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SHEPHERDSVILLE – Over the next three months, the Bullitt Central Cougar baseball team needs to learn a lot about itself after suffering heavy graduation losses from a year ago.
Under head coach G.J. Moore, the Cougars have shown steady improvement over the past four seasons. That culminated last year in a team that finished the season 16-17, playing in the championship game of the 23rd District Tournament (losing to North Bullitt) before falling to eventual state champion Pleasure Ridge Park in the first-round of the Sixth Region Tournament
However, that team was senior-laden, leaving Moore and the 2014 team short on experience as well as just about all parts of the game including pitching, hitting and defense. The program has to replace roughly two-thirds of its attack from a year ago.
It isn’t helping the rebuilding program that the weather has been so bad this year that the team has only been on the field a limited number of times since starting drills on Feb. 15.
“I think we have been on the field four times,” Moore said last Wednesday, another day in which the team was not going to get on the field. “We had one intra-squad scrimmage and practiced out there three times.
“I guess everyone is in pretty much the same boat,” the coach added. “The first few weeks of the season we’ll just learn as we go.”
The Cougars have gone through drills in the parking lot with rubber balls and there is a caged hitting area. Pitchers have been able to go through drills off the field.
“It is hard,” Moore said. “We went into the first scrimmage with no clue. We won’t know who is playing in the outfield. Right now we’re just going off the intra-squad and who is hustling and working hard.”
Bullitt Central did get in a scrimmage last week with Thomas Nelson.
“The pitching and catching was pretty locked in,” Moore pointed out. “The pitching looked good last night. I didn’t know if we would hit. We did hit early. We scored five in the first inning.”
Despite the heavy graduation losses, the Cougars do have 11 seniors this spring. That is necessary as the junior class has just six team members and one of them, Edelen Whitehall, is already lost for the season to an injury.
On the mound, Bullitt Central will come at just about everyone from the right-hand side this spring. At this point, Moore is looking at Nic Caswell to lead the rotation while senior Kyle Hoskins, a transfer from North Bullitt who sat out last season, will also get key innings on the mound.
The most experienced of the returning pitchers is Cameron Dukes who will complete his sophomore year on the diamond after being the starting quarterback for the football team and a key reserve for the basketball team. Dukes did a little pitching work after basketball practice, but he, along with junior Colin Trent, just joined the baseball team for full work in the past few days.
Moore will also be looking at senior Zack McCauley and sophomore Joshua Amos to be on the mound at times this season. Amos, a transfer from Laurel County, is the only left-hander who will pitch for the varsity.
As the season unfolds, the Cougars will also use sophomores Logan Koch and Kevin McKnight as well as seniors Dakota Mason and Jayme Curtis in relief work.
This isn’t a pitching staff that’s going to go out and blow the ball by hitters. They will have to find their spots and let the defense make plays.
“At a showcase Caswell was at 83 or 84 (mph),” Moore noted. “Then Hoskins and Dukes were in the low 80s. Curtis can let it go a little harder with a big arm.
“We’ll have to throw strikes and play defense,” the coach added. “I like that the guys realize that. We’ll have to play defense because teams will hit the ball.”
The pitchers will be working with a new catcher as senior Tyler Bray moves into that spot after Cody Powell caught every inning last season. Bray was going to do some catching last year and he opened the season with three hits in the first game, but then got hurt and missed the rest of the spring.
Now, Moore is looking for Bray, who has already signed with Campbellsville University to play football, to be a key team member. In the scrimmage, Bray threw out the first three runners who tried to steal second.
Bray’s backup will be freshman Louie Maupin.
On the infield, Moore will be looking to senior Justin Rippy to play at first base and the team is still looking for a backup.
The other three positions on the infield will be manned by one of four players who will shift around at times based on who is pitching. At this point, Dukes will be at second base, Curtis at shortstop and Caswell at third base. That will leave senior Kyle Hoskins to move into any of those spots if one of those players is on the mound.
Other candidates to play the infield spots are Koch and McKnight.
Moore still has a lot of questions to be answered in the outfield. One player will be out there is junior Michael Harris who has moved from third base to centerfield.
“We really need him in centerfield to replace (Brad) Combs who ran down everything last year,” Moore pointed out. “He’s a good third baseman, but we need him in center.”
The other two spots are pretty much still up for grabs. Senior C.J. Phillips will get a look along with seniors Tyler Earle, Cody Ford, Alex Cline as well as Trent, a junior.
“It’s just wide open,” Moore said. “Somebody will have to step up and take it. Nobody is standing out. Maybe a young guy can steal it.”
Despite playing home games in a very homer friendly ballpark, Moore doesn’t expect to play long-ball very often this spring.
“We’re not going to have much power,” the coach said. “We’ll have to bunt and hit-and-run and steal. We’ll be quicker than last year. We’ll be a lot quicker.”
Bullitt Central did get to play two games late last week (see Wednesday’s edition for a recap on those games) and split this contests including a win over Thomas Nelson and a lose to North Hardin.
The Cougars return the same assistant coaches this season. That group includes Todd Eastridge, Roy Taylor and Troy Blakely.