Scott Collins has mostly forgotten about June 1, 2018.
“I do think it was a successful year — minus one game,” Rowan County’s second-year baseball coach said.
That one game — an 8-0 shutout loss to Greenup County in last year’s 16th Region finals— hardly sullied what the Vikings did. They won their fifth straight 61st District crown and finished at 30-7.
Last season was also a painful pursuit because two beloved Vikings — former coach Keith Prater and star Justin Graham — had passed away.
“Just being around the kids, know(ing) how they battled through the adversity the year prior, they won’t give up,” Collins said. “That’s one thing I know I’ve got coming back with the kids that were last year.”
As for this year’s district race …
“It’s early,” Collins said. “We do have a lot that’s coming back from last year, but it’s been a down spring as far as weather; we haven’t been able to do hardly anything. All we can go by is what we have coming back from last year.
“I really do like what we have comin’ back.”
As well the Vikings should.
Start with senior A.J. Hacker. The Morehead State University signee was among the best in Kentucky last year — he led the state with 125 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings to go with a 0.71 earned run average, four home runs and a 10-2 record.
Hacker and former Rowan County star Cam Planck (now in the New York Mets organization) worked out together before Planck took off to Florida for spring training.
“(They worked on) conditioning, getting their bodies developed, mechanics, you name it,” Collins said. “They really hit the weights hard.”
There’s more reason to rejoice. Seniors Matthew Gagliano, who hit .417, scored 44 runs, stole 16 bases and compiled a 1.70 ERA and a 6-1 record, and Corey Binion (.357 average, 14 doubles, four homers, 51 runs batted in) return.
By day, fourth-year coach Patrick Armitage crunches numbers and works with loans and mortgages in his job at Owingsville Banking Corp. On the baseball diamond, he thinks the statistics from last year’s 21-8 team are as solid as an 825 credit score.
Put another way — Armitage said this is the year toward which the Wildcats have been pointing.
“We have nine seniors and a couple really, really good juniors,” he said. “ … We hope we can compete.”
The Wildcats may be strongest on the mound — Armitage said Nathan Davis is the staff’s ace. Senior Chandler Otis led the team in wins a season ago. Spencer Pergrem figures to log a lot of innings.
“We’ve got a very talented sophomore in Zane Blevins,” Armitage said. “He started for us in the (16th Region All ‘A’) last year against Raceland.”
Armitage said Davis and seniors Landan Swartz and Lane Rogers are the top three returning hitters.
You might find fourth-year coach Austin Hart glued to The Weather Channel on his smartphone or laptop this spring.
The Panthers were 14-10 last year, a grand-slam improvement over 2017’s 6-20. Hart, however, thought 20 wins was a possibility the rain washed away.
“We were looking for 20 wins, and we would’ve had it if we didn’t have 15 rainouts,” Hart said. “There was a two-week span where we didn’t play at all.”
Hart said this year’s team is the most experienced team he’s fielded. The roster includes nine juniors, a senior and seven sophomores.
Look for juniors Jonathan Maher, Andrew Jackson and Samuel Johnson to lead the pitching staff.
“They’re all tall pitchers, and they’re beginning to throw it a little harder,” Hart said. “ … I think most of ’em are going to try and play college baseball, so they’re startin’ to work a little harder.”
Freshman third baseman Braden Clark hit around .390 last year.
Hart is again monitoring every meteorological website he can; he doesn’t like what he sees. “I hope it stops rainin’, but the next two weeks aren’t lookin’ good, either,” he said.
Fourth-year coach Eddie Johnson thinks last year’s 10-15 record was a major improvement. It was — the Wildcats plummeted to 3-20 in 2016 and 2017’s 7-23.
“We’re making pretty good progress,” Johnson said. “We were young, we’re still young; our players are getting a little more age on ’em.”
Johnson said defense and hitting have improved the most. Pitching is a challenge because there’s no feeder or middle school program, and there are fewer players in youth programs.
Sophomores Landon Burden and Jayrd Webber are the top two pitchers, and senior center fielder Jacob Clayton has been the most consistent hitter.
Coach: Scott Collins (second season)
Last year: 30-7, won district, lost to Greenup County in regional final
Top players: A.J. Hacker (Sr., P); Matthew Gagliano (Sr. OF); Corey Binion (Sr., C)
Coach’s outlook: “All we can go by is what we have coming back from last year … I think our boys will compete, and hopefully good things will happen for us.”
18-at Greenup Co.; 19-at Ashland; 21-at Menifee Co.; 23-Sheldon Clark and East Clnton (Ohio) at Hardin Classic; 25-Chardon (Ohio) at Cal Ripken Experience, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; 26-Kenston (Ohio) at Cal Ripken Experience; 28-Rootstown (Ohio) at Cal Ripken Experience; 29-Westerville North (Ohio) at Cal Ripken Experience
1-Menifee Co.; 2-Montgomery Co.; 4-at Prestonsburg; 6-Powell Co. and Lewis Co. in Anchor Down Classic; 8-Fleming Co.; 9-at Fleming Co.; 12-Simon Kenton at Doc Morris Invitational; 14-Conner and Pikeville at Doc Morris Invitational; 15-Mason Co.; 16-at Morgan Co.; 17-at Lewis Co.; 19-at Russell in Frank Boom Invitational; 20-Maon Co. and Magoffin Co. at Frank Bloom Invitational; 22-at Bath Co.; 23-Bath Co.; 26-Pleasure Ridge Park at Louisville Invitational Tournament; 27-Collins and Scott Co. at Louisville Invitational Tournament; 29-Bracken Co.
2-Boyd Co.; 6-at Montgomery Co.; 8-at Mason Co.; 10-Morgan Co.; 11-Prestonsburg and Russell in Viking Invitational; 14-West Carter; 15-at Frederick Douglass; 16-at Boyd Co.; 17-East Carter
Coach: Austin Hart (fourth season)
Last year: 14-10, lost in district semifinal
Top players: Jonathan Maher (Jr., P), Andrew Jackson (Jr., P) Samuel Johnson (Jr. P), Braden Clark (Fr., 3B).
Coach’s outlook: “This year is supposed to be the year we make a run through the region.”
18-at Lewis Co.; 19-Harrison Co.; 22-at West Carter; 23-at Paris; 25-at Greenup Co.; 29-Paris
1-at Bourbon Co.; 5-at Morgan Co.; 8-at Rowan Co.; 9-Rowan Co.; 11-Nicholas Co.; 12-Powell Co.; 15-Harrison Co.; 17-Montgomery Co.; 18-Menifee Co.; 19-Pendleton Co.; 20-Jeffersontown at David Iery Foundation Showcase; 22-Mason Co.; 24-at Bracken Co.; 26-Lewis Co.; 30-Bourbon Co.
4-Bath Co. (DH); 6-Morgan Co.; 7-at Nicholas Co.; 9-at Powell Co.; 11-East Carter at David Iery Classic at Lewis Co.; 13-at Menifee Co.; 17-West Carter.
Coach: Patrick Armitage (fourth season)
Last year: 21-8, district runner-up, lost to Boyd County in region quarterfinals
Top players: Nathan Davis (Jr. P); Chandler Otis (Sr. P); Landan Swartz (Sr. CF), Lane Rogers (Sr., C)
Coach’s outlook: “We have a lot of experience and a lot of depth and a lot of competition … Our expectations are high, but these guys have to go out there and perform.”
18-Morgan Co.; 19-Menifee Co.; 21-Powell Co. 22-Russell; 23-Model and Breathitt Co.; 25-at West Carter; 27-at Menifee Co.; 29-Magoffin Co.; 31-Spencer Co. at Fort Walton (Florida) Beach Bash
1-Hopkinsvillevat Fort Walton (Florida) Beach Bash; 2-Allen Co.-Scottsville at Fort Walton (Florida) Beach Bash; 3-Ohio Co. at Fort Walton (Florida) Beach Bash; 5-Owensboro Catholic at Fort Walton (Florida) Beach Bash; 8-Raceland in 16th Region All “A” tournament; 11-at Frederick Douglass; 12-at Jackson City; 13-Sayre and Harrison Co. at Harrison Memorial Hospital Invitational; 15-at St. Patrick; 16-at Berea; 19-Jackson City; 20-Woodford Co. at David Iery Foundation Showcase at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, Lexington; 22-Rowan Co.; 23-at Rowan Co. 24-Mason Co.; 26-Robertson Co.; 27-Owsley Co.
4-Fleming Co. (DH); 6-at Bourbon Co.; 8-at Fairview; 9-East Carter and West Carter; 10-Fairview; 13-at Powell Co.; 14-Estill Co.; 16-at Raceland; 17-Montgomery Co.; 18-Berea (DH) and Lewis Co.
Coach: Eddie Johnson (fourth season)
Last year: 10-15, lost in district semifinal
Top players: Landon Burden (Soph., P), Jayrd Webber (Soph. P), Jacob Clayton (Sr, CF)
Coach’s outlook: “I'm looking for positive growth with our baseball program, especially as the community and the school gets on board … Hopefully we'll be able to put together a 15-plus-win season and continue to show growth.”
19-at Bath Co.; 21-Rowan Co.; 23-Tolsia (West Virginia)and Elliott Co. at Tolsia; 26-West Carter; 27-Bath Co.; 30-Oneida Baptist Institute
1-at Rowan Co.; 4-at West Carter; 5-Lee Co.; 8-West Carter in 16th Region All “A” tournament; 11-at Morgan Co.; 12-Buckhorn; 15-at Estill Co.; 18-at Fleming Co.; 23-at Lee Co.; 26-Rose Hill Christian; 27-at Oneida Baptist Institute; 29-at Breathitt Co.; 30-at Wolfe Co.
2-Morgan Co.; 4-Lee Co. and Elliott Co. at Elliott Co. Battle of the Diamond; 6-Breathitt Co.; 8-Estill Co.; 10-at Rose Hill Christian; 13-Fleming Co.; 14-at Powell Co.; 16-Wolfe Co.; 17-at Buckhorn