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HEBRON ESTATES - Riding a wave of momentum from a strong finish a year ago and bolstered by a strong senior class, North Bullitt baseball coach Brian Wise is looking for big things this spring from his Eagles.
North Bullitt posted a 22-18 mark a year ago, but the green and gold finished the campaign with wins in nine of the last 11 games. That mark included a win over state-power Pleasure Ridge Park in the opening round of the Sixth Region Tournament. The only losses were to Bullitt East and Butler, the eventual state runner-up.
With most of those players back, the expectations are high.
“Very high,” Wise said earlier this week. “We started counting and with the designated hitter position hat is ten starting spots and we have eight of those back.
“We have a very good group of seniors who had a very good off-season,” the coach added. “Our expectations are as high as they have ever been.”
Every baseball season starts with the goal of a district championship, but Bullitt East has won the past seven of those locally. Obviously, that is the team that North Bullitt has to beat.
“We sit down with the seniors and I meet with them individually and each of them to a man said that they don’t see a reason that we can’t play in Lexington in the middle of June,” Wise said of reaching the state tournament. “It takes some luck, but I like our chances most days. I think we can line up and compete. We’ll have some bad days of course. We play a tough schedule.”
North Bullitt isn’t going to win every game. That is obvious as they will face a schedule that includes seven of the top 10 teams in the state along with nine of the top 25 squads. The Eagles play pretty much each of the top squads in the Louisville area with the exception of Pleasure Ridge Park.
“It’s how you respond,” Wise said of those inevitable losses. “With the experience these guys have, we’ll respond well. With some breaks we’ll go a long way.
“I feel that is the only way to make us better,” the coach said of playing all the tough teams. “We could not work out a date with PRP, but other than that we play them all. Last year we were not intimidated at all in the regional tournament.”
North Bullitt doesn’t have the mega-powerful pitcher who can beat anyone, but they have a lot of depth and strong arms to compete daily against the strong schedule.
“This is the deepest staff we have had,” Wise said. “I can look at the roster and count at least ten guys we feel confident to go out and give us innings.”
Heading that list of pitchers is senior Cody Montgomery, the winner of the game against PRP last season. The list of possible starters includes fellow seniors Blake Hardy, Jared Abell, Tyler Shewmaker and T.J. Barr. Abell was the team’s top pitcher a year ago before getting hurt during spring break.
Down the line, Wise will also be looking to use sophomore’s Cody Stinnett and Mitchell Hutchison along with freshman Josh Exton on the mound.
All of the pitchers are right handed.
“We’re excited about the depth,” Wise said. “We don’t have that guy who can throw it 87 or 88 miles an hour and blow you away. But, we have solid high school pitching.”
The Eagles won’t have an everyday catcher as both Stinnett and Shewmaker can pitch or, in the case of Shewmaker, play in the outfield. Ben Evans, a junior, could also see time behind the plate.
Returning at first base will be Barr who will man the post unless he is pitching. Evans or sophomore Reed Padgett, a transfer from Ballard, could also be at first base.
Up the middle, the defense will see sophomore Clayton Kelly moving from second to shortstop with Abell sliding into the second base spot. Jesse King, a junior, as well as Stinnett and sophomore Brandon Devore will provide depth for the middle infield.
One position that was still up for grabs early last week was at third base. Hardy and Hutchison are battling for the spot along with senior Evan Bickett. The player with the hot bat will get the playing time.
Two of the outfield positions will go to senior Marcel Hull in leftfield with Montgomery returning to centerfield. The open position is in right field were either Will Parker or Kyle Peyton, a pair of seniors, will get the nod.
Depth in the outfield will come from junior Jordan Burden and sophomore Anthony Kennedy.
Wise doesn’t expect his team to sit back and play long-ball in the middle innings, but they do have enough pop to get the ball over that fence at times.
“Our hitting will be behind our pitching to start,” Wise said of the poor weather the past two weeks cutting into practice time. “We’re stronger than a year ago. We had a god season in the weight room. I see us hitting some home runs.”
What has changed with the Eagles is the coaching staff. Volunteer coach Chris Kelly will continue to handle the pitchers, but the two paid assistants are new in former North Bullitt players Ronnie Bryson and Timmy Ridley. Former Eagle players Chris Gomez and Brad Wagner are volunteer assistant coaches.
The Eagles are set to open the season on Monday at home against Atherton. The team will play for two weeks in the area before heading to Myrtle Beach for five games over spring break.