The Williamsburg High School baseball and softball teams saw their seasons come to an end in the first round of the district tournament last year, but there was still plenty to be happy about and build upon. Both teams advanced to the second round of the regional All “A” tourney, with the baseball Jackets picking up a 3-2 victory over Barbourville, and the Lady Jackets winning 8-5 over Lynn Camp. Both teams also picked up big wins over district opponent Whitley County in the regular season, defeating the Colonels 4-3 on the baseball diamond, 3-2 on the softball field.
Looking ahead, coaches Bryan Hopkins and Jason Prewitt are both anxious for the winter weather to break so that they can finally get back out on the field with their respective teams. They both spoke recently about how things are looking right now for their programs, as well as their expectations for the spring.
Beginning with baseball, Coach Hopkins said that he is happy to have earlier access to his team this season. Last year, several players were not able to participate in preseason work outs or practices due to the fact that the school’s basketball team made a historic run to the Sweet 16 tournament in Lexington.
“We’ve been able to condition some this year,” Hopkins said. “Last year our first practice was actually our first game. So far this year we’ve had 12-14 kids coming out consistently, so any time that you can have that it really helps out a lot.”
When asked about the overall ability of this year’s crew, Hopkins said, “They look pretty good. I can tell that many of the kids have gotten a lot stronger, and the attitudes are better as well. They look pretty good right now, but you really can’t tell for sure until you get out on the field. We’re hoping to get in a couple of scrimmages before everything starts up.”
In terms of class division, Hopkins said he will have a few veteran players on the roster in 2016, but he also explained that the team will be mostly “freshman dominant.” Fans will likely get a chance to see many of these young Jackets in action right from the beginning, as they will no doubt have to step up and help fill the several voids left by last season’s large outgoing senior class.
Hopkins said replacing his starting catcher will likely be among his most difficult tasks this year, and he did express some concern about the possible negative outcomes that might result from the KHSAA’s implementation of a new pitch count rule for high school baseball (discussed at length in our Feb. 10 edition). He is hopeful, however, that the extra amount of time he will have to work with his team in the preseason will help the Yellow Jackets to be able to hit the ground running when the regular season gets underway a few weeks from now.
In closing, Hopkins said, “Come out and support these kids. They’re young, but they have a chance to be pretty good.”
Switching gears over to softball, Coach Prewitt will also be fielding a young team in 2016. Currently with no seniors on the roster, he too will be counting on several underclassmen to step up and fill in at some key leadership roles.
It may sound like a daunting task, but Prewitt is expecting things to go relatively smoothly in his second year at the helm. He is basing that expectation on the fact that his players are now familiar with him and his system, and he also said that this year’s group has displayed some great chemistry so far. “All of the girls know how I am, and they know what we want,” he explained. “They also seem to really like each other. I stressed last year that this needs to be a family-type atmosphere, and these girls know that. They know what that means, and I think they just enjoy being around each other. That makes this a lot easier.”
Prewitt knows that solid pitching is a necessary component for any softball team that wants to be competitive. He graduated a very dependable pitcher last year in Marah Crusenberry, who is currently playing at the University of the Cumberlands.
As he goes about the work of replacing Crusenberry on the mound, Prewitt is hoping to find someone that can also replicate her positive attitude and consistent effort. He said, “What we’ll miss most about Marah is that she was the senior who, it didn’t matter who we were playing, she was going to go out there and step up. It didn’t matter. She would face anybody, and that’s what we’ll miss more than anything. Hopefully our younger kids saw that, and they know now that no matter who we play, we always have a shot.”
It is still early in the year, and similar to Coach Hopkins in baseball, Coach Prewitt will not have a chance to really see what his team is going to look like until he is able to have full access to his entire roster after basketball season is over. In the meantime, he says that he has seen a good number of girls coming out to conditioning sessions, which has him feeling good about the direction that things are headed in. If the Lady Jackets can stay healthy, he said, then he believes they will be able to compete with anybody on their upcoming schedule.
Prewitt and Hopkins are both currently adding the finishing touches to their season schedules, which will be available online at KHSAA.org as soon as they are complete. Both the Jackets and the Lady Jackets will hope to make a statement early on with strong performances in the 13th Region All “A” tournaments, and from there they hope to contend in the 50th District leading up to the district tournament, which will be held at Corbin High School this spring.