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Cougars develop arms; Eagles look to rebound

Cougars develop arms; Eagles look to rebound
Cougars develop arms; Eagles look to rebound
LanesvilleÂ’s Brandon Blackerby returns to pitch and play outfield for the Eagles. File photo by Brian Smith (click for larger version)

The Lanesville and North Harrison baseball teams return players eager to get the season going.
Here is a preview of both teams.
North Harrison
The North Harrison baseball team found its stride early and often last season, compiling a 22-5 record before bowing out in the sectional final.
In this year’s preseason, the Cougars have been hitting the pavement. With damp weather limiting practice on the field, coach Jamie Polk is using an alternative.
‘We’ve been at it on the parking lots,’ the second-year coach said.
Lost to graduation were five players, including both middle infielders and a trio of pitchers.
‘There’s not a lot of numbers with our juniors, but we have good seniors and a lot of young players I’m excited about,’ Polk said.
Six seniors return for Polk, most of whom were key contributors a year ago.
Leading the pitching staff will be one of the upperclassmen, Derrick Harter.
‘Derrick was our No. 2 last year, and he’s back,’ Polk said. ‘He’ll be one of our pitchers that will go in conference games. We’ll have some of our seniors pitch, but we have four talented young sophomores.’
Polk said they have pitching depth, but the numbers are limited as to seeing varsity game action. He added that the younger pitchers may take some time to adjust to reacting in a game.
‘They’ll mature as they adjust to a tight umpire or on a day they just don’t have their best stuff,’ he said.
It’ll be a similar start this year as last season with the arms. There’s not a lot of returning pitching with varsity exposure but plenty of capable arms to fill voids.
At North Harrison, the coaching staff preaches to pitchers to pound the strike zone. One of the strengths going into 2013 is the defense.
All-Mid-Southern Conference mention Mitch Bolin roams center field. Harter, who saw time previously in the outfield, shifts to shortstop. Wyatt Faith also makes the move in, taking over second-base duties. Bolin has committed to play at DePauw University next season.
‘Tyler Cockerham is going to be at first base,’ Polk added. ‘He’ll move to shortstop when Harter pitches. Tyler is one of the best hitters in the line-up.’
Returning to the hot corner is Kyle Jennings.
‘Kyle is a kid we had to get on the field last year,’ Polk said. ‘He’s one of the best third basemen I’ve coached. He’s tough and makes plays. He gets after it.’
Cockerham also can shift to third base if Jennings takes the mound.
Leadership from the veteran players has pleased Polk thus far. He said Bolin, an outstanding center fielder, has been teaching the younger players the nuances of playing outfield.
‘He’s a tough kid and doesn’t want to fail,’ Polk said of Bolin. ‘He and Wyatt are probably our two toughest kids. Wyatt will also pitch some, but he can play anywhere. When I talked to him about moving to second base, he simply said, ‘Coach, I got it’.’
Another senior is Kaleb Hamby, who will man one of the corner outfield spots.
‘He is a hard-working kid that doesn’t miss a workout,’ Polk said. ‘He’s not necessarily the best player, but his work ethic has made him a much better player.’
Behind the plate, Jacob Faith will signal for the pitchers. He gained some experience last year starting several games, including the sectional championship. Polk said his competitiveness from running cross country comes out on the diamond.
The philosophy for the Cougars remains the same.
‘Just like last year, we will run and run and, when we’re tired, we’re going to run some more,’ Polk said. ‘We’ll be aggressive. If we’re as good as I think we will be defensively, that will help our pitchers. We want them to pound the zone.’
Polk said his team loves the game of baseball, so much so that they’ve opted to practice outside all but two days in the gloomy preseason.
‘They want to go out and play baseball,’ he said.
Lanesville graduated a class of five seniors from a year ago, but this year’s Eagles squad has a blend of numbers throughout the four classes.
‘There is a mix of younger players and older players,’ said first-year coach Rusty McCubbins.
There are some returning players with experience, he said, but some who lack playing at the varsity level.
‘We’ll be a team that takes our bumps in the road early in the year,’ he said, adding it’ll take time to see how the Eagles fit together in the line-up.
‘It’s about identifying who we are going to be as a team; getting a feel for each other,’ McCubbins said.
As far as leaders, the Eagles are guided by senior Brandon Blackerby. The lefty is the ace of the pitching staff and figures to pace them in innings pitched.
‘Brandon is our No. 1. There’s no hiding him,’ McCubbins said. ‘He’s throwing a little harder than in the past.’
After Blackerby, one of the returning pitchers is Spencer Dauphinee. Beyond the top two, McCubbins said they have several additional arms who will see action early in the season.
Another senior with playing experience is Justin Miller. He, however, sat out last season after playing his first two years.
‘We’re a very sophomore, junior team with some of those guys having experience,’ McCubbins said.
Lanesville plans to gain experience through the first several weeks of the season to sort out their line-up to make a run in the later part of the schedule.
Fortunately for the pitchers, they’ll have a familiar signal caller. Caleb Gresham caught last season as a freshman and returns for his sophomore year. McCubbins said with Gresham behind the plate, it creates more ‘comfort’ for the experienced pitchers.
Come toward the end of the season, Lanesville hopes to be hitting its stride once the pieces fall into place.
‘We have several guys in the mix to contribute,’ McCubbins said.
Lanesville is winless through its first four games, but the coach said the Eagles faced some stiff pitching.
Offensively, he believes once they string together some hits and runs in a game, it’ll ignite the team’s bats further.
McCubbins is in his first year as the head coach but has been around the program before. He’s also served as the head coach at Christian Academy of Indiana.
‘It’s kind of like Brian (McKnight) at South Central; we may be first-year head coaches, but we’ve been around these kids,’ he said. ‘There won’t be a lot of changes.’
One thing he’d like is Mother Nature to let up a little bit.
‘We’re getting through these cold days like everyone else,’ McCubbins said. ‘It seems like we haven’t been able to consistently get on the field.’