Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

April 3, 2014

63rd District Baseball Preview: Pitching key, coaches say

ASHLAND — Of its 24 wins last season, 18 of them went to pitchers who are no longer on Greenup County’s roster.

Meanwhile, Lewis County returns its ace (and more). Russell coach Mike Martino likes his top arm. Raceland is, in a sense, in the same boat as the Musketeers, having graduated its No. 1 pitcher.

Martino, one of the longest-tenured coaches in the region, knows as well as anyone that the most important game of the season is the district tournament’s opening-round duel. The victor punches a ticket into the 16th Region Tournament.

Having quality pitchers never fails to be one of the biggest keys in that particular game.

Remarkably, Randy Vanderhoof has been Raceland’s head coach 18 years longer than Martino has led the Red Devils. In all, Vanderhoof is at the 28-season mark.

Being from the only All “A” school in the district, Vanderhoof is annually saddled with the tough task of beating a team that inevitably has an advantage, numbers-wise.

Still, Raceland rarely goes away quietly.

“This is the hardest district in the region, and we all know it,” said Martino, who guided Russell to three consecutive region tournaments until last season.

Greenup County is the reigning champion. In fact, the Musketeers have won six of the last seven titles, with the only exception being 2012, when Lewis County seized supremacy.

Greenup County fell to Ashland in the region championship game last season.

Eighth-year coach Greg Logan, who owns three region titles, expects his team to take its lumps in the early going, which it has. But he’s hopeful for the long haul.

“We will need to find some pitchers who can step up and fill in that (void from 2013),” Logan said. “Hopefully (we get that) from seniors Jesse Hall and Karson Glancy.”

Logan will also look to seniors Korey Morris, J.B. Brown and Chase Clary to assemble strong seasons. Morris committed zero errors in 48 chances in the outfield last year. Brown is coming off a 22-RBI season. Logan labeled Clary “the best shortstop in the region.” He’s a third-year starter.

Youngsters Tristan Downing, a freshman, and Gage Hughes, an eighth-grader, offer more experience than what their grade classification conveys.

Downing is a third-year varsity starter. The pitcher/utility player was 3-4 on the mound last season — he picked up the victory against Morgan County in the region tournament opening round last season.

Hughes, a second baseman, will lead off.

Greenup County (3-6) split the season-opening series with Lewis County (4-2).

The Lions have a deeper pool of pitchers than many in the region.

Sammy Holder, who recently signed with Kentucky Wesleyan, was 9-3 with a 1.70 earned run average last season. He racked up 97 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings. In 2012, the two-time All-Area selection was 8-0.

Jordan Davis fanned 56 batters in 52 innings in 2013. He had a 2.15 ERA.

First-year coach Jack Lykins also likes what he sees from 6-foot-4 right-hander Isaac Weddington.

“Our pitching’s been pretty good,” Lykins said. “Our bats haven’t come around just yet.”

Holder and Davis comprise the top two spots in the batting order. Holder hit .367 with 18 stolen bases last year. He’s already experienced a four-steal game this season.

When not pitching, Holder is a staple at shortstop. Jordan Doyle, Weddington and Daulton Mason are other infielders. Mason, a transfer from Mason County, bopped seven homers last season.

Davis holds down center field, while Wade Adams will be etched onto the lineup card as the left fielder most days.

“I’m really impressed with the way Wade’s been playing,” Lykins said.

Adams, Holder, Mason and Jordan McCann are the Lions’ seniors.

Russell also has four seniors — Alex Jones, Michael Daniels, Duane Naliborksi and Elijah Hamilton.

Martino is counting on Jones to win “9 or 10 games,” he said. The left-hander was 4-3 with a 1.71 ERA in 42 innings last year.

“He’s going to be the main guy,” Martino said. “We expect to win when he pitches.”

Heath Hensley, nicknamed “Mega Mitt,” returns as the junior first baseman after being voted the team’s most valuable player in ’13. Hensley is hitting right at .500 from the leadoff spot for the Red Devils (3-4) through seven games.

Juniors Bobby May and Garion Robinson, the Devils’ shortstop and left fielder, respectively, combined for 35 RBIs last season.

Jacob McKee, a sophomore, supplies a “big stick” in the middle of the lineup, said Martino.

Freshman Nick Conley, who is “as fast as blue blazes,” according to Martino, will bat in the two-hole in between Hensley and McKee most nights.

Naliborski, Justin Fraley, May and McKee are among the arms Martino plans to turn to after Jones.

Vanderhoof said he hopes to “compete in the tough 16th Region All “A” (Classic) and the 63rd District.”

Coming off a 16-17 year in 2013, the Rams are off to a 4-5 start this season.

Sophomore Tyler Morris tallied 15 strikeouts in a 6-1 victory over Dayton on Tuesday.

Vanderhoof said the Rams will also rely on junior outfielder Kyle Moore to be a significant factor.

Cody Gollihue, Alec Risner, Brady Harris and Tristan Brown are all seniors for Raceland.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.

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