Indians look for pitching as season begins

By Joel Jellison

When it comes down to it, Manhattan High baseball coach Don Hess said he knows the game is about pitching.

A team can score all the runs it wants, but it still needs the pitching staff to hold the opposing squad at bay.

As the Indians entered spring practice, they were rich with guys who can pitch. But Hess said they are still looking to lock down those positions when they open the season on Tuesday, splitting a doubleheader with Wichita East and Derby in Wichita.

“We feel like we have seven or eight guys that can pitch, but we haven’t had anyone step up and be Thomas Olsen for us yet,” he said. “He burst on to the scene last year and was really good for us.”

Olsen was a welcomed surprise for Manhattan in 2011, showing that he could command a staff. Going into last season, Hess said they knew Olsen was capable of being a strong arm for the team, and he made significant strides early on and got better as the season progressed.

One of the problems for the group of guys centered around the battle for the mound spots for the Indians this year, though, is they are all position guys as well.

“We have a lot of guys that can throw, but a lot of those guys are also position players and you have concerns with them making too many throws in a week and not being able to focus enough on one area,” he said. “We probably have thrown more live off the mound this spring than we have in years, so all those guys have been in simulated game situations.”

Away from the mound, the Indians return plenty of experience around the field.

Hess said although they lost some big pieces from last year’s team, they do bring back guys who had successful years.

“We lost a lot of talent off of last year’s team, but I do feel confident in the guys that we have coming back that we can step up in some areas and develop in other areas,” he said. “We do return some quality position players for sure, guys that have been tested and successful at this level.

“There are never any guarantees that success will continue — they have to continue to get better.”

The Indians traveled to Arizona to spend spring break at spring training last week, the second time they have done that in the past three years. The team took nearly double the amount of players this time around, with 30 guys — both varsity and junior varsity — making the trip.

“We can’t play so what we try to do is practice every morning in warm weather and get ready as best we can,” Hess said. “And in the afternoon and evenings we watch baseball.”

All that time together, and near 24-hour bus rides to and from the site gives the team an opportunity to bond.

Hess said bringing the guys closer together is one of the major goals of the trip.

“One of our goals is for team bonding and we spend hours together on the bus and you learn a lot about each other there,” he said. “The varsity and JV guys are put in positions where they have to work with other guys, and they really enjoy this type of trip.”

The Indians will enter the spring with a number of seniors already signed to play college baseball at junior colleges, as Derek Francis is signed to Iowa Western, while Trey Francis is signed to Allen County, Brooks DeBord to Hutchinson and Brooks Lindsay to Cowley County.

Hess said it isn’t unusual to have a number of guys signed to play college ball before the season, but he doesn’t often see so many guys signed to such successful programs.

“We usually have some guys sign with junior colleges in January when the opportunity arises,” he said. “But to have four guys sign with the caliber of colleges that are going to, I would have to think out of this group one or two of them could come up with a Division I opportunity, but we will see how it plays out.

“It’s a comfort that everyone appreciates to have that behind them so they can focus on this season.”

Hess said the opening week is a tough one as the team debuts at home on Friday with a doubleheader against Washburn Rural.

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