Bobcats encouraged by young, talented core
Cody McCoy is confident.
The lone senior on this year's Basehor-Linwood High School baseball team saw enough potential in his young teammates to make a shocking guarantee.
"Next year they will steadily grow as the season goes on," McCoy said. "I don't want to say too much, but they won't lose the first game of regionals next year. I almost guarantee it."
For a team coming off a 3-17 '06 season and a 5-14 '07 campaign, that is quite a statement.
McCoy's assertion is backed by several factors. The Bobcats only lose one player. McCoy did lead the team in batting this season with an average of .357. But numbers two, three and four on that list were all freshman.
Brandon Leppke hit .353, Ryan Lawless finished at .339 and Tyler Henley hit .321.
After starting 2-11, the team finished 3-3, playing its best baseball as the season concluded.
In light of this, what does BLHS coach Dave Svoboda think of his former star first baseman all but ensuring a first-round playoff victory next year?
"That is nice to hear that he is that confident," Svoboda said. "I certainly don't back away from a challenge like that. What that means is he thinks we will be around .500 and get a nice regional seed. With the pitching we have back, and the position players we have coming back, we ought to be better. That is something we should embrace. That is the attitude we have to have out of our guys. If anyone is satisfied that we played well in the last week and lost in the first round of regionals, that is not an attitude I want on the team."
Was McCoy disappointed that his senior season was spent on a team that featured many freshman and sophomores in key roles?
"When the season started I thought about it," McCoy said. "I could have looked at it one of two ways. I could have looked at it as being frustrated and become upset that I won't be there when they start to do well. But the role I took on more than that was trying to help them be better than they would if I didn't. I just wanted to help them mature as fast as they can. It made me upset a little but I am glad I could be there to start something bigger.
"The perfect example is Tyler Henley. The kid was hitting .150 and then with eight games left in the season he went on a killer streak. He was like 13-for-14 at the plate after the Imac game. He just caught fire. Leppke started doing better about getting deep in counts as a leadoff hitter. Ryan started fielding the ball better. They all came into their own by the end of the season."
Svoboda had nothing but good things to say about his freshman trio as well.
"I'm awfully proud of those three freshmen," Svoboda said. "They were second, third and fourth on our team in batting average. That is unbelievable. They started a regional game as our first baseman, second baseman and short stop. They are unflappable. We will build around that core. I don't want to give them way too much credit, because they did play like freshman at times. But it is an exciting foundation."
Despite the bright spots, Svoboda was disappointed that this season's record wasn't better.
"Obviously, we would have liked to have gotten two or three more victories and been closer to .500," Svoboda said. "But after winning just three games last year with a senior laden team to only having one senior for part of this year and winning five games, that's progress. We might have underachieved. We could have won a few more games that would have pushed us to an 8-11 mark or a 9-10 mark."
Looking to next season Svoboda is excited to finally have a bevy of senior leadership.
"It is going to be a nice situation in that we will have three seniors that will be vocal," Svoboda said. "At the end of the year, based on the way he played, you would have to say Henley is a leader. If he keeps playing like that, people will gravitate to that way of playing. He has the potential to be really special."
Svoboda said he expects his top three starters to be Henley, Justin Gripka and Lawless. Henley finished the year with a team best 2-1 record and a 1.54 ERA. The freshman struck out 15 batters in 13-plus innings of work.
Henley will move to first to replace McCoy when he is not pitching. Svoboda said there are several candidates to replace Henley in right field.
The coach has a new slogan for the new year.
"Strength, smarts and confidence," Svoboda said. "That is a theme they will get from me at the summer camps. If we can go into the season next year with those things we will improve upon this year. We will continue the gradual climb to where we can compete with teams to be in the upper echelon of the league."
The coach was not about to begin making guarantees, however. He will leave that to the departing senior.
"Is it realistic to think we can be closer to .500 in the league? Yes," Svoboda said. "Is it realistic to think we can play everyone in the league to a point where we can split (doubleheaders), with one or two exceptions? Yes. Realistically can we be a team that wins a postseason game next year? Yes. There will, however, be no guarantees by me made at any time other than the kids will represent the school well and they will play hard."