2014 KENTUCKY STANDARD BASEBALL PREVIEW: Tigers hope to reload, not rebuild

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By Dennis George

When you’ve lost six seniors from a team that set a school record for most wins in a season and you’re competing in a district that features two of the best teams in the region, it’s difficult to believe that a coach would be optimistic entering the 2014 baseball season.

But Glenn Koger believes he has the pieces to the puzzle and it’s his job to put them in place if his Bardstown Tigers are to build on the 18-16 season from a year ago.

“We accomplished a lot of our goals last season when we set a school record for wins,” Koger said. “We split with Nelson County (which got to the 5th Region championship game) in the regular season and then lost to them in the district tournament.”

If the Tigers are to compete against the Cardinals and Eagles, they will have to rebuild a pitching staff that took a hard hit through graduation.

Dillan O’Daniel (3-5, 2.15 ERA) has moved on to St. Catharine, and Matt Bond (6-2, 2.62 ERA) is at Brescia. Lincoln Doan was a fourth starter and closer.

“We’ve got Shunta Muto (3-6, 3.00 ERA) back and he’s going to be the ace of our staff,” Koger said.

The six-year senior starter faced the brunt of the toughest competition last year, and the soft-spoken Japanese native says he’s up to the task of being a leader of a young squad.

“I’m not a real vocal person,” he said. “I am just going to go out and try to show my leadership by trying to show them how to play baseball.”

Muto was spectacular in Bardstown’s season-opening 10-0 whitewash of Burgin. He struck out 12 batters and allowed only three hits in six innings.

Koger described the rest of his pitching staff as deep with Muto — who will play college baseball at Tufts University in Massachusetts — leading the group. Muto is also adept at the plate, pounding out a school record 49 hits while batting .422.

Senior Dakota Skaggs, juniors Trey Heiskell and Dale Smith, sophomore Patrick Walsh, freshmen Santrel Farmer and Thomas Bowling and eighth-grader Michael Clements will appear on the mound.

“Everyone is going to get a chance to pitch early in the season and then we hope to get our rotation set,” said Koger.

Heiskell and fellow senior Junior Mudd will split the catching duties.

The success of the Bardstown hoops team means Koger did not have the services of several of his players in the early weeks of the season. That includes basketball manager and first baseman Mudd. He played in 25 of the team’s 34 games last season and hit .326.

“He has a very long swing and it’s usually feast or famine for him,” Koger said.

Freshman Michael McCormick will also see time at that position.

Depending on who has the pitching duties, Koger expects four players to alternate in the center of the infield for Bardstown. They include junior Logan Brown, Muto, or eighth-grader Reese Puckett. Farmer played in all but one game last season and is expected to play either second base or shortstop.

Bowling, who went 3-for-5 in his first varsity action in the team’s first two games, will be at the hot corner.

Smith will play left field and Walsh will be in center.

“No one has claimed right field, but I expect Logan Downs (sophomore), Chandler Benz (senior) and Jordan Miller (sophomore) to all get some time there,” Koger said. “Jalen Stone, another basketball player, can play right field. Actually, he can compete for any position.”

Bardstown’s increased enrollment means the Tigers will not compete in the All A Classic tournament, which Koger said is a disappointment.

“Those are teams that we compete well against.”

The sixth-year coach is effusive in praise of the improved quality of play in the 19th District.

“This district always had a bad rap as far as baseball,” he said. “But if you look at teams such as Nelson County and Bethlehem (who went to the region finals and semifinals last year, respectively), they are as good as any teams in the region.”

Koger is optimistic that his program is headed in the same direction. The Bardstown Middle School program has 28 players involved, including several youngsters who were members of the state Little League runner-up team.

The Tigers are 2-2 so far with wins over Burgin and Hart County, and defeats to John Hardin and Monday to Bullitt Central. Bardstown hosts Atherton on Thursday at 6 p.m. and opens district play Friday at Washington County.