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BASEBALL: Grizzled Tiger veterans hoping for breakthrough year

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Bardstown baseball full of seniors for a change

By Dennis George

In his first three seasons as head baseball coach at Bardstown, Glenn Koger has had a total of four seniors.

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As he team begins the 2012 campaign, the Tigers have five seniors on the roster.

That’s the major reason Koger is expecting big things for his squad this year.

“We now have the numbers to compete,” Koger said.  “We’re more diversified. We have five seniors, six juniors, eight sophomores, and five freshmen. 

“In the past we put players on the field who did their best. We had nine players on the field and maybe one sub. But this year, we’ll be able to put quality players at every position.”

Koger is quick to give credit to improvement in quality and quantity of his players to the middle school programs.

“We have 52 players in the middle school program. We had 30 people try out for the varsity team. Unlike in the past, we have a real JV program. “

However, three of Koger’s players say their skipper is the main reason for the improvement in the program.

“He brought a lot of discipline to the program,” said senior Kyle Stith, a six-year starter for the Tigers. “Early on, we would goof off and not care like we should have. Coach told us that if we want to play baseball, he would make this the place to be.”

Bobby Butler, the senior center fielder who serves as the leadoff hitter and five-year letterman, says Koger has changed the attitude of the program.

“We’ve become better organized and work harder. I think because he has so much experience as a high school player, a college player and a pro player, we really listen to him. He’s been around the game a long time at high levels and he brings that to us.”

Senior catcher Devin Riffe says the coach is tough but caring.

“Coach Koger cares about us more than any coach I’ve ever had in my years of playing baseball.  The respect that I have for him is enormous.”

Stith will be the ace of the Tiger rotation. He was 4-4 last season with a 3.04 ERA. Sophomore Shunta Muto (3-3, 3.84 ERA) will also be a key to the pitching corps.

“He’s started for four seasons, and he’s definitely D-1 material,” Koger said.

Stith and Muto will alternate at shortstop when not on the mound. They were also the team’s best hitters a year ago when the former hit .376 and the latter was just a bit better at .379.

Koger describes Riffe as “an irreplaceable part of our team.

“He is the only catcher that I’ve had start a game in the three years I’ve coached. He calls the pitches and gets our players in the right defensive position.”

Dillan O’Daniel (1-3, 4.28 ERA) and senior Luke Humkey will also handle some pitching duties.  The southpaws will also alternate at first base.

Junior Jonathan Greer, another longtime starter, mans second base. The power hitter batted .334 a year ago.

Lincoln Doan, a four-year starter but just a junior will be at the hot corner. Senior Stephen Haynes sat out last season after leaving Nelson County but can play any position in the infield.

Newcomer Matt Bond will start in right field.

“He transferred from Scott County in December,” Koger noted. “He’s 6-3 and weighs 230. Matt is going to help us a ton. He has one of the purest swings you’ve ever seen.”

Andrew Gordon will start in left field. 

Junior Marcus Cosby will be able to replace any of the outfielders.

“Here’s a kid who hasn’t played baseball since the seventh grade, but you would never know it,” Koger said. “He stepped into the batting cage the other day and he looked like he had never stopped playing.”

The combination of discipline and experience helps, but Koger says it’s time for his first veteran team to continue showing improvement.

“We were 2-23 in my first year and then improved to 10 wins in the next two season,” he said.  “I really think we can compete in the 19th District this year, but it won’t be easy.”

Koger said the district is stronger than most years.

“Washington County returns almost everyone and will be one of the best teams in the region.  Bethlehem and Nelson County should also be strong this year.”

Stith and Riffe also hold high expectations as they enter their final season.

“Years ago, we went onto the field hoping to win, but not really expecting to,” Stith said. “Now we go out there expecting to win.”

From a team that won only two games in his freshman year, Riffe thinks the Tigers can compete in the district and make some noise in the region.

“The district is going to be very tough,” he said. But I think we can have a winning season and hopefully compete for the regional.”

Butler said that the attitude adjustment from Koger has the team thinking big this season.

“We go out on the field thinking we can win,” he said. “I hope we can go out and win more games this season than we did last season.”

Bardstown opens its season on the road Monday at Marion County.