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Losing 10 seniors in one year should be devastating to a program the following year in any sport. That would especially be true for a group that played a large part in the team finishing 20-11 and winning the “triple crown” — All-A tournament, the conference tournament and the district tournament.
However, talk to Carroll County High School baseball head coach Jay Jones, and you will find that he’s not concerned.
“You don’t replace a group like that that were so athletic and so successful,” Jones said. “All you try to do is follow their lead, and that was something we tried to instill last year is ‘You guys have to lead the right way. You have to do everything the right way’ because I knew this group coming behind them had enough talent to be successful, but they weren’t going to have the experience that that group in front of them had. And sure enough, I could not be more pleased with our progress so far.”
This year’s group boasts five seniors — Tyler Gross, Audie Platt, Ethan Stewart, Derek Williams and Zach Wise — three of which have been in the program since they were in seventh grade. Wise was also recently named to the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association’s pre-season All-State team.
“I knew we were going to lose a lot of talent, I knew we were going to lose a lot of players,” Jones said. “But with the players we had coming back, I knew we had great leadership; they were very dedicated.”
Gross, Stewart and Wise were major pieces to last year’s puzzle. While Platt and Williams have little varsity experience, Jones said they were the players on the JV level that were doing everything right. Along with two talented sophomores, Dillon Craig and Trey Boles, he is confident his team is capable of repeating last year’s performance. “We’re going to set the same goal we had last year,” he said. “We want to win 20 games and we want to win the Triple Crown … We scheduled some very tough games so that we could take some lumps and we could learn like we did last year, and hopefully that will make us peak at the right time, and then we will be where we need to be tournament time.”
The Panthers will have several players handle pitching duties this season, including starter Gross, who is 11-1 for his career. He finished 5-1 after his sophomore season and a perfect 6-0 last year. “He’s got a chance to win 16, 17 games in a career, and most people don’t get that many starts at the varsity level. That just shows how far along he came,” Jones said. “For Carroll County, people don’t throw varsity two years, let alone three and only have one loss on your record.”
One of the highlights for this year’s schedule is a home match-up against Franklin County at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, formerly Applebee’s Stadium, in Lexington, the home field for the minor league Lexington Legends. Jones said the game is a fundraising opportunity, as Carroll County will keep the gate money. In exchange, the team will have to sell 150 Legends tickets to a game to be announced.
The Panthers will be recognized on the field at that game.
The Panthers will also compete in a wooden bat tournament at Bellevue High School, which the players are excited about, Jones said.
The first game of the season is scheduled for March 22 at 5:30 p.m. at Grant County. The Panthers will play their first game at Panther Field on March 28 against Heritage Academy.