By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
If South Laurel is to have a successful season and make a return to the state tournament, like they did two seasons ago, pitching will be the key to the Cardinals’ success.
“We have to pitch in order to be successful,” Coach Wynn Harris said. “We are looking for more consistency and durability out of our guys on the mound this year. If we don’t have four or five guys step up and want the ball on a pretty consistent basis, we will struggle. Right now we are looking at Austin Vigeant, Zach Allen, Trey Martin, Daniel Neal and Braden Miller to log a lot of innings. But we have some guys that could very well help us out as the year progresses if they continue to improve.”
The Cardinals lost five seniors off a team that finished 25-7, won the 50th District and fell in the semifinals of the 13th Region Tournament.
“It’s always difficult to replace seniors,” Harris said. “But we have several guys that can help to fill those holds. We really need to have Austin Vigeant, Taylor Morris, Derek Spurlock and Braden Miller to step up and play well this year. Those are some of the guys that got experience last year. They are older guys who have played in our program for several years and now have gotten a year older and have gotten a lot stronger both mentally and physically.”
Not only does Harris have to replace five seniors, but also his two assistant coaches from last season as Kyle Mink left to take the head coaching softball coaching job at North Laurel and Rod Sears also resigned.
“Lost two great individuals from last year’s staff,” Harris said. “They were not only good coaches but great friends. With that being said I have two great guys to fill their place. Will Allen and Tyler Martin will be coaching this year. One brings a wealth of coaching experience and the other brings youthful enthusiasm. Both of those things are crucial on a staff.”
One of the strong points for the Cardinals will be their infield, which includes Joe Gaines, Zach Allen and Daniel Neal and Trey Martin returning from last season.
“Our infield and the possibility of several guys playing multiple positions on our infield makes us a lot better,” Harris said. “That enables us to rotate guys on the mound with a little more ease. Plus the fact that the majority of those players have been in our lineup for a couple of seasons makes things a lot better.”
While the Cards have some power coming back, Harris fells like his team will be a contact hitting team.
“We do have guys with power coming back and we have some that should bring a little to our lineup, but I think we will be a contact hitting team,” Harris said. “A determining factor of how well we do this year will be based by our ability to put the ball in play and put pressure on defenses. With the capability of putting together extra base hits, that makes us feel good about our offensive production.” Harris also noted that his team won’t be as fast as last year, but a lot of the guys are older and smarter. “Smarts so often can make up for speed,” Harris said.
While his lineup features a lot of older players, Harris said he has some younger players who could see action, including Tucker Martin, Zach Jones and Seth Swafford.
Harris said his team has looked good so far in the preseason, but it’s easy to look good in the cage and the gym. “We have to get game experience,” Harris said. “We have older guys that know how to play a little. We need to find out how to player together.”
He feels like both the district and the region are wide open.
“Every year is different and you can guess on what you think it will be like but until you are in the heart of it, it’s tough to know how it will shake out,” Harris said of the district. As for the region, he feels there are several teams that have a legitimate shot.
“Obviously North Laurel is the defending champs,” Harris said. “You have to put them at the top until someone knocks them off. Another team that is a real threat is Knox Central. They have a lot of younger guys that have been in their lineup for a couple of years. They are a team that I am really keeping my eye on.”
Still he feels good about his team’s chances going into the season, as long as they can stay focused on the team.
“We need to concentrate on our team getting better,” Harris said. “We need to come together and figure out what we need to do to win. I feel good about our team, they are really enjoyable to coach. They are genuinely good kids. That makes it a lot of fun. Not to mention that they work really hard. Our goal is to become the best team we can. I have been telling them this preseason if they can truly fall in love with the idea of us and not themselves, the sky is the limit for this team. But a lot of things also have to fall in place.”
The Cardinals open their season Friday night by hosting Clay County then will travel to Middlesboro Saturday.