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Baseball returns all starters for first-year coach Ray

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By Kristin Beck

First-year Carroll County High School baseball head coach Jimmy Ray takes the reins of a senior-laden team that returns all nine starters from last season. Last year’s team finished 15-16 and lost a heartbreaker to Owen County in the second round of the 31st District tournament.

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Ray is not new to the Carroll County baseball program.

He started his coaching career 14 years ago as an assistant on the high school team. He also coached three years as either assistant or head coach of the Carroll County Middle School team, five years as the head coach for the Panther Select travel baseball team and five years for Carroll County Parks and Recreation.
Last season, Ray was head coach of both the middle school and travel ball teams. Five of his travel players are on his high school squad, three freshmen and two sophomores.

The players have taken to him well, Ray said. He said the players know he is enthusiastic and that he cares about them and the game.

Last season’s head coach, Josh Mefford, remains on staff as an assistant coach. Ray’s other assistant coaches are Brian Crank, Mike Willhoite and Chris Allen.

The team is loaded with experience, boasting eight seniors. Dillon Craig, Trey Boles, Chase Osborne, Zach Beckham and Derrick Nickell were all varsity starters last year, while A.J. Dixon and Brad Robbins played mostly JV. Brandon Stewart is new to the team.

“We have a couple kids that are strong leaders that the kids look up to,” Ray said. “The difficult thing for me will be finding enough playing time for everyone. We have a pretty deep team … but it’s a good problem to have.”

He told his players the other day that everyone will get a chance to play. But a big part of being a good teammate is being able to sit on the bench and cheer on your teammates, rather than pouting about not playing, he said. As the season goes on, those playing better will get more opportunities.

“Our strength is going to be our pitching,” Ray said. “We really need to work on hitting; we have some bad habits to break.”

Ray said the cold and rainy weather “put a real damper on things.” The team has only practiced on Panther Field twice. The team also has played a scrimmage and a regular season game. “But with us being a veteran team, I don’t think (the weather) has hampered us as much as other teams.”

Ray said, so far, coaching the high school team hasn’t been very different from coaching the younger players. “My expectations from middle school to high school (are) pretty much the same,” he said.

He said he tried to prepare his middle school players for high school ball by taking fundamentals seriously and talking to them about teamwork and how to prepare for games. Ray said some of the high school players have a higher baseball IQ, but that he will use the same drills he has used in the past.

Ray said he believes the 31st District will be fairly competitive this season.

Last season, Owen County finished at the head of the pack in the regular season. But Henry County defeated the Rebels to win the 31st District title. In the 8th Regional, Owen was defeated in the first round by Anderson County, while Henry defeated Shelby County before falling to North Oldham.

Ray said he put together a pretty difficult schedule, probably more so than the last few years “with the intent to make us strong come postseason.”

The Panthers will take on Walton-Verona in the first round of both the 8th Region All-A Classic and the NCKC Tournament. Districts will be held at Henry County.