First-year Whitley County High School Baseball Coach Jeremy Shope has the same goal this season for the Colonels as he has had for his prior teams.
“I want our goal to be go win a state championship. It is so much more than winning, but ultimately that is why you play the game to try to go win ball games,” Shope said Friday, less than 24 hours after tryouts on the first official day of spring practice.
“I am excited about the coming weeks. I am excited about this bunch. I think we have a lot of ability there. They have really grown in the offseason. We have had many open fields, and have had some dedicated guys that are working hard, so I am excited about them.”
Shope is no stranger to coaching on the baseball diamond.
Before coming to Whitley County he coached Mercer County in Harrodsburg from 1997 through 2016.
He stepped down last season because he had a senior daughter and a freshman daughter who were playing softball on the same team for the first time, and he wanted to take some dad-time in order to watch them play for a year.
He is excited about his return to coaching, and is inheriting a team that went 16-15 last season, including a 1-6 record in district play under former head coach Kyle Adams. Last year’s team lost in the first round of the 50th District tournament to Corbin.
Whitley County loses five seniors from last year’s team, including shortstop Brandon Harlan, outfielder Tanner Prewitt, utility players Jesse Bryant and Austin Caldwell and Tyler Daniels.
Shope said that he’s not sure exactly who will be replacing Harlan and Prewitt on the field, and he is in the process of figuring out who is going to play at what positions.
“I tell our guys it is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. The regular season is figure out who you are and get better throughout the season. You don’t have to ever have anything figured until the postseason. It is kind of like a tryout all season long,” Shope noted.
This year’s team has three seniors it will be looking to for leadership – Dylan Wilson, Kyle Edmiston and Tyler Shelton, who all play both pitcher and outfielder.
“We have three seniors that are phenomenal as far as they have ability. They are good character kids that bring it every day and that practice hard every day,” Shope said. “Those are three guys that are going to contribute to us quite a bit. To have three guys of their character and their hard work, they are going to be three guys our team can follow.”
Shope said his goal is to have a player-led team.
“You want to be a player-led team. A coach-led team with a good coach that coaches and is into it, you are going to be good,” he said. “You are going to be great when you are a player-led team. Those three guys have taken it upon themselves to lead us. I am looking forward to some big things from them.”
Shope said he is excited about the pitching staff, and anticipates having some depth at that position.
“When somebody is not getting it done, I really feel like we are going to be able to bring in some extra arms,” Shope said. “We have some team speed. We have some guys that can run. We have some guys with some power. Once we get it all figured out, I think we can be a really good baseball team.”
Shope said that everybody tells him this is one of the toughest baseball schedules that the Colonels have played, which suits him fine.
“I am a big believer in playing good baseball teams. They exploit your weaknesses and make you come every day to play. When you have that, it makes you a whole lot better,” Shope said.
Shope added that his assistant coaches have been great this year, including Logan Baker, Benny Campbell, Jeremy Daniels, Patrick Giles and Austin Horn, who have done a lot of work and helped him get acclimated to the new environment.
“I am excited about our coaching staff. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody,” Shope said. “They have all been working hard and it is going to rub off on our players. We all have good chemistry and we all have the same goals in mind.”
Wilson said he feels very confident about the 2018 baseball team.
“Everyone is absolutely working their tail off and have been all winter,” Wilson said. “Things have been going great with Coach Shope and our newest members of the coaching staff including Coach Horn and Coach Baker. They have brought a new level of expectations to the team, and have set a positive environment for us. It is obvious how much they care and love the sport, and they want us to succeed not only on the field but also in the classroom and in life.”
Wilson agrees that one of the strengths of this year’s team is a deep pitching rotation accompanied by a strong hitting lineup.
“Several key pitchers have returned for the 2018 season. I also believe the three veteran seniors will set an example for the rest of the baseball squad. In order to be successful on the diamond this spring, the team will need to bring a confident attitude with them. To be great, we must have laser focus and be big on details. Little things win rings, as the saying goes,” Wilson said.
“To the Whitley County community, Coach Shope has arrived and is ready to transform this baseball program into one of the best in the state. I hope to see you all in the stands as we attempt to do something this program never has. We are going to set a new standard for Whitley County Baseball.”