Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

June 20, 2014

Sixers set sights on state

Zack Klemme
The Independent

ASHLAND — Ashland Post 76’s 17-and-under baseball team was “a play or two away” from winning a state American Legion championship last year, coach Mark O’Bryan said, and the 19-and-under club won a district title and advanced to the state tournament as well.

So setting Post 76’s expectations for this summer wasn’t difficult.

“Our goal isn’t to go play well down there (in the state tournament), our goal is to go down there and win it,” O’Bryan said. “(Returners) have done a good job of passing that along to the younger kids that weren’t with us last year.”

Added 19U coach Mike Delaney: “We’re just looking to play competitive baseball against the best competition we can find to play. I think we’ll do that, and hopefully we’ll compete in our district and make a showing down at state.”

The 19U Sixers were 4-7 entering Friday’s scheduled game, though Delaney noted his team hasn’t had much time to gel due to players participating in All-Star games, senior trips and the like.

“Starting about the middle of next week, I’ll finally start getting everybody there,” he said. “I think we’ll be an excellent club. We’ve got pitching, defense and ... the sticks have taken awhile to get started since there’s been a break for some of them from (the end of) high school (season).”

Angling for pitching honors are East Carter’s Jordan Walburn, Russell’s Alex Jones, Lawrence County’s Joe Wallen, Raceland’s Tyler Morris, Ashland’s Robert Griffith and Pete Mullins, and Coal Grove’s Jacob Pierce.

Paintsville’s Gabe Burchell and East Carter’s Austin Wells will catch, Delaney said. J.B. Brown of Greenup County and Ashland’s Aaron Elam are first basemen, Ashland’s Jared Slone and East Carter’s Austin Floyd make up the middle infield, and Morris will man third when he’s not pitching.

East Carter’s Jesse James, Wallen, and Lewis County’s Jordan Davis and Devon Duncan drew mention from Delaney as those vying for outfield time.

Offensively, Slone will likely lead off, and Brown, Wallen and Elam will form “the meat of the order,” Delaney said.

“I think those are some pretty good bats,” the coach said. “We’ve got some singles hitters, doubles hitters, all the way through the order. Once we get it going, I think we’ll be solid one through nine.”

The 17U Sixers stood 8-6 through Wednesday against their typically ambitious schedule, which includes some 19-and-under opponents.

“We’re feeling each other out right now,” O’Bryan said. “We’re happy to be above .500 for sure.”

Paintsville’s Andrew Rice assumes the ace mantle for now on the mound. Russell’s Jacob McKee and Daniel Rutherford of Coal Grove also figure to populate the starting rotation, O’Bryan said.

“They’ve all three thrown real well, and (Casey) Clark from Ashland has thrown real well,” O’Bryan said, adding West Carter’s Richard McGlone will also pitch.

Post 76 returns middle infielders Bobby May and Keelin Rice, both of Russell, and adds Boyd County’s Brock Damron there. Ashland’s Drew O’Bryan and Russell’s Heath Hensley will man corner infield positions, along with Boyd County’s Trey Johnson, O’Bryan said.

“Offensively, our corners are really strong,” the coach said. “Those guys will hit for average and they hit well as far as extra-base hits. They’re middle-of-the-lineup guys.”

Russell’s Austin Brinkman, Boyd County’s Braden Wyatt and Raceland’s Nicholas Collier will catch.

“Brinkman and Wyatt are younger, but have a lot of potential,” O’Bryan said. “Collier’s a little more seasoned as far as experience goes, and really does a good job of helping those kids along.”

Clark, McKee, Rutherford and Russell’s Nick Conley will patrol the outfield grass, O’Bryan said.

ZACK KLEMME can be reached at zklemme@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2658.