First-year head coaches will spend the majority of their time putting their program together, getting to know their player and making sure everyone is on the same page for the future.
Such was the case for Indian River baseball coach Derek “D.J.” Long in 2017. After a season that saw the Indians finish 6-12, Long’s squad made a two-game improvement from 2016 in just his first season at the helm.
And after a weekend of scrimmages last weekend, the second-year manager is looking for an even more substantial improvement.
“I think after coming out here for our second scrimmage,” Long noted of the Saturday play, “overall, our at-bats were a lot better. This year, everybody has a different approach. We made plays. Last year, we made a lot of errors.”
Pitching is usually ahead of hitting early in the chilly temperatures of the spring season. Long and the Indians will be relying heavily on the arms of a quintet of pitchers. Seniors Mark Smith and Bailey Willey, along with juniors J.J. Killen and Mitch Megee, will be relied upon to carry much of the mound duties this year. Sophomore Chase Hall is also expected to see significant action.
“We have some young pitchers this year,” Long said, assessing his staff. “We will need to play better defense than last season in order to help our pitchers.
“I like what I saw,” he added of the scrimmages. “We got some younger guys in. We made the plays,” he said of the defensive side, “and our pitching was good.”
Pitching, of course, goes a long way to a team’s success, but teams still have to score more runs that the other team in order to win the games.
While helping out on the mound, Smith will also double as the team’s shortstop and will help lead the way for the Indians’ offense this season. Fellow senior Cole Hitch will catch and help provide some power to the lineup. Joining them are juniors Grant Argo (third base), Jacob Anderson (centerfield) and Killen (first base).
They will be looking to fill the voids left by the graduation of Ulises Barrientos and Zion Howard, as well as the absence of Myles Clark due to injury.
Long said he is confident his team will be more successful than last year and is hopeful that the Indians can compete for the Southern Division title.
“We are looking to have double-digit wins this season,” Long said of his team’s goals. “We would like to win the Henlopen South, and make the playoffs. It will come down to how well our pitching holds up against tough teams. I believe we will be strong at the plate.”
Extra Bases: The Indians’ scrimmages were at Sussex Central last Saturday, March 10, where they faced Cape Henlopen, St. Mark’s and Central’s Golden Knights. They will open the regular season with back-to-back home games against Woodbridge and Polytech before hitting the road for three straight.
Bruce C. Walls contributed to this story.