Washington County baseball — 18-19 (15-4 in the 5th region) last season — has gotten their opponents’ attention in recent years, winning the last two 5th Region All-A tournament crowns and coming within a run of back-to-back 19th District titles last season.
It won’t be the same WC team taking the field in 2013 with a core group of seniors departing since last year, but that doesn’t change expectations for coach Derek Schuler’s group.
“Our goals are still to win the district, win the All-A 5th Region and finish above .500,” Schuler said. “The goals are still the same and these guys know that it’s their time to do the same things that the guys before them did.”
There will be plenty of experience to replace with the Commanders returning players responsible for just 49 of last season’s 267 hits, but another crop of seniors is ready to take the reins.
“It’s starting all over with a lot of things, but they’re working their tails off,” Schuler said. “We’ve got six seniors and all they do is work hard. I think they’re hungry and ready to play and prove something.”
Some of those seniors echoed their coach’s sentiments about expectations. It’s clear that the 2013 version of the Commanders will accept nothing less than the standard that has been set within the program.
“Our biggest goal is to get back on top and be district champs,” said senior Thomas Spalding. “We want to make progress every single game and build a name for ourselves this year.”
They’d like nothing more than to return the favor from their hard-fought loss to the Eagles in last year’s district final.
“Everybody’s going to say Bethlehem is our biggest competition because they won district last year and they have a lot of people coming back, but...,” began senior Will Begley.
“…we’re not afraid of them, though,” finished fellow-senior Michael Mann.
While Washington County hopes the results are similar to recent years, the way they get there may be much different. Gone are the big run-producing bats of 2012 and in are the small ball essentials of bunting, baserunning and defense.
“Coaches this year have emphasized bunting and small ball because we don’t have a lot of power on the team,” Begley said. “Definitely getting bunts down and doing the small things will be the big thing this year, because it’s going to win or lose games.”
An emphasis on doing the small things means execution will be crucial for WC this year and will make pitching an even greater importance. Spalding and Begley will be called upon to carry much of the pitching load with juniors Travis Mattingly and Adam Smith. Mann and sophomore Wade Moore will also likely be asked to move over from their everyday positions to take a turn on the mound.
“We’ll be able to throw strikes and we’ll be consistent there I think,” Schuler said. “We don’t have anybody that’s just going to blow it by anybody, but we’ll be solid there.”
At least one freshman will be seeing a healthy number of innings this season with Trae Coulter helping fill in the void left at catcher with the graduation of Jacob Settles. Several Commanders will be gaining experience as they go and others will be taking on new roles this season, but WC feels that hard work will make up for a potential learning curve.
“They’re things we’ve always done, but we’re doing them more this year,” Mann said. “It’s going to take a lot more work and I feel like we’re putting in more work than we have the last couple of years.”
Washington County opened the season on Tuesday night against Eminence after press time. Their next game is tonight at 5:30 at home against Fort Knox. The Commanders travel to Garrard County on Saturday (5:30 p.m.), host Casey County (11 a.m.) on Saturday and meet Green County in the first round of the 5th Region All-A Classic on Monday (6 p.m.)