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Despite graduating eight seniors from last year’s squad, the 2014 edition of the Carroll County Panthers baseball team boasts a strong core of experienced players, as well as new additions poised to make an immediate impact.
The team will be led by returning seniors John Michael Adams, Taylor Hill, Keifer McIntyre, Will Wallace and Jacob Wise. Senior Austin Crowell was injured during his sophomore baseball campaign and sat out his junior year after tearing an ACL in his knee during basketball season. He will fill one of the middle infield positions vacated by graduation.
Second-year head coach Jimmy Ray said everyone on the team gets along really well. “We don’t have any egos on our team, and I think that is going to go a long way.”
With the first high school season under his belt, Ray said the team knows what to expect from him.
“Last year we were kind of up and down at times with some of the expectations I had and some of the things they were used to doing,” he said. “We didn’t always mend real well, but I think these kids have been around me. I’ve coached every one of them at one time or another, whether that be middle school baseball or little league. They’ve been around me all of last year and kind of know what to expect. I think our team chemistry is going to be our strong suit.”
The area in most need of improvement so far is pitching. Out of last year’s eight seniors, five saw time on the mound. Ray said the team still has some good players left, but will not have the same pitching depth.
“Zakk Hicks came on last year at the end of the season as probably our best pitcher by the end of the year. He’s back this year, which is going to help, but we’re still down on our pitching,” he said. “That’s going to be the hard part, I think, the depth at pitching.”
Ray said Adams, Wallace, McIntyre and Wise will see time on the mound, as well as sophomore Justin Ray, junior Stephen Fornash and freshman Seth Hicks, who moved in from Trimble County.
The wintry weather has kept the Panthers off the field for almost the entire offseason, but Ray has not let that dampen his spirits. “Every time I get frustrated about it, I think, ‘Well, other teams are in the same way,’” he said. The team has been practicing in the high school conditioning center and seems to be hitting better than this time last season.
Ray said he believes in scheduling tough and tries to play as many teams as he can to make the year challenging. The Panthers play district opponents the required two times, as well as Trimble County twice, but filled the rest of their schedule with outside opponents.
“I like to win, don’t get me wrong, but I’m more concerned about how we play than the win or loss,” he said. “I’d rather get better and learn from it, play against a good team.”
The team will travel to Thomas Nelson High School for the General Spring Break Bash March 31-April 1, and the Panthers will take on Owen County in the All ‘A’ Classic at Walton-Verona April 10. The 31st District Tournament will be hosted by Henry County.
Ray said his goals for the season are to get better every day and “to win the big ones.” He said the team beat some very good teams last year, but when it came to the All ‘A’ and District tournament, “we laid an egg” with two first-round losses. He said he wants to win both tournaments and compete in the 8th Regional.
Carroll County was originally scheduled to play a double-header against Fern Creek and Simon Kenton Saturday, but it was canceled due to inclement weather that rained out their scrimmage game Wednesday against Boone County. The scrimmage will now take place Saturday, and the Panthers will open their season at Dayton Tuesday, March 18. The Panthers will then play five straight home games, beginning with Trimble County, Thursday, March 20.