With the boys and girls basketball teams both reaching the state playoffs, baseball coach Jason McDaniel is starting to feel the pressure to succeed.
“I’ve got to keep up with coach (Matt) Cates and coach (Roger) Kvam,” McDaniel said, referring to the respective coaches of the girls and boys teams. “Those are two tough teams to keep up with. They are setting the bar pretty high for the rest of us. I just hope we can live up.”
The Cherokee baseball team took its share of lumps last year, finishing 10-16 overall and just 4-8 in Region 5AAAAA. But McDaniel is confident that a lot of lessons were learned and his players are ready to be more competitive this season.
Perhaps the area that’s shown the most growth is the pitching. The Warriors returned a handful of pitchers from last season, including seniors Eli Dickens and Nathan Ward — two of the team’s top three pitchers in 2012.
Senior Jacob Austin will also spend time on the mound.
Starting catcher C.J. Waterbor also returns, along with all three of the starting outfielders from last season — Ja’Davin Keith, Adam Banas and Logan Hornback. Third baseman Spencer Ashley also returns.
“They were all very, very young last year, but now they have a year under their belt,” said McDaniel, who is in his eighth year as Cherokee’s coach. “They are still young in age. Most of them were sophomores last year, but now they have experience.”
Where the Warriors will be hurting is in the infield. In addition to trying to replace a four-year veteran at shortstop, Cherokee will be shifting a few players around and expects to have a couple players battling for positions, particularly at second base.
Still, McDaniel feels pretty good about things.
Sophomore Trevor Nevill, who saw limited time last year, will likely have a role in the infield.
“We’ve got some kids coming back that didn’t get a lot of time last year, and some kids coming in, particularly in the middle infield, to battle for position,” McDaniel said.
Among those are juniors Ty Irvin and Dexter Padget and sophomore Austin Pharr. Senior Alex Murfin is joining the team after moving in from Pennsylvania, and he will be fighting for the shortstop role.
“That’s a pretty important part of the field, so it’s good we have good competition there,” McDaniel said. “We don’t have a lot of depth, but we do have a lot of competition for positions on our own team. In turn, that means they are going to compete harder come game time, which we are hoping works out for us and we get some more wins than we did last year so we can reach our goal, which, like anyone, is to reach the playoffs.”
Another key player for Cherokee is Kyle Cochran, who will likely see time behind the plate.