MOUNT WASHINGTON – New district? No problem for the Bullitt East Charger baseball team this spring.
For a program that has won eight straight district titles, over two different alignments, it takes a lot to create a new challenge. According to veteran head coach Jeff Bowles, the expectations for the Chargers haven’t changed this spring.
In fact, the coach joked that the Chargers’ district really didn’t change – it is still the 24th District. It was just the opponents that changed.
“We just kicked out the old teams and got some new ones,” Bowles said earlier this week.
For the first time ever in baseball, Bullitt East will not be competing with North Bullitt and Bullitt Central for district bragging rights. In addition, the red and gold also dropped Southern and Fairdale. Instead, Bullitt East will be battling Fern Creek, Jeffersontown and Whitefield Academy in the first part of the post-season.
To kick off the new district, Bullitt East will host the 24th District Tournament starting the week of May 20.
Of course, for Bullitt East baseball, the expectations each season go well beyond district banners.
“We expect to win the district and compete for a regional championship and be in Lexington,” Bowles said of reaching the state tournament that is played in Lexington. “Expecting any less would short change these kids and their hard work. We’ve done more in this off-season than we’ve ever done before.”
The motivation for this season was sown on the final day of the 2012 season. The Chargers had 34 wins heading into the championship game of the Sixth Region Tournament, but lost to Pleasure Ridge Park 3-0 when the Panthers scored all three times without getting the ball out of the infield.
“We were 34-7 and played our worst game of the season at the end,” Bowles said. “That didn’t sit well with the kids. They want to go out on the right note.
“Pleasure Ridge Park is good,” the coach added. “They are a tough hurdle, but we feel we’re a tough hurdle.”
For the first time ever, the two regional powers will meet in the regular season. Bullitt East is scheduled to play at PRP on May 1.
After the gleaming 34-7 record last spring, the Chargers return six starters as well as the team’s top pitcher. There are nine seniors on the roster.
“That is a lot of seniors,” Bowles admitted. “We graduated a lot and we have a lot coming back. I feel good about the senior leadership. Plus, we have a lot of position options.”
As with any high school baseball team, talk starts with the pitching rotation. The Chargers will open the season on Thursday at home against Nelson County and senior Jonathon Recktenwald will get the ball first.
“He has earned the right to be number one,” Bowles said. “After that there are a lot of candidates in the junior and senior class.”
Bullitt East has a lot of pitching candidates and Bowles has options in terms of right-handers and left-handers.
Next in line after Recktenwald will be senior Jacob Woodruff. Two other seniors, Derek Jones and Chris Ethridge, will also see time on the mound, but more than likely they will work as relievers.
Two juniors who will get time as starting pitchers are left-hander Chase Patton and right-hander Zac Ching. Bowles has also been impressed with junior Tyler Krauth as a starting pitcher despite him having very little experience.
A junior who could also work in relief will be Adrian Maddox.
While they may or may not see varsity action, Bowles mentioned three sophomores who could fit into the Chargers’ plans in the future – Austin Norris, Jacob Bowles (the coaches’ son) and Hayden Davenport.
The anchor for the Chargers this spring will be senior catcher Hunter Wood who has already signed to play next season at Western Kentucky University. He will be behind the plate for the big games and will be a switch-hitter in the number three spot.
Wood was thrown into the fray as a freshman, but this year there is depth behind the plate so Wood will get a day off every now and then. Junior Zac Masden will get some starts behind the plate when he returns from a broken nose and Bowles says that sophomore Brayden Blair would start for a lot of high school teams in the area, but he will play behind Wood this season.
Much of the infield spots will rotate depending on who is pitching.
At first base, senior Alex Richardson and Patton will man the spot. Either one could also play in the outfield or be a designated hitter. At second base, Austin Money will start and be backed up by fellow senior Dustin Donahue.
Last season, Ching and Money both played at second base. Ching will now move over and be at shortstop except when he is pitching. Junior Alex Ralph will slide in at shortstop when Ching does pitch.
On the left side of the infield, senior Michael Faul will be at third base and Ralph could also fill in at that spot. Two other players who will battle for playing time at third base will be Justin Chase Williams and sophomore Austin Norris.
Bowles also has options in the outfield. The one steady will be in centerfield where senior Jacob Woodruff will start when he is not pitching. Woodruff was the starting right fielder for the Chargers as an 8th-grader in 2008 when the team reached the semi-finals of the state tournament.
Woodruff will bat lead-off.
“He is the best outfielder around,” Bowles said. “He won the Holy Cross game for us last year taking away four hits. He is also the best base runner we’ve ever had here.”
At this point, Bowles expects either Patton or Richardson to man one of the corner outfield spot. The other spot will be up for grabs between Ethridge as well as Jacob Moore. Other players who could be in the mix for playing time will be Jones as well as junior Cole Harmon and sophomores Dillon Coffman and Tate Hatfield.
For the first two weeks of the regular season a lot of players will get a chance in the line-up. By the time the team returns to Bullitt County after the spring break trip to Florida, Bowles hopes to have a set line-up and a varsity roster of 16 or 17 regulars.
Despite the bad weather this spring, Bowles feels that his team is ready for the season to start this week. The team has been working out indoors a great deal at the Ninja Sports Performance facility in Mount Washington. Most of the Charger batters have already had 50 live at-bats this season.
Bullitt East also attended a team camp at Columbia State University in Tennessee two weeks ago where they got in a pair of three-hour scrimmages against Manual.
The Charger coaching staff has not changed this season. Craig Sharpe returns as the Associate Head Coach and Chris Ryan will be the freshman team coach. The volunteer coaching staff includes Scott Johnson, John Edelen, Kenny Hughes, Scott Minogue, Brian Brashear and Brad Ray.