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Yates to lead off for Bat Cats

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By Greg Woods

Long-time Henry County High School assistant baseball coach Zak Yates has been named the head baseball coach for the Spring 2013 season.

Yates takes over for Austin Hunsaker who will be the school’s interim assistant principal.

“In my opinion, when I found out I couldn’t continue as coach he was the one and only option,” Hunsaker said. “ I put a lot of hard work into this over the past five years to make this program consistently competitive and Zak is the best choice to push them even farther.

“I honestly think that this job was ultimately meant to be Zak’s. He loves this baseball program, he’s a hometown product and he’ll work harder than anyone to keep it something to be proud of.”

Yates is a 1993 graduate of Henry County High School and played catcher for the baseball team. He has been an assistant baseball coach at the school for 12 years under five different head coaches. During that time the team has reached the semifinals of the regional tournament twice and the finals once. All of those have been in the five years that Yates and Hunsaker have worked together. Yates has been named the 8th Region assistant coach of the year twice: 2008 and 2012.

 “I’m extremely tickled that Zak is our new baseball coach,” Athletic Director Todd Gilley said. “He has been working with the baseball program for years. He really wants to see our kids do well. He has great knowledge of the game and he has learned from a lot of great coaches. He knows how to help the kids get better and still have fun. He will have a disciplined team and he will teach them how to be good people.”

For Yates, this is an opportunity 12 years in the making.

“This is something I have wanted to do since I started back in 2000,” he said. “I have learned a lot over these past 12 seasons to prepare me for this challenge. Obviously graduating from here and playing here make this even more special. I want to thank the administration for giving me this opportunity. I want to thank the previous head coaches for helping me along the way. Without them I wouldn’t have this opportunity.

“I’ve had a lot of calls and messages congratulating me and I appreciate all of them very much. Obviously I have some big shoes to fill. Coach Hunsaker was able to win three districts in five years and be respected throughout the region. We want to continue that success.

“Not much is going to change but obviously with a new head coach there will be some minor stuff. One of the biggest attributes of any successful program is continuity. I do realize that at times it’s not going to be easy. There are going to be ups and downs and I am going to have to make tough decisions. I hope the fans understand that and support the players and the program throughout it all.”

One hallmark of the Hunsaker-Yates era has been that their teams start slow and then come on strong at the end of the year. In 2010, the team started 2-8 and finished 16-14. In 2011, the team started 6-8 before reeling off 14 wins in a row. That team lost to Oldham County in the regional semi-finals.

Last season’s Cats were no different. They started 5-10 and finished 17-14 with a place in the regional semi-finals once again.

Yates believes he knows the recipe for continuing the strong showing. “The number one priority is just teaching the game of baseball - the nuances of basic baseball, for example hitting strikes, smart base running, sacrificing, throwing to a cutoff man and making routine defensive plays. If we can do all this we are going to have a chance to be successful,” he said.

Yates plans to keep the goals for the team simple. “It’s pretty simple… we want to get better every day when we step on the baseball field whether it’s practice or a game. We want to be playing our best baseball when we start the district tournament.”

He also understands that even with so many years of experience as an assistant coach, that it will be different now that he is the head man. “Without a doubt it feels different to have “head” added to the coaching title,” Yates said. “After 12 years as an assistant it has to feel different.”