Jalen McCracken and Keaton Brown high-fiving their teammate Hayden Maples. (DHI Media/ Pat Agler)
Jalen McCracken and Keaton Brown high-fiving their teammate Hayden Maples. (DHI Media/ Pat Agler)

VAN WERT—Airspace in the outfield of Smiley Park, or even Canal Park in Akron, is strictly off-limits when TJ Reynolds, Jalen McCracken and Keaton Brown create the Cougars’ “No Fly Zone.” They call themselves the “No Fly Zone” because most fly balls end up in their leather and not the outfield grass. Though, these three have not just been getting it done with the leather they’ve been doing it with the bats too.

Just take a look at the box score of the Regional Final game against Vermillion. The three batters combined to go six for 10, with seven runs scored and four RBIs. In the semi-final game, Brown scored the lone run in the 1-0 ballgame against Bowling Green, while Reynolds threw a runner out at the plate.

Along the way if something was needed for the Cougars to advance these three, who just happen to bat seven, eight and nine in the order, have came through.

“We take a lot of pride in it,” said McCracken on the fact that these three outfielders have been getting it done at the bottom of the order. “The last couple of games I feel like we have been the ones to get the rally going. I feel like we are another top of the lineup.”

“There is strength all throughout our line up,” echoed Brown. “The bottom of the order can get back to the top, or the top can just push it through.”

In the Cougars’ five postseason games they have scored 32 runs. These three have scored exactly half of the runs (16, duh), while batting .470 (16-34) and eight RBIs. *Checks notes* That’s um, productive.

“I think any team sees seven, eight and nine coming up and thinks that they are easier outs,” said Reynolds. “For our team we are just another top of the lineup.”

“Teams that don’t know us will just give us fastballs in the strike zone and expect us to take them or not hit them,” said Brown.

Strangely enough, the only game the trio struggled this May was the District finals game against Shawnee. Perhaps the reason being that they already knew these outfielders were capable of. They already made that mistake, as when the Cougars beat their fellow Western Buckeye League member the first go around, the bottom of the order had three hits and scored four of Van Wert’s runs.

“Teams that didn’t know us like Lexington and Vermillion took it easy on us and played in,” said McCraken. “When we played Shawnee again, you could tell they knew what we were capable of doing.”

Sure, they knew what these three could do at the plate—but they seemed to forget what they could do with the leather. TJ Reynolds threw the tying run at the plate in the sixth inning of that District Final game. In the following two games, Reynolds threw another runner out at the plate, McCracken rocketed a throw to third that stifled a Vermillion offense and Brown ran down several balls in right field.

“One of our strengths is our outfield defense,” said McCracken. “We are some of the better outfielders in the state and we take a lot of pride in that.”

“We are always going all out,” said Brown on the effort of their defensive play. “We don’t take any plays off. We are always talking to one another, we’re always ready.”

“It starts in practice, we take a lot of pride in going after the ball hard and diving after the ball,” Reynolds said on the preparation the three take. “We do it so when it comes to game time its second nature.”

No one is sure how Saturday’s semi-final game is going to shake out but if I was a betting man, these three are going to be a difference maker.