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HEBRON ESTATES – North Bullitt baseball coach Brian Wise has a feeling.
And, it’s a good feeling, about his 2013 squad, which will open play on Monday, March 18, on the road at Oldham County.
A mixture of experience, speed, power and youthfulness – coupled with a new baseball district alignment – has Wise smiling.
“I like this team,” said Wise. “We have the potential to be really good.”
With a deep pitching staff, a solid defense and two seniors who have already signed to play ball at the next level, Wise believes that despite the normal tough schedule, his Eagles should contend for a district title in May.
“There’s a lot of potential,” said Wise. “This reminds of the 2011 team. I just have a good feeling.”
The cornerstone of the Eagles will be senior Clayton Kelly. The four-year starter has already signed to play at Murray State University next fall.
“Clayton has worked hard to get better,” said Wise. “He’s a quiet leader who leads by example. The kids look up to him.”
Kelly led the Eagles in just about every offensive category a year ago and Wise said the shortstop would have to be patient this year as he may not see a lot of good pitches, especially in district games.
If Kelly is the mainstay, another key cog in the lineup will be fellow senior Cody Stinnett. The problem is Wise isn’t sure how healthy Stinnett will be this season.
Recovering from labrum surgery in December, Wise would love to have his best returning pitcher on the hill every 4-5 days or behind the plate catching.
At this point, Wise said it would be at least spring break before Stinnett is seeing regular duty. Pitching would not be considered until May.
If Stinnett is able to play but maybe not behind the plate, Wise looks to have him see time at first base, second base or third base. In the beginning, he hopes to have Stinnett serve as a designated hitter.
Behind the dish, Wise said sophomore Chance Egnor would see some time after working hard in the off-season. Matt Hayes, a junior, could also see time calling pitches.
On the mound, Wise likes his depth. The concern is throwing strikes.
Stinnett, if healthy, would be the number one returning starter.
Also slated to take the ball from Wise will be juniors Josh Exton and Darren Harper, senior Mitchell Hutchison and sophomore Jacob Kelly. He also expects to see Justin Stinson and Brandon Johnson to see varsity action on the hill.
Consistency in the strike zone will be a key, said Wise. Exton and Jacob Kelly may have the best velocity but Wise said they must also throw strikes.
“There’s a nice mix there,” said Wise.
At first base, Jacob Kelly will get the starting nod. Stinnett and Johnson will see time when the sophomore southpaw is on the mound.
At second base and shortstop, Wise doesn’t have a lot of questions. Stinson and Clayton Kelly return. Backups will include Noah Marion and Blake Benz.
At third base, Hutchison returns with four years of varsity experience. Logan Wyatt, a freshman, and Hayes could also see time at the hot corner.
In the outfield, seniors Tyler Lloyd and Andrew Kennedy have nailed down starting spots in left and center. In right field, juniors Tyler Mayberry and Exton, as well as sophomore Keaton Reitz, are battling for a starting berth.
The three could also see time in left field.
Defensively, Wise likes his team, especially if Stinnett is able to play catcher. With Stinnett, Stinson, Kelly and Kennedy in the middle of the field, the seven-year veteran coach is happy.
Offensively, he’s looking to put Kennedy and Stinson at the top of the lineup to set the table for Clayton Kelly, who will bat third. Lloyd will again be looked upon to continue his knack of driving in runs from the cleanup spot.
Wise is then looking for some other players to step up offensively.
As normal, Wise has loaded the schedule up with perennial powers such as Eastern, St. Xavier, Butler and Pleasure Ridge Park.
In the new district alignment, North Bullitt will do battle with Bullitt Central, Southern, Moore and Evangel. Bullitt Central will host this year’s district tournament.
The Eagles will return to Myrtle Beach during spring break for the Cal Ripken Experience, which is a reward for the players and their parents for their support over the years.
“We will lose some games,” said Wise, whose team was the district runner-up to Bullitt East last year. “But our goal this year is to win the district tournament and set ourselves up for a little better draw in the regional tournament. That is a realistic goal.”
Like most coaches, Wise said injuries are a concern. With or without Stinnett, Wise said the experience level drops after the first 10-12 players.
“We have a lot of talent throughout the program but we’re very young,” said Wise.
With the decision last fall to relocate the baseball field for the construction of a new college and career center, the Eagles planned to be on the road most of this season. Even though the building plans were scrapped and the field saved, Wise had already made the schedule. As a result, North Bullitt will play only seven games at home this season.
Play opens on March 18 at Oldham County and the Eagles will host Beth Haven at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19.