To say the Eminence baseball team is having a rebuilding year is bit of an understatement. Led by first-year head coach Mark Payton, the Warriors will be starting from scratch.
But it might be not be as bad as Warrior fans think as Payton has been pleasantly surprised with his team's attitude and performance during the limited practice time they've had.
"This team hit rock bottom and now it's rebuilding time," said Payton, who played baseball and football for Eminence during the mid-1990s and was an assistant baseball coach in 2005 and 2006. "The main thing I want to do is get the right attitude toward baseball, which has been extremely positive from these players so far. I've been pleased with their progress."
Eminence went 2-20 last season and lost to Shelby County (10-0) in the opening round of the 30th District tournament. Following the loss, the Warriors also said goodbye to five players that saw significant playing time - Brandon Powell, Zach Young, Dylan Miskell, Chris Willis and Erick Shannon. The seniors also made up the pitching rotation, which leaves more than a few holes to fill on the mound.
This season, the top pitcher looks to be junior Michael Snell, who threw junior varsity last year. Besides Snell, junior Chris Crenshaw, junior Shawn Hamlin and sophomore Jacobi Moore will see action on the mound. With zero pitchers from this year's team seeing varsity pitching time before, it's an area the Warriors can really improve as the season progresses.
"If they can get it over the plate, they're going to pitch this year," Payton said. "We have a lot of throwers but not a lot of pitchers right now."
Opposing teams will more than likely fill up the stat sheets with numerous hits, which will keep the fielders busy. As of now, starters include Coletin Raper at first base, Samuel Brewer at second base, Hamlin at shortstop, Moore at third base, Ryan Paris at catcher, Zach Raisor at left field, Mark Goodwin at center field, Jordan Fairchild at right field and Crenshaw at designated hitter. Batting wise, Goodwin will be the leadoff, Hamlin at the second spot and Snell and Crenshaw at third and fourth. The rest of the batting order is still up in the air, Payton said.
"I think we're going to be very good defensively, but we're going to have to play small ball offensively," Payton said. "We want to cut down on mental and physical mistakes. We're a young team that lacks experience."
The Warriors will get needed experience right away with a tough opening schedule. They played at Shelby County - last year's state runners-up - Monday night and at Spencer County Tuesday night, while their next game is scheduled against Gallatin County at home this Thursday. After that, Eminence will play Owen County, Evangel Christian, Henry County, Anderson County and Butler. It's a tough schedule for the young Warriors, but will only prepare them for games down the road.
"It's like two seasons for us," Payton explained. 'The first season is these tough early games, and the second season is the latter games when we'll try to build up. The biggest thing we want to do this year is compete and have a winning season."
Like most teams this spring, Eminence had to deal with weather issues that has forced the team move practice inside the high school's gym or inside the Eminence Community Center. So far, they've been on the field just twice, and didn't see live pitching until Friday afternoon.
"We've had limited practice, but I've liked what I've seen," Payton said. "We only had nine players at practice Friday (because of Eminence's spring break), and they were all hitting the ball very well."
Payton has been a bit disappointed in the direction the program has been going the last few years, so his number one goal is to change the attitude towards Eminence baseball, which he knows will start with the younger players in the community. After Eminence's little league program started back up three years ago, the youngsters are already seeing improvements, which is promising, Payton said. Eminence will also have 11 junior varsity games this season to get some of the youngsters more playing time for future seasons.
"I'm looking at a long-term approach," Payton said. "We're building from the ground up, it's like starting all over. I'm going to take it one step at a time - that's all I can do."
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