New-identity Indians ready for break-out year

Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: Indian River junior pitcher Ulises Barrientos welcomes senior catcher Joey Anderson back to the dugout after Anderson slides into home during Saturday’s scrimmage.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: Indian River junior pitcher Ulises Barrientos welcomes senior catcher Joey Anderson back to the dugout after Anderson slides into home during Saturday’s scrimmage.After finishing 4-14 in 2014 and improving to 7-11 in 2015, the Indian River High School baseball team is looking to rack up the win tally yet again with head coach Chris Megee returning for a third season.

Between six returning seniors and a talented freshman and sophomore class, the squad is still forming a new identity.

“We have the talent to win. We just gotta learn how to win now,” said Megee. “We’re excited about this team. Definitely, the talent’s come up.”

“I think that comes from the past years of not knowing what we can do,” said junior LF Zane Richard of the team’s new outlook. “Now, it’s a different mindset. As we get everybody into it, I think we’ll come together.”

A Second Team All-Conference selection in 2015 as a sophomore, Richard will be called upon as one of the team’s new leaders in replacing graduated 3B/P Eddie Hogan and CF Kenny Rishel. However, so far this pre-season, he hasn’t played much outfield.

“We’re playing Zane everywhere but outfield right now. That’s what we try to do — our goal around here is to really have a college atmosphere at the high-school level,” explained Megee. “He’s even been back there catching, and he’s probably one of the best left-fielders I’ve ever seen. That’s the thing is, we want well-rounded players that can fill any position that we need right now.”

“I’m just trying to get a feel for every position,” added Richard, “so if somebody gets hurt, I can be there for the team. I’m just working at every position I can.”

Other key returners include seniors and Second Team All-Conference selections DH/P Deshawn Aiken and RF/P Ryan Engh — a DI commit to High Point who has already been producing at the plate, even as of the squad’s first scrimmage.

Senior 2B/P Jake Hudson, 1B/P Billy Murray and C Joey Anderson will also be called upon as leaders, and junior relief pitcher Zion Howard will make his way back on the mound, bringing his signature submarine style with him after honing mechanics down in Florida during the off-season.

“Going down there and seeing different pitching and different styles of coaches and everything — just being able to play and get warmed up for the season — really helped me out a lot,” said Howard. “Hopefully, it’ll be effective and I can help out the team this year.”

“He has that different type of pitch to him, where it’s submarine almost,” added Megee of Howard’s style. “He’s still learning his mechanics on that, and we’re excited to see what he can do.”

Key newcomers include sophomore pitcher Pryce Jones, who transferred from Pennsylvania and specifically chose to join the Indians.

“Being new here and everything, I looked at all the programs. I looked at all the history with all the coaches in the area, and I thought Megee was the best fit for me, personally,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of change moving from Pennsylvania, but I think this is a good fit for me.”

Jones will join fellow sophomore pitchers including Myles Clark and Mark Smith to round out the bullpen along with junior pitcher Ulises Barrientos.

He’s a left-handed pitcher. He’s a sophomore. You mix him in with Myles and Mark on the mound, you’re looking at three sophomores right now that seem to be pretty talented so far,” Megee said. “I think the pitching has come up tremendously.”

The new infusion of talent, along with the valuable underclass experience gained last season, have that new identity beginning to form, and hopes for this season, understandably, higher than ever.

“I’m liking the talent that we have coming up. I’m liking the new additions to this team,” said Howard. “I feel like they’re really gonna help us out this year and push us to get better, because we’re all pushing each other.”

“As we get everybody into it, I think we’ll come together,” added Richard. “I think we know what we can do now. We’re striving for the playoffs. That’s our goal.”

The new-look Indians will take the mound for their first regular-season game on Tuesday, March 22, against Polytech at 4:15 p.m.