Baseball NEWS

Patriots come out strong.

February 14, 2015

By CHRIS PRIDE – Bulletin Sports Writer

Any expectations the Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) baseball team had going into the 2015 season after last year’s impressive run should be tempered, according to second-year coach Lucas Jones.

Jones doesn’t want his Patriots to look too far ahead because, he said, last year was exactly that – last year.With several new faces and a scattering of returning faces, the challenge for Jones in his second year at the helm of the PHCC baseball program will be reestablishing the same accountability that made his team successful last spring.The Patriots nearly won 40 games, finishing 38-16. Once they made the NJCAA Division II national rankings in late March, they never left the poll, reaching as high as No. 6. Jones hopes the success his current sophomores experienced last season will carry over into an even better one this spring. But again, it’s all about building chemistry and grinding out each weekend and mid-week series.“Last year I think was an important year for us not necessarily in the wins column, but more so in establishing our brand and how we want to do things,” said Jones, who was named the Region X coach of the year last season. “When players enter the program, it’s about what kind of expectations we have and what kind of attitude we are looking for.”The current sophomore class, headlined by local players Nic Keister (BHS), Dillon Crowder (MVHS) and Daymon Totherow (THS) has big shoes to fill when it comes to forming that special bond last year’s team had. Keister’s former Bassett teammate, Will Hylton, played a vital role as one of the leaders of the team, and it was last year’s graduating class that helped leave a good foundation entering the 2015 season, Keister said.“The sophomores last season were really good leaders. This year, we’re a little more soft spoken,” Keister said. “But the sophomores last year were hard workers and were there for one another. They helped set a tone for the freshman and how to keep that going.”The turnover in junior college makes sustaining success difficult, Jones said. The growth, however, from those returning is what will be relied upon in order to retool and continue to push the program to bigger heights, Jones added. Helping the cause will be facing quality competition not only in Region X but also outside the conference.Jones felt his players did a good job of grasping the components of the college game and what it takes to win against good teams. The season can be long and the weekend series tiring, Keister said.“The weekends are extremely long but we practice hard and everything is high tempo,” added Keister. “It is tiring but I think we’ll be conditioned for it and you get used to it as the season goes. You just go series by series.”Keister, Totherow and reigning conference player of the year Stibel Aleman Saba make up the PHCC outfield and Jones believes it could be one of the best if not the best outfields in the conference. Saba won the conference’s most prestigious award despite missing 15 games. And while Jones feels the outfield could be the strength of the defense, he also noted that the trio’s combined 500-plus at bats last season will be invaluable this year. Saba said he’s just happy to be healthy from the start.The team’s infield defense holds the biggest question mark. A whole new set of players fill in the inside part of the diamond this season as Crowder looks to cement his claim at first base. The sophomore earned valuable playing time last summer by playing on Barry Nelson’s Piedmont All-Star summer collegiate wood bat team. Keister and Totherow did the same. Crowder said the new field turf at Hooker Field should improve the team’s overall defense at home and help the pitchers become more confident.“I think we’ll be a good defensive team with our returning outfielders. The infielders are coming together good as well,” Crowder. “Our pitchers have to pitch to contact and I think we have a defense behind them that can the make the plays.”Jones said he still wants to see his middle infielders make better decisions and understand positioning within the game. However, he did say that he’s excited about their athleticism and handling of routine ground balls.Defense will directly effect the way the Patriots’ pitchers handle their responsibilities, Jones said. With a solid group behind his plethora of arms, Jones believes those who see action on the mound won’t feel obligated to do more than they’re capable of. With the loss of Hylton, forming new battery combination may take some time, Jones said.“We’ve pretty much identified who are weekend guys are going to be and the back end guys that we’ll turn to,” said Jones of his pitchers. “What we saw in the fall and so far in the preseason the bullpen is still up for grabs. It’ll come down to who we feel is healthy and is ready enough in their throwing program.”Freshman Jack Maynard and Yashuan Santiago along with sophomore David Fernandez will be the main weekend starters, according to Jones. Maynard said there is plenty of depth and wide variety of arms that can be used in the bullpen. With the tutelage of assistant coach Casey Hodges, Maynard said the pitching staff should be well prepared to face the challenges the season will bring. PHCC will have to go without one of its main aces, Scott Spradlin, who had to have surgery on his throwing arm and will miss the season.“Attack the zone and throw a lot of strikes,” Maynard said of the pitchers’ focus. “We have a great defense around us and a lineup that can score a lot of runs. We just have to give ourselves a chance to win every game, go after each hitter and never back down from anything.”With more team speed, those in attendance this season at Hooker Field can expect an exciting brand of baseball this spring. The goal is to peak late, win the conference tournament and secure a bid in the NJCAA World Series, Jones said.


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