Brayden Belden battled much more than 26 batters on Monday.
With wind gusts up to 40 miles an hour in his face, the Chickasha ace and Bethany counter-part Jacob Doshier had issues keeping pitches within a noticeably high strike zone. There was also the matter of getting back into a rhythm following a brief spring break.
"The wind was blowing, things were staying down low," Belden said. "I couldn't get the ball up when I was throwing. I was staying below the knees, and sometimes that's good. But sometimes the zone needs to be a little higher."
He recorded eight strikeouts in five innings pitched, but it also took about 115 pitches according to the Chickasha books. The scorer's table had him at 123, and Doshier's number also exceeded 100.
"Jello" is the word Belden used to describe his arm after the game, and understandably so. It's all part of a new system implemented by Chickasha Head Coach Erik Hughes to get more out of the rotation.
"What we're trying to do this year is trying to extend pitchers," Hughes said. "It's not so much the pitches they throw on that day, but the rest I give them after. It's only dangerous for a pitcher who throws that many if he comes back too quick."
It's an automatic three-day rest for any Chickasha pitcher who goes over 70 in a game, Hughes said. As a result, Belden won't see time on the mound now until Friday's game against Carl Albert at the earliest.
Chickasha plays twice on Thursday in the Washita Valley tournament.
"We're just training our arms to go that long, and he's going to have a three-day rest," Hughes said. "That's automatic, no matter what. Your body can handle that if you take the proper precautions."
The policy extends to all of Chickasha's rotation, including seniors Brandon Shumway and Brooks Bush and junior Brock Henderson, who lined up at short stop before taking the mound for one final inning in a 9-1 run-rule win on Monday.
It can put a lot on a pitcher -- especially a senior -- who is already the center of attention.
"It's stressful," Belden said. "You've got to rely on yourself a little more. You don't want to be the man, but make sure you get your job done."
Some of that stress was evident Monday when Belden and the Chickasha fielders twice faced bases-loaded situations. They came away from both without a scratch.
"When I went out and talked to Brayden on the mound, I told him to quit trying to do everything yourself," Hughes said. "There's eight guys around you. Involve them. When I've got nine guys all trying to do their own job, we're going to have a pretty good team."
Chickasha picks up its stride on Thursday when the Washita Valley tournament begins at noon against Elgin. Following a spring break trip to Texas, the game time will be valuable, Belden said.
"The more games we play, the better we're going to get," Belden said. "In Texas, Brock and Brandon got some time to focus on their stuff and they're looking real good. This tournament will just give us more games to play."