Continuing with our weekly series of stories previewing the upcoming spring season, this week we check in with the Whitley County High School baseball and softball programs.
The baseball Colonels enjoyed a lot of success in 2015. They won 20 games, including an 8-7 win at home over 50th District rival Corbin, but they were defeated in the first round of the district tournament. Being kept out of the 13th Region tournament again was certainly a frustrating way to end an otherwise positive season, but this year Head Coach Kyle Adams says that he hopes his team can take the next step and play their way out of the district.
“We’re about like everyone else right now,” Adams said recently when asked to describe how things have been going with his team lately. “After missing as much school as we have, I think that we will all be in the same boat. We will probably start off slow. It’s too early to tell, really, considering the fact that we haven’t had much time on the field yet. I hope that we won’t just get 2-3 practices before we have to start playing.”
“We have had some time in the batting cage, though,” Adams continued. “There are some positives, and I think that we’ll be okay, but it will all just boil down to who wants to go out there and make it happen.”
When asked about who in particular he hopes will be able to “make it happen,” Adams said, “We hope to have good numbers this year. Sometimes the kids decide they want to do other things, and there are so many other things for them to do now, but we will go with what we’ve got.”
“We should have three seniors (Casey Crisologo, Michael Harris and Jared Partin), at least two juniors, and everyone else will be either a freshman or a sophomore. It seems like every year we’re young, so our seniors will really need to lead by example. They need to be on time, lead in practice and help teach the younger kids. Ever since I’ve been here the senior players have done a good job showing that leadership, though.”
Adams no doubt has high expectations for his three seniors this season, but he says that nobody will be guaranteed anything when it comes to where, or how much, they will play. “We’re a coaching staff that doesn’t say we know this person or that person will start,” he explained. “We like to let the kids win their positions. We’ll put the best nine out on the field each time. If you’re one of those nine you’ll be out there. If you’re not, then you need to figure out what you need to do in order to get in the game.”
Adams is hoping that the KHSAA’s new pitch count rule for high school baseball won’t have too much of an effect on his team in 2016, but he said that he certainly expects it to change things. “We’ve always taken care of our pitchers’ arms,” he said. “But the rule change will play a role. You are going to have to pay close attention, and I think that it will put more focus on developing pitchers from the bottom up. It will definitely play a role in who pitches, how they pitch and how many innings they pitch.”
When asked to talk about what he feels the Colonels’ strengths will be this season, Adams said, “We should be strong defensively, especially behind the plate and at first. Overall, we should be okay, but it’s just going to take time to see for sure. If somebody gets hurt it could cause problems, but these kids are tough. They’re also mentally focused, and I believe that they will give us everything they’ve got.”
Whitley will be on the road for much of the beginning of their upcoming schedule, and will enjoy being mostly at home coming down the stretch. Coach Adams said that he anticipates fierce competition inside the 50th District, adding that defending champion South Laurel is likely still the team to beat. “We’re just going to hustle, play hard and hopefully have an opportunity to win it in the end,” he said.
In sum, Adams said, “I believe there are three types of players. There are those who don’t know what’s happening, those who only watch what’s happening, and then there are those who make it happen. I think that we will be an exciting team to watch this season. I think our kids will be focused, keep great attitudes and represent Whitley County the best that they can. That’s who we are.”
The Lady Colonels softball team is entering into year two of the Head Coach Todd Lawson era, and he is feeling good about things with the season just a few weeks away.
“We have two returning seniors, Lauren Elliott and Johnna Dopel, who both started for us last year,” Lawson said. “They will be our leaders, and should be good in that role. We also have a couple of juniors, and a lot of younger kids. We will be young.”
Lawson said that the majority of the work he has been able to do with his team up to this point has mainly focused on conditioning, and he is very much looking forward to getting back outdoors and back on the field. When that time comes, he will begin figuring out exactly how to go about filling the holes left by last year’s outgoing senior class.
“We graduated three key players that we have to replace,” Lawson said. “It won’t be easy, but I feel like we have a good core to build around.”
Specifically, Lawson is counting on Elliott and Dopel to be solid in the infield. He said that junior Rachel McKiddy will likely carry the load for the Lady Colonels on the pitching mound, and he hopes that fellow junior Destiny Kinder will be able to come through and provide stability at the catcher position.
Lawson mentioned that he also has an incoming freshman who could be valuable behind the plate, admitting that catcher and third base will likely be the most challenging spots for him to fill in the coming weeks.
As for beginning his second season at the helm, Lawson said, “There is a different feel because the girls know what is expected of them, and you do lose some leadership when you lose your senior player. All of the other girls will definitely have to step up.”
Lawson said that he expects his team to be good defensively, and improved on the offensive side. He said that he has been pleased to see his players taking the initiative to put in more hours of work on their own.
Between now and their mid-April season home opener, Lawson and company will continue working on all facets of their game. They will hope to secure a few road victories early in the upcoming season, which would give them some momentum as they get into the real meat of their schedule later on.
Lawson expects to meet up with a lot of talented teams this spring, but he also expects his team to be able to compete with each and every one of them. As for the 50th District, he said, “I expect there to be a high level of competition in the district, but we’re mainly just focusing on our own team. We are the only ones that we can control, and we obviously want to be the absolute best that we can be.”
In closing, Lawson said, “I want to thank God again for this opportunity, first of all. I also want to thank the superintendent, and our new principal for their support of the program. Also, thank you to the community. We have a good fan base that always travels with us. I would like to ask that everyone continue to come out and support these kids. They’re working hard every day to be able to compete, hopefully at the state level. Go Colonels!”