’re looking forward to him getting better every day.
“If he hadn’t played any games last year, we’d be going into the season with a guy that never played. We know he’s got the ability, but he might have had some apprehension about it and not sure of himself. Last year’s experiences helped because we already knew he could do it and that just helped his confidence.”
As anyone who has ever picked up a baseball can tell you, confidence is key — especially in the batter’s box. And as Higgins and the Pioneers prepare for the Stillwater Invitational Thursday, Higgins appears to be leading the charge on both ends as Stillwater continues to rise through the rankings.
“Our confidence is really high right now,” Higgins said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season, but we’ve done really well lately. Now we’ve had a couple of games where we’re playing on both ends and we’ve looked really good. That just adds to our confidence even more.”
Higgins may be hitting his stride, but he said there are still some things he’d like to work on before the playoffs.
“There’s a couple of little things here and there, but right now we’re just focusing on finishing in the top two in our district,” Higgins said. “We’re hoping to host a regional and hopefully move on from there to state. We just have to continue to work on the little things and come out ready to play every day.”
Becca Worthy, track
Gabbi Shelton, girls golf
Taylor Throne, baseball