Members of the McLean baseball team are still getting used to John Dowling's coaching methods, which included an exercise referred to as “burpees” at the end of a recent practice. But if what Dowling did at his previous job is any indication of his abilities, it won't be long before his methods translate to success for the Highlanders.
Dowling, 30, enters his first season as McLean head baseball coach. He spent the previous two seasons at Lee High School in Springfield, where he took a struggling program within one win of a regional tournament appearance in 2013 after defeating perennial power West Springfield in the Patriot District tournament.
“He’s really organized in everything he does,” McLean senior pitcher Joey Sullivan said. “A lot of us are trying to get used to it. Some of the new drills that we’ve learned … are new drills that I’ve never seen in my life and I’ve been playing the game for 12 years. They seem to work and I hope they work for us in the spring.”
After coaching a Lee program with limited depth, Dowling takes over a McLean program with greater numbers. Sullivan, a three-year varsity player who signed with Virginia Tech, is the Highlanders’ staff ace. The right-hander’s fastball touches the low 90s.
“Joey’s a really competitive kid,” Dowling said. “He, on the mound, will dictate the pace of the game. He’s not scared of the moment --- he wants the moment to be his. I learned a lot by going to basketball games and just watching him play basketball. He won the [Conference 6] Defensive Player of the Year [award]. I think that right there speaks a lot to a kid’s effort on the floor.”
Sullivan teams with junior catcher Caleb Beatty to form what Sullivan called “the best battery out there.” Beatty is in his third year on the varsity and second as starting catcher. He was the team’s starting designated hitter as a freshman.
“It’s been a little difficult gauging [expectations], not knowing the players, the personnel extremely well. … But with that said, what are you playing for if you’re not looking to play [in the state tournament] at Robinson in June?”
--- McLean baseball coach John Dowling
“He doesn’t let much get by him, ever,” Sullivan said. “He stops pretty much anything I’ll throw --- high, low, in the dirt, inside, outside. And he can also stroke the [heck] out of the ball, too.”
Dowling said Beatty and Sullivan lift the team’s energy level.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have Caleb,” Dowling said. “[He is] a very, very energetic player and to have him at such a critical position is a huge boost to our team as a whole. He a Joey really do set the energy for the team.”
Dowling said he’s waiting for another pitcher to establish himself as the team's No. 2 starter. Senior right-handers Colin Morse and Jesse Jones, junior lefty Frank Minamino, sophomore left-hander Jon Clines, and Beatty are candidates.
Offensively, sophomore outfielder Matt Collins, who started as a freshman, is one of the team’s top hitters.
“I’m very excited to watch Matt Collins play baseball for the next three years,” Dowling said. “... Offensively, the sky is the limit for Matt. He could light the world on fire this year.”
McLean is scheduled to open the season on the road against rival Langley at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 21. The Highlanders’ home opener is March 28 against Marshall.
While Dowling is still learning about his players’ abilities, he has high hopes for his first season with the Highlanders.
“It’s been a little difficult gauging [expectations], not knowing the players, the personnel extremely well,” Dowling said. “… But with that said, what are you playing for if you’re not looking to play [in the state tournament] at Robinson in June?”
Sullivan also has high expectations.
“We should definitely be in the district championship, in my opinion,” he said. “We definitely have the talent to be there. When you get to the district championship, anything happens, but we want to be in the game for sure and put ourselves in a spot to get a good seed in regionals and hopefully go far in regionals.”